“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will allow my fear to pass over me and through me.” – Dune, by F. Herbert
So begins the realization of prophecy and salvation for an oppressed people led by a chosen savior with extraordinary powers and capabilities. But there are so many inconsistencies and contradictions in that invocation!
Look: I must not fear. (Okay, that’s clear.) Fear is the mind-killer. (fear=bad) Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. (okay, fear=the most bad ever known ever) I will face my fear. (wait – I have fear? I have the most bad ever known ever?) I will allow my fear to pass over and through me. (now my bad is leaving because I let it…but I must not have it in the first place…huh?)
What if all of that is bullshit? What if the monster of fear is actually our most potent ally in creating the world we want?
Prove it? Okay – stick around.
Invitation: discover, experience, and understand this –
What we’ve been taught about fear is wrong.
I used to be afraid all the time. I was afraid I was unlovable. I was afraid of being left behind. I was afraid that wouldn’t have enough money for retirement and that my husband would take all my money. I was afraid that my friends wouldn’t like me and that I wouldn’t have enough to eat. I was afraid we would all die in a horrible cataclysm and I was afraid I would die alone. All this while living in a vibrant community, a comfortable house with a loving husband, a union job, and a delightful, healthy child. There were also the fears of living in a world that sees women as commodities, less capable of just about everything that isn’t dependent on our physiology. I was afraid to try anything that I wasn’t already good at or anything that was outside the imagination of my white, Midwest-raised parents. Slowly, then suddenly, I was terrified when I realized that I couldn’t feel much else.
I used to think that eliminating fear would open the path to greater intelligence, creativity, and freedom. I adopted a mantra “No fear, no expectations,” when I returned to full-time school after a ten-year gap. Every time I felt afraid as I met challenge after challenge I would ignore or stuff it – including when my mother told me there was no way I would be able to do this and I would literally die in the process. I charged ahead into graduate classes, quit my job, entered relationships, took solo roadtrips, signed off on student loans, and went to my first Burning Man to discover that I was right – fearlessness broke open the cage I’d seen as protection. Slowly, then suddenly, I noticed that below the frenetic activity I had lost my bearings on why I was doing all this.
I understood these to be my only options when dealing with fear – fight or flight. I didn’t have to think about it, it was “natural.” Even as my behavior and priorities changed radically – much to the confusion of those around me – I stayed within the parallel lines of eliminating or avoiding what was scary. I didn’t know any other way to be or to conceive of my experience of navigating a path through life that would keep me alive and functioning.
Slowly, very slowly, then suddenly I discovered that there is more to fear than what I had been taught, than what I had felt. That discovery instigated an exploration of what fear actually is and why we have it. I found how we react, respond, and recount fear shapes our reality, both shared and individual. For example, did you know that we never have a thought without a “felt”? Humans are literally incapable of being objective, of being unfeeling objects in the world.
So I chose to become the subject of a story, of an experiment, of an inquiry into fear. I have found adventure, surprises, guides, and lots and lots of mirrors. Beyond the cage of beliefs and the frenzy of release I have found a space to breathe, a space where I can be with the myriad aspects of fear and be better than fine.