I have spent much of my life coming to terms with a deep and abiding insecurity. My fears come out to greet me most every day. Sometimes they merely wave at me from the periphery; at other times they rush at me with the fearsomeness of a gale storm. Still, over the years I have managed to engage life with more than a modicum of passion. I have charted my own course, taking great risks when necessary. I have also wasted precious time stuck in anxious worry or fierce resistance, holding back from life because I feared what might happen if . . .
Like many people, I used to believe that I could become strong enough to annihilate my fears. And for a blessed period in my thirties it looked like I had finally wrestled them permanently to their knees. Emerging triumphant after my long struggles, I luxuriated in the sense of freedom my professional competence conferred. At last, I had crossed that invisible line into adulthood where I would be able to continue productively on my path, immune from my former demons. I plunged ahead fearlessly, making new and even bolder decisions. But as soon as my familiar circumstances changed, I turned a brand new corner only to meet up with my erstwhile companions. I haven’t been able to shake them since. My fantasy of a fearless existence went the way of most youthful illusions of control and invincibility.
We arrive at mid-life secure in many things, only to discover the reality of sudden reversals, unforeseen challenges, aging, and death. Sadly, we come to understand that growing up does not ensure our safety. Most of us fight and resist whatever scares us. But when we wage a war against our fears we end up in a battle with ourselves. It is this internal battle that does the most damage. The abuse we heap on ourselves in a futile attempt to extinguish or outrun fear compounds the problem of fear and adds additional layers of suffering that make it more difficult to heal.
Perhaps fear is not the problem we make it out to be. Perhaps it is our relationship with fear that is the real problem. After all, humans are part of the natural world; we are hard-wired for self-preservation. Indeed, fear is an emotion indispensable for survival. Sometimes fear is an inner voice warning us of danger. At other times it’s an energy that gets us charged up to do our very best or perform a task normally beyond our physical strength. Like it or not, fear is an essential aspect of our humanity and accepting its presence in our lives can make dealing with it a lot easier.
Acceptance of fear does not imply giving up and letting it take over to the point that we become immobilized. The concept of acceptance really means relinquishing the strategy of managing fear through internal warfare. Accepting fear as an ally empowers us to open rather than resist. When we open to fear we explore the unmet needs, incomplete communications, and perceptual distortions that frequently lurk just beneath the surface of our emotional reactivity.
When I was young I thought that being free required the absence of fear. Today, as I take on the grown-up challenges of writing a book and stepping out to engage a highly competitive marketplace, my success will depend on my ability to inhabit the wisdom of fear . . . Those things that bring us to the edge of terror may also lead us to an opening of the heart.
The antidote to fear is not fight but faith. We can trust whatever is happening to us—no matter how scary—once we reclaim the freedom that lies at the core of even the most difficult experiences. As we relinquish the struggle to control every situation, we grow more comfortable with the ever-changing cascade of emotional energy that fills our bodies moment to moment. By consciously engaging our fears we can emerge more whole on the other side.
Curious? Want to know more about engaging your fears creatively? Contact Cathy for a 20-minute complimentary phone consultation.