I recently took stock of the key elements and inspirations that have become foundational in the self inquiry journey that I’ve been on during the last several years. When collected, there was a common emotion amongst the guiding principles – Fear. Now, while this may sound ominous, it’s actually quite the opposite, as the works I am referring to have been sources of strength and inspiration in my quest for work I love and quality of life.
In beginning to write this, I’m reminded of a favorite quote of mine by Pablo Picaso – Every act of creation is first an act of destruction. In the spirit of that quote, I’m deconstructing the meaningful lessons I’ve collected around the emotion Fear so that I can continue to learn and build upon the wisdom.
Go For It
When I first read Our Greatest Fear by Marianne Williamson I remember being struck by two lines of thinking. The first was “how did you know” and “I am not alone in how I feel”. And the second caused me to be inquisitive and excited about what was possible for me and others.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
I recall times in my younger years when people referred to me as loud, obnoxious, or aloof and I remember feeling at odds with these labels, and not simply because they weren’t very flattering. It was that I didn’t see myself in the ways described. I knew that the authentic me became excited when I felt passionate about something, persistent when I believed strongly in something, and observant when I was unsure or uncomfortable in a situation. However, how people perceive you, which can be influenced by their own history and experiences, can have an impact, and over time I began to cover or change my behavior to fit a societal norm.
I see now that this could have been a fear based response to not being accepted, or seen as an outsider, and so when I reflect on Our Greatest Fear it gives me the strength and confidence to let my true nature shine.
Which Will You Choose
New York City was my home during the attacks of 9/11 and there are chilling moments I recall from the days following the acts of terrorism. One of those moments was watching TV and seeing women, whom I assume were al-Qaeda supporters, smiling and chanting in what appeared to be a joyous celebration. At the time the images and actions really confused me, I couldn’t reconcile the behavior I was seeing with what had happened in my neighborhood, to our country, and in the world as a whole.
Years later I heard about the studies of acclaimed psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ros, in particular her belief that there are essentially only two human emotions – love and fear – and all other emotions stem from these two. When I read the supporting statement, I was able to consider that Fear was fueling the 9/11 attacks and this allowed me to soften against any anger and confusion that I had been holding onto since the horrific events.
“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.” ― Elisabeth Kubler Ros
Practically I use the Fear/Love filter when I may be in a place of judgement with myself or other people. I stop and ask myself, is it possible that at the root of what’s bothering me is Fear? This helps me have more compassion and I can usually talk myself down from a heightened sense of being pissed off or hurt.
Then There’s Yoga
There are times when I feel exhausted by all of the reading, training, listening, and thinking about calling, purpose and fulfillment and I wonder “what’s the use”? It was during one of these times that this passage set me straight:
“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort towards spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.” – The Bhagavad Gita: Self-Realization, 2:40
While ‘the greatest fear’ is subjective, in this context it is derived from the mystics’ supreme goal; by knowing their real nature, they know their own immortality and realize their union with eternal Being. Therefore, the fear would be to never truly know yourself and to live feeling separate from all others where you do not experience a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and worthwhile.
Current day, and particularly in the Western World, yoga has become synonymous with the physical practice of yoga (Hatha Yoga) and to a certain extent a lifestyle trend. To me, yoga is a state of being, which includes a physical practice, but primarily focuses on discipline of the mind. Yoga is skill in action, practiced through an evenness of the mind. Therefore, when I’m feeling caught up in life’s ups and downs, which can lead to ruminating and a ‘less-than’ rabbit hole for me (AKA: fear-based thoughts), I come back to my yoga practice which helps me ground in a healthier mindset.
Above my nightstand on the wall there’s a tile with this message:
I am not afraid. I was born to do this. –Joan of Arc
It’s a great reminder to trust the process, stay the course, and have the courage to explore life’s possibilities.