going toward the fear

I just spent a month getting up at 6 am every day, standing on my head, sharing living/sleeping space with 21 other women, learning a smattering of Sanskrit and coming face to face with spots in myself that need a little buffing, a little softening, more love. So then why am I home now and sitting with Fear? Picture me in half lotus on my cushion staring across a small expanse at Fear.

There is the fear that I can’t teach – despite knowing better in my gut. There are the same old fears about money. The fears about my house – I woke up in the middle of the night last night and thought about the mold in the basement until I finally had to get up; I try to keep the bigger fears about the house and the boiler at bay or they’ll eat me in one bite.

“Discovering fearlessness comes from working with the softness of the human heart.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa

If I look at each of these fears, I know that they are softer now than they were a month ago. They don’t have the same power over me that they had previously. I can see the space and light around them – I can see the way in which they are shadows and not solid. And yet, I’m impatient; I want to be rid of them altogether.

Swami Kripalu said that fear is the last thing to fall away in the life of a yogi. I’m glad to hear it. My own fear has been dislodged, examined, set out in the light a bit – but, still, it’s there. Tenacious.

Going toward our fear is often the best thing we can do. Make the phone call that terrifies us. Apply for the thing we believe we’ll never get. Ask for the favor that appears impossible.

Wen I was a kid and my parents would leave me alone for an evening, if I heard a noise I was certain that Charles Manson was in the basement. He’d broken out of prison and found me. The random noise, the movement in the dark – whatever it was that scared me for about several years during adolescence was always Charles Manson. That was the name of my fear. How I’d gotten my hands on a copy of Helter Skelter I don’t remember, but let’s just say that it wreaked havoc with my overall sense of safety for a long time.

My response wasn’t to cower, however. I’d go to the kitchen, grab the biggest butcher knife in the lot, and stand at the top of the stairs and announce myself to ol’ Charlie: “I have a knife. I will use it. Leave me alone!”

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”  ~Pema Chodron

Then I’d put the knife back, and go to sleep. He must not have known that I always returned the knife to its drawer (my parents would have been furious and rather disturbed if they’d come home to find their 12-year old daughter asleep next to a large knife) because he never bothered me.

So now I look at my fears – the house, the money, the never ending issue of work/childcare/art balance – and wonder if there’s a proverbial knife I can apply to them. What can I do to help me feel safe? How can I walk into the dark and know that I’ll come out the other side. Here are a few things I’ve come up with that seem to be helping:

  • I am working toward being able to do a backdrop (full backbend from a standing position) – this won’t get me out of any dark alleys alive, but it seems an important skill, something that will help me to traverse middle age with grace.
  • I am eating and drinking less and finding the cleansing to help – it’s knocked away the way in which food and drink can be such crutches against fear, such relatively useless crutches.
  • I am cleaning the house, room by messy room – making space, getting rid of literal cobwebs. Airing things out seems to be an essentially brave response to fear.
  • I am opening up to accepting help from others. Fear thrives when we are most alone.

I spoke with my friend Mary who reminded me that one of our teachers at Kripalu told us that life would never be the same after such an intense immersion. We will vibrate on a different level. Things will change – even when you can’t see them changing.

Change is what happens — the best kind of change — when you open the door and the windows and sit across from Fear and let the breeze blow on him, allow the sun to shine on his face. You start to see that Fear is a part of you, a sweet, scared part that needs just as much love as Joy or Confidence. So: Open your windows. Pick up your phone. Dream big. Do the next right thing.


4 thoughts on “going toward the fear”

  1. so glad to hear what is going on with you on and off your mat, the tenderness of facing your fears, the release of laughing at them (the mold in the basement) and the knowing that we are all growing up and out!

  2. Wow — I love the image of the backdrop. Unlike all those “falling and being caught” exercises that groups sometimes use to teach us that others will catch us when we fall if we only have the blind faith, the backdrop means having faith in your OWN strength and skills. You are already doing it on so many levels. I look forward to celebrating the physical version, too.

    1. I like this image, April – it hadn’t occurred to. Reminds me of a post I did on my other blog about having my own back – getting my tattoo on my back and seeing it as an emblem of my own power/strength to care for myself. So often, we don’t do things in our life out of fear of not being able to do it on our own. Having the strength to care for oneself out of love and compassion – not a grin and bear it sort of strength – is the most powerful thing we can for ourselves!

  3. Jen, loved this piece. All of it so true, Kripalu cracked and some ways opened completely windows into deep places, illumination psychological layers, my layers are trying to come back. Thanks for the reminder I am not alone. I’ll talk more in an e-mail. Loved the way you shaped the piece, present to past to present, with teasers for those who haven’t been to Kripalu.

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