Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fear on Hallowe'en...

We all strive to feel competent. Feeling competent doesn't jibe with our feelings of vulnerability on the surface. Yet, we are our most competent when we feel most vulnerable. It is those moments in life when we feel most alive, and possibly most like a fool. I am proposing that feeling like a fool is the best feeling in the world, and the most competent place to be in as a human being.

Isn't that opposite of the way we are taught to be successful in the world? We are taught that we'll feel most competent by being safe. If we find the right career, marry the right guy, have children at the most logical time to have children, eat right and exercise then everything will work out just perfectly. However, somehow life gets so much more complicated than these instructions are prepared to address.

Sometimes the right career for us has bad timing in the world - like say - journalism in the age of social media. Suddenly, we have to learn an entirely new way of getting our work out there. Maybe what we loved about journalism was the news room. Now we're working alone in our basement. Success is measured by the number of followers, but maybe we are used to getting awards to measure our success. Suddenly our competency has fallen into disrepair. We feel uncomfortable minimally or terrified at maximum feeling of incompetency. Suddenly, everything about our plan to be safe is wrong.

Now, there are a lot of New Agey books that tell you this. "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers was one of my favorites in the genre, but I couldn't really figure out why it worked until I started trying it. The first time I tried it out, I was walking on a trail in New Hampshire on a beautiful fall day with my ex-husband. He was way ahead of me, and with each step I became more and more afraid because the leaves on the ground were dry and slippery, and I felt like the ground was literally being pulled out from under me. I was so afraid that I had to sit down and catch my breath. I couldn't see him anywhere, and I panicked. I thought maybe that I'd missed the trail somehow, and now not only could I not walk, but I was also lost about as far away from Hollywood as I could get on the same continent. Denying my fear was not helpful. I decided that I had to allow myself to feel my fear first of all. Knowing that I was not going to move, that wasband was unconcerned that I was so far behind he couldn't even see me, and that day would become night and night would be cold and I wasn't dressed for cold weather made me feel really afraid, but it didn't make me as afraid as I felt when I was walking on the slippery leaves...I was more afraid of falling on the slippery leaves, I had to admit to myself, than I was afraid of being alone in the woods on a cold autumn night. That's when I realized that true fear, as opposed to dread, was entirely temporal. I realized in that moment that I was more than my fear. It was a simple thing to face the moment of fear once I felt it for what it was. I got up and walked down the trail with absolutely no trouble.

Shortly after that I found it possible to walk away from a job that wasn't right for me. Then I found that I experienced a feeling of aliveness every time I faced my fear. It seemed that I was invincible for a while, and that I was evolving by leaps and bounds. I went from nearly bankrupt to successful within a year. Walking off cliffs would have turned into flights of fancy if only I hadn't become overwhelmed with fear again. The fear that I caught like a virus came along in the most unexpected way, and to be honest I have never been able to shake it since. I believe that I haven't been able to do what I did on that trail in New Hampshire because I'm so afraid of it that sometimes I really believe it, this fear, is bigger than me.

This is the moment then, to sit down on the trail and to face the fear for what it is...I had a child. This precious life brought back all the fears I had spit out like watermelon seeds on a summer's day. I had this child and now my mouth was filled with those same seeds, doubled it felt like, and I swallowed them whole. Then just like a child who is teased by a caring grandparent not to swallow watermelon seeds, I believed that those seeds of fear sprouted whole watermelons of fear. Why am I, nearly fourteen years later, with a sweet girl and lovely son, still afraid? And, I can say I'm still terrified.

I had my daughter at home, trying to face the fear head on as I had been doing so recently before she was conceived. Yeah, it hurt, but it was beautiful and I don't regret it. It didn't get rid of the gripping fear though. So, I can conclude since I've survived two home births that birthing children wasn't the fear. Also, I faced the fear of leaving her dad, and setting out on my own, and for a short time of blatant denial, one of the five stages of grief, I thought that maybe I was afraid of not providing her with the perfect nuclear family. Went through the divorce, faced a custody battle, and still the fear lingers. I fell in love again and brought a new man of a different color, different way and different background into my kids' lives and they embraced it and I still feel fearful. This means nothing else besides the fact that I haven't yet faced whatever it is that I am so afraid of. Finding out what that thing is, the slippery leaves, the thing that makes me feel the fear so acutely is my ferocious goal. I have the feeling that it may be as simple as slippery leaves if I can sit here and be quiet enough to look at it. I know that once I face this fear full on, that I'll have my mojo back and I'll be able to do the trail again...until then on this most haunted of nights...I'm sitting here watching myself squirm. Boo!

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