Saturday, December 27, 2008

Giving up Fear

I’m giving up fear because fear keeps me comfortably stagnated. Familiar and cloying, it’s almost like one of those invisible electric fences that gives a dog a little shock when it’s at the perimeter of the yard, keeping it in. Similarly, fear alters my body chemistry when I’m about to leave my comfort zone. When fear strikes, the space inside my rib cage feels like it is being squeezed by an invisible iron hand. The veins in my arms and legs seem to vibrate and grip, pulsing with sickly nervous tension. It’s as if I’m being transformed into a jerky marionette of my nervous system. And my belly is so unhappy, tight and gassy.

Why go into the unpleasant and uncomfortable fear?

Life inside the fence feels safe, but it’s stifling. Intellectually, I get that it’s not good for me to stay inside my current habits. These habits that I’m looking at were formed around an idea of myself and who I am that is out-of-date. And even though the stakes are high and facing this fear looks intimidating, I’m feeling restless inside my electric fence of fear. I want to live my life, and actively choose direction. I want to do something for my tired self.

A part of me is tired. This part has seen dreams not come true, in sad moments this part has failed. The first draft of life plans was inadequate. But, this is an opportunity for mind over matter. And I bet that if the dog goes far enough past the boundary of the fence, the collar will stop firing. And similarly, I think that if I go far enough out of my comfort zone I will feel exhilarated to freely roam in new territory.

Comfortable stagnation is really not that comfortable.

Being a prisoner of my nervous system is no fun. I can please myself with small treats and known activities. But to grow, I need to find a way to get past the boundary of my own fear.

Fear keeps me safe.

In defense of fear it has kept me safe, and kept my ancestors safe. But in adulthood there is a call to go beyond the narrow yard where you were taught to stay as a child.

Fear keeps me stupid.

In my interactions with others I can get overwhelmed, when I’d like the courage to speak my truth. This is an area where I feel most stupid. I only remember later what it would have been good to say, or I think of a good question I might have asked. But, sometimes I get lost when I’m faced with a new challenge in communication. Or I just get flummoxed.

Going into fear.

A strategy that works is to go into the fearful place with someone else that has been there, and can encourage you to go there, too. At Kripalu there is a wonderful hot tub, and a cold plunge. I was afraid of the cold plunge. I put my toe in there and a calf, but that’s about it. My body tightened on the inside, seeming to say, “no, don’t go there.” I just couldn’t make myself do it. I told a friend about this, and she told me about how great it was to go back and forth between the hot and cold water. And she offered to be my cold plunge mentor because that was how she overcame her resistance to the cold water. I hesitated for a moment because the cold plunge was a small pool, and most of the women bathe naked. I had a little fear about my personal space, but I really wanted to try so I said yes (of course!).

After getting hot in the spacious hot tub, I followed my mentor over to the little cold plunge bath. She went right in, hugging herself and breathing fast, and said something like, “oh my god,” a few times. I went right in, all the way to my neck. I was smiling. And it was so easy with my friend there. I looked into her eyes and felt courageous. It was very cold, but the coldness seemed secondary to teamwork, doing this thing together, and showing that I could do it, too. I was in no hurry to leave, so we stayed a couple minutes. And when I went back into the hot water my body released so much more. It was wonderful! And for the rest of the visit I did the hot tub to cold plunge whenever I could.

When you have to go it alone…

What about something that you have to do alone? Say that there is nobody to hold your hand. What can we do about a fear like this?

I’m actually stuck with this one. But, of course, I have a few ideas. One is to still get support. Sometimes an understanding and affirming listener can be enough to help someone make a change. Another is to decide to do it. When I’m mentally dancing just outside of something I want it is because there is some resistance to doing it. So on some level I have decided not to do it. For whatever reason, I’m telling myself I want some thing, and at the same time am actively resisting the very thing I might say I want. Ugh. What can I do when I suspect that I’m standing in my own way?

Maybe writing about it can help me understand. Perhaps visualizing something good on the other side will help me convince myself that it’ll be okay. Maybe yoga can help me calm my internal riffraff, or breath exercises can calm the fear response. Maybe meditation can help. Therapy? All of the above? Something I’ve missed? Is it a matter of more life experience? You know, as I age maybe I’ll understand better how to manage myself. But, how much longer do I have? Patience. I’ll keep my eyes open, listen to my heart, and do something about it.

Giving up fear.

I suspect that I have to give up my fear to move forward. The fear is likely to continue to show up in my body, but what I can work with is my response to it. So I’m actually giving up the way I cater to it. Do I allow it to wear me out, so I’m too tired to make the changes I want? Do I allow it to keep me away from experiences that might change me? Do I over-eat to escape the physical tension, and numb myself out? Am I to continue to be a slave of fear, a victim terrorized by my own life?

I believe I have a choice about this. Do I have the strength to walk through the door I haven’t opened? Can I go the way that will change my external and internal landscape? Will I approach a vista that I’d never thought I’d see?


Flo said...

I really enjoyed this post. Because fear is within all of us and it is very individual on how each person approaches fear. I have fear of inversions, I have fear of loss, I have several fears.
While at Kripalu I had fears of even going into the hottub but my friend was the courage I needed. We both dove in to the hot tub and the Cold Plung. I really enjoyed Krialu and hope to go back one day soon.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brooks, my Guru would say you can't really give up fear - not at least, whilst we remain unenlightened.

I think fear can be useful as an indicator to be careful, be wary, consider your instincts. After all, its part of what has allowed us to survive as a species for a long time now...

But to allow fear to rule your life is something very different.

And that's something you can give up, for sure.