Below are two of my favorite shares on fear. The first is from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and the second is Rumi’s poem“The Guest House.”
Both take the view that because fear is nothing to fear, we can safely welcome it into our lives instead of running away from it. In fact, I heard Gilbert speak in an interview about going so far as to thank her fear for the many times in her life when it has legitimately saved her from getting hurt. She follows her expression of gratitude by gently and respectfully letting her fear know that right now, though, its services are not needed. The fear still may want to hang around, as fear often does, and both these writers invite fear in because what we resist persists. I like how the act of inviting the fear in sends a signal to our minds and bodies that they can stand down (relax, be at rest, be at peace) because there is nothing to fear here. And I like the idea of not fearing fear: fear is just an emotion, and emotions are harmless in and of themselves. It’s only when we become afraid of an emotion that we begin to suffer in our minds and bodies. As the saying goes the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt).
THE ROAD TRIP
I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life – and I do – then I will have to make space for fear, too. Plenty of space. I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably. It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too. In fact, I invite fear to come along with me everywhere I go.
I even have a welcoming speech prepared for fear, which I deliver before embarking upon any big new adventure. It goes like this: “Dearest Fear, Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. Apparently your job is to induce panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. But understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognise and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps or suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert, from Big Magic
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks