My friend, fulfillment coach, and Passion Program graduate, Jenna Starkey, shares her thoughts on fear. How to navigate it, when to confront it, and what the other side feels like.
FEAR: ˈfir/noun: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Oh do I have some things to write about fear.
Fear is the monger, the gremlin, the fibber, the thief.
Fear is so many things that I wish to say to its face. I recently had a pretty wild experience speaking with an Intuitive Energy Healer friend who told me about a dark past life, a very dark and troubling past life. One involving my deepest, shimmering fears in paralyzing detail. Suffice to say, I wasn't exactly willing myself to believe it.
She told me I would experience grief similar to a heartbreak that brought me to my knees a few years ago as a result of that energy. The worst emotional pain I've ever felt? Dear God, no thank you. I won't go into too much detail about the story or the visions, all you need to know is that "impending doom" is what I started calling the anticipation of these painful feelings.
I've always been the type of person who trusts very easily. I like to think I see the good in everyone and believe that everyone (as Brené Brown reasoned with) is "doing the best that they can, given the tools that they have." And in essence, I really, really do believe this is true.
So, when this woman I trusted (and who had been right about so many good things in my life) handed my fears to me on a silver platter that idle Tuesday, I felt totally betrayed and scared. I didn't want to lean in, regardless of how much I respected her. Her dark words penetrated my sunny perspective anyway, making the fear come alive in me in a way I've never felt before.
When I told my friends, they all huffed and said something to the tune of: "You don't believe her, do you?" But, something within me shuttered as I tossed and turned that night. What if there was some truth to the things she was saying? What if buried beneath the dark, outlandish story was a lesson I needed to learn? I knew in my heart, of course, it could all be complete bull shit. But no matter which way I sliced it, the fear stayed strong within me. And I thought to myself, wow, sometimes in life we're blindsided when these things take shape.
Here are the options I came up with to deal with the fear and confusion:
- Ignore. Abort. Avoid.
- Listen + Pretend like nothing happened.
- Marinate. Question.
"Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power & the fear of freedom shrinks & vanishes. You are free." - Jim Morrison
I decided to take on the challenge and look fear square in the eye. Option 3.
My life coach told me the above quote last year, and it stuck with me. It surfaced in this moment, and I analyzed it. Played it like a fiddle in my mind. Thought to myself, "If I exposed myself to this deep fear, wouldn't it swallow me whole?"
The almost comical (and very Enneagram 7) debate in my mind continued as such:
- If I surrendered to the fear and thoughts of impending doom, would I risk losing my ability to be happy and the abundance of good into my life?
- Is the law of attraction real? If I continue to think about these fears, will I embody the fear itself? Mustn't I will myself back into light?
I told my friend Laila about the feelings of impending doom, and she said something that changed the nature of my fears in an instant.
"Feelings of impending doom? ... Well, what are you going to paint?"
Laila's simple response was my wake up call. The fearful emotion had amplified into a movie; an illusion with music in my mind. It became so visceral because I was making something I didn't understand dangerous without reason. I realized painting could help me get at the essence of what my mind was interpreting.
The idea of painting turned my emotion into instant childlike curiosity. Who the hell said the story had to swallow me like a monster engulfed in flames?
Fears are going to creep up on us in all textures and colors in small and big ways for the rest of our lives, whether they make practical sense or none at all. This strange experience taught me something crucial, however: We can always make it to the other side of our fear if we allow ourselves to face it and walk through to a fresh perspective.
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." - Dr. Wayne Dyer
I realize how illusive it seems to decide to "feel fear" and "shift perspective." But never forget, fear is an evolutionary gift (not a trap) meant to sharpen our senses and energize us during times of great stress.
Here's what helped me (thanks to lessons from friends and the Coaches Training Institute):
1. Get the story line out of your head: Paint or write (stream of consciousness) all the ideas and images that come to mind as transmitted by the fear. Keep writing, keep painting. Notice what comes out is rich with insight and typically not as impossible to understand as you think it will be.
2. Listen to your body: Notice where the fear lives inside you. Do you feel it in your chest, your whole body, deep in your brain? This is usually a sign of what's manifesting. If your brain hurts, it's typically your mind that is working hard on a story. If in your body, perhaps it's a physical anticipation or resistance (punch pillows, dunk yourself in the ocean). In your chest? Your heart needs to process the emotion fully and let it pass once it has been expressed (cry.it.out).
3. Understand the nature of the critical voice in your head: The critical voice in our head takes many names: inner critic/ego/sabateur/monkey mind/asshole. I call mine the gremlin. I've learned that the gremlin has one job and one job only - to convince us that its manipulative whispers are in our best interest; that the monster is "protecting" us from ourselves. As long as we are aware the voices are coming from our gremlin, we are free. The second we give significance to the negative story line loop, we've lost our footing. Don't lose your footing and merge with the gremlin! You are not the gremlin.
4. Empower your inner wisdom: Instead of giving significance to the gremlin voice in your head, empower your inner wise self. How to know the difference? Your wise self is not nagging you incessantly, but rather grandmotherly/fatherly knowing. Your wise self can see the big picture, trust the process, and lead with love. An easy way to determine what your wise self would say is to ask: What would you in 20 years from now tell you to do in this moment?
By the time I got through the darkness, I didn't particularly care if the details of my Intuitive Healer's visions were true. I cared that the process helped me own a gift I had been suppressing. I felt a sense of reverence in staring my demons straight in the eye. I felt transformed.
If fear comes to us to deepen our learning and help us grow, why the hell not take advantage of the opportunity to do so? There is always a way out of the trap we put ourselves in, and always something incredible to learn if we let the light in when we crack open.