Day 293/365 Fear is a Needy Neighbor, Maybe I Should Fix Her Up

When you have dealt with fear a lot over a short period of time, there are some benefits – the biggest one being, it is not an unfamiliar sensation. You don’t have to go through that, “Oh shit, what is this feeling? inner dialogue.  You know...and you usually understand why it is being revealed in a particular moment or circumstance.

For those of us who have made its acquaintance somewhat regularly, fear becomes a bit like a needy neighbor with a penchant for “pop ins”.  We didn’t invite her over, but it is the compassionate thing to do to invite her in, to see if we can’t ease her suffering in some way. Sometimes just giving her that little bit of attention is all she needs. Other times she camps out on the couch for so long we’re afraid she’ll never leave…and boy does she ramble on and on.

My own needy neighbor doesn’t seem to do this much anymore – the camping out, that is. It helps that she doesn’t need to keep reintroducing herself. I know her pretty well, and she’s not all bad.  She does usually bring with her wine and desserts, and she spurs some interesting self-reflection, so I mean…she tries to be a good guest.

The other day my needy neighbor showed up unexpectedly (as she is want to do). It seemed like she was making herself pretty comfortable on my couch, when I grew bored with her chatter and decided to distract myself with a book. I picked one up, flipped through it and read this passage…

“When gripped by fear or anxiety, the reflex is to hold on, speed up, or remove oneself. Yet when we feel the reflex to hold on, that is usually the moment we need to let go. When we feel the urgency to speed up, that is typically the instant we need to slow down. Often when we feel the impulse to flee, it is the opportunity to face ourselves.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I don’t know about you but I can think of so many times in my life when I reacted to fear and anxiety by doing all of those things – holding on, speeding up, or removing myself. 

I know for a while I hung on to my marriage out of fear. I labelled it loyalty or commitment…but I see now that it was just my old friend, fear. I did not want to face myself. I did not want to hear myself silently screaming that I didn’t want to be there anymore…telling me that being afraid wasn’t a reason to stay.

What was I afraid of?

I was afraid of being seen as a failure, afraid of emotionally damaging my children, afraid of not being able to support myself, afraid of starting over.

Unfortunately being steeped in feelings of fear within a relationship creates a pattern – a conditioned response. Do you remember, I wrote a while back about creating an account on a dating site? How I panicked when I was asked to describe myself? I couldn’t go through with it. The only man I have allowed myself to want is someone who would never let me close. I hid there in plain sight – emotionally unavailable on account of wanting someone who is emotionally unavailable.

How clever of me.

What am I afraid of?

I am afraid of making the same mistakes. I am afraid of thinking I know someone and finding out I don’t. I’m afraid of rejection. I am afraid of that cold, painful purgatory we find ourselves in when love is replaced by obligation, and bitterness is all we can taste on our tongues.

Fear knocks on my door whenever I even think about risking myself in this way. She really considers herself to be an expert on the topic of love. She has twisted love and fear up in my head so insidiously that I almost believe they are the same.

But I know something she doesn’t.

I know that when the right person arrives, I’ll muster the courage to introduce him to her (it’s only polite, after all). I suspect he’ll make an introduction of his own – his fear, to me. Perhaps his fear and mine will keep each other company, and they will be less likely to pop in on us unexpectedly, and…

When they do show up…

I hope we will try – to let go when the urge is to hold tightly, to slow down when the urge is to speed up, and to stay…when the impulse is to flee.

To use our fear as an opportunity to face ourselves, together. 

Artwork Foraged and Photographed by Meredith Brower Photography.

Available at www.630photo.etsy.com and at The Power of Juice.

Day 126/365 FOFU or FOLA

Back in 2011 I was asked to be one of the very first participants in something called The Revelation Project.  It was the brainchild of two friends of mine, Monica and Robyn*. The initial idea behind it was to empower women through photography.  It has since morphed into a full journey of self-discovery through life coaching and journaling.  When they asked me to participate, I was reluctant. I was scared that people would view me as a narcissist. I was afraid my husband-at-the-time wouldn’t like it (but somehow deep down I think that actually made me want to do it more. Maybe I was challenging him to ask me not to do it…or to just care).

At the time I was the stay-at-home mother of a five year old and a two year old, and I was just beginning to realize my marriage was in big trouble. During the day I felt like I never had a moment alone. Yet at night, with my husband, I felt incredibly lonely.

I could not remember the last time someone took a photo of just me…as an autonomous human.  In fact, who the hell was I without my children attached to me like barnacles, anyway?

It was scary for me to think about being seen. Would I even recognize myself?

I did it, though (and I have the above photos to prove it) and that snowballed into other “brave” acts…like starting a business, moving out of my house, advocating for myself…

…and then….

Last year on this very day I embarked on a four day backpacking trek into Yosemite National Park. We hiked about sixteen miles total, at high altitudes, wearing 40 pound packs.  It was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done, physically. I am not exactly what you would call an “athlete”.

We were on a guided tour with a group called Balanced Rock.  I was with my cousin, Lynette, plus two guides and six total strangers. I was scared to death that I was going to at best embarrass my very fit cousin, or at worst – DIE.  I especially thought the latter while we were zigzagging up a narrow path on the side of a granite cliff in blazing heat.

“Goodbye cruel world…”

Of course, once I made it to the top – and I caught my breath, which admittedly took some time – I felt like the queen of the damn universe.

IMG_yosemite

Obviously there are many definitions of bravery – and even how I define it as it pertains to myself has evolved as I have grown more confident, discovered more about who I am, what I truly enjoy, and what I may have to offer the world.

It is up to each of us to discover what we consider to be a personal act of bravery.  I’ll give you a hint, though, it probably will make you feel one of two things…

FOFU – Fear Of Fucking Up

or

FOLA – Fear Of Looking Assinine 

If you experience FOFU or FOLA whilst debating whether or not to do something, you are probably on the right track.  

Keep going.

This summer my personal act of bravery is a “camping” trip with my kids.  Me, two kids and a dog, being dropped off to a one-room cabin, on an island in the center of a lake in Maine. No other people, no electricity, no running water (there’s a water pump, but we have to boil the water before drinking it or cooking with it), and a composting toilet (which from what I can gather is essentially an indoor outhouse).

I’m super excited. I’ve also got a dab of FOFU and a splash of FOLA.

I think that makes for a perfect summer cocktail, and I can’t wait to taste it.

rev 6

{*If you are interested in seeing what Robyn is doing now, check out her website here or take a look at the amazing work she is doing with non-profits Making DIPG History  and Project 3.8.}

 

 

 

Day 120/365 The River

I can remember when I was a girl, hearing someone use the word Grace to describe my mother – “she has such grace” they said.  It impacted me, though I’m not entirely sure I understood what that meant at the time.  The person said it with such admiration, I knew it was a significant statement. I knew it was something to which to aspire.

Ironically one of the ways in which my mother and I are very similar is our, in a certain sense of the word, lack of grace.  We are both clumsy and have a tendency to walk into door moldings, furniture…we discover curiously nasty bruises on ourselves and have no idea how they happened. I like to think that’s indicative of a strong tolerance for pain, but really it is probably just that we bang into things so often that it fails to register as significant at the time. By the time the bruise develops we have zero recollection of the cause.

Of course, that’s not what they meant when they spoke of her grace. They meant how she navigates life, and relationships…not um, space.

So I have aspired to one day be described as having grace – not of the spacial awareness variety – but the other kind.

And/But…

This buddhist quote haunts me:

grace

Hmmmm.

How much you loved…

Yes, I love big and generously.

How gently you lived…

Yes, I believe in living with kindness, gratitude and generosity.

How gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

UGH.

Two out of three ain’t bad, right?

I’ve got a real problem with someone else deciding what is “not meant” for me. Even if that someone else is…um…God.

(Pauses and waits for a lighting bolt to strike computer…)

Even though I know – I know, you guys – I know that what is meant to be, will be. I still hate that expression.  Seriously.

A friend said to me recently (okay, okay maybe it was a therapist…okay, fine – it was a psychic…ahem, anyway she said…) “You have to learn that the river knows the way, and it wants to carry you.  You are not the river. Grab ahold of a raft and let it take you. Otherwise you are going to get pulled under and die a terrible death.”

She didn’t actually say that last part, but it was implied.

I don’t think I’ll drown, exactly, but I know for damn sure that over the years I have expended a lot of energy trying to go in a direction that the river was never going to take me.

Perhaps even more energy has been exerted in holding on – to a job, to a relationship, to a belief – clinging to the banks of the river with all of my might – because I didn’t want to let go and see where the river would take me.

Why?

Two reasons –

FEAR – Even if I was suffering in my “holding on” at least I knew what kind of hell I was in.  What’s that expression, “What fresh hell is this?” I didn’t want any fresh hell thank you very much.  The hell we know is much more…cozy?

ARROGANCE – (see also – stubbornness, asinine-ness) Believing that I know better than “the river.” How could the river possibly know what’s best for me?  I’ll show that river a thing or two.

Umm, no…you won’t.

Time and again I’ve been reminded that the river does know, and it’s not messing around.

The river always takes me where I need to go – like it or not, and with or without my permission. Thankfully, the river is way smarter than I.

So, I’m working on it – letting go gracefully of what isn’t meant for me. One day I’ll find ease in it, and I bet life will flow a lot more smoothly then.

In the meantime I’ll buckle up my life vest because those assholes, Fear and Arrogance – they are so clingy and they are terrible swimmers.

 

 

Day 105/365 Fear or Love?

“All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by two emotions –

Fear or Love.

In truth there are only two emotions – only two words in the language of the soul….

Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked.

Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away.

Fear holds close, love holds dear.

Fear grasps, love lets go.

Fear rankles, love soothes.

Fear attacks, love amends.”

– Neale Donald Walsch

img_0840
Photo by Betty Lou Harvey

The above passage just blows me away. Thinking about our decisions through the lens of it is a powerful thing.

To stop and think…

“What is motivating me right now?

Is it fear or is it love?”

Fear grasps, love lets go…

Beautiful.