Invite Your Fear In

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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

 

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Surrender Box

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Earlier this year a friend told me about her “God Box” and I made my own by taking a shoe box and cutting a slot into its lid.  Now, when I have a question but no answer or a problem but no solution, I write it on a slip of paper, fold it twice, and drop it into this.

For me, this is a humble yet powerful act.  By myself I am powerless both in what I know and what I can do, but when I surrender a concern through this box, I know that I am connecting to a power greater than myself that will support me and guide me to do what I cannot do alone.

When I put notes into this box, I am not just turning over questions or problem; I am also giving away the feelings (like fear, anger, self-pity, uncertainty, etc.) that I associate with them.  Handing over all of this leaves me empty-handed, and this emptiness, to me, feels like peace.  When I feel at peace, I am better able to hear wisdom’s whisper and act on its words, so I not only feel better, but I take better actions.

Sometimes the peace I feel fades as I take back what I had earlier surrendered.   When this happens, I remind myself that this is no longer my concern, and I let the thoughts and feelings go.  And if that doesn’t work, I write a new note and put it into the box.  I may need to do this hour after hour, day after day.  Often, though, just once is enough.

Eventually the box gets filled to the brim and it’s time to thin the pile to create room for more notes.  I did this yesterday by unfolding some of the notes, reading what I had written, and putting off to the side those that were no longer concerns.  Within minutes I had a stunning mound of paper.   Concerns that had felt insurmountable and menacing now seemed quaint and harmless.

Things really do work out.

As I read in a Facebook post recently, “Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”  (anonymous)

The important question to ask is what kind of journey do I want to have as I travel to the end?  In my experience, no matter what is happening in my life, I can be at peace and have a peaceful journey, and in this state of peace I can better hear the guidance I need to get me to the end in the best way possible.

Become the Masterpiece You Already Are

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I love this acknowledgement that I am already 100% perfect and therefore 100% loveable, acceptable, worthy, and whole no matter where my thoughts are, what mistakes I’m making, or what state of mess I’m in.  This perfect self is my truest, highest self and she is with me always and come through occasionally when the clouds of my fear, resentments, etc.  that obscure her light drift away.

But seeing myself as perfect does not exempt me from doing the work I want to do, which is the work of clearing those clouds so that she may come through more frequently and stay with me for longer periods of time when she does.

And thinking that I’m a mess instead of a masterpiece is just another cloud that obscures the light and presence of my own best self, so it is imperative that I see myself as a masterpiece so I can become one, and it is also imperative that I see myself as a work in progress.  Without both, I can never become the best person I can be.

Finally, for today, may I remember that each of my daughters is also a masterpiece (I too often only think of them as works in progress), knowing that this belief, which they could internalize as their own, will help them become the best people they can be too.

Bend first, then straighten

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“Bend first, then straighten,” my tai chi instructor says as I stand with left leg forward (foot forward, knee bent) and right leg behind (foot turned out, knee straight).   If I straighten my left knee first and then bend my right knee, my head would move up, back, and down, creating an arc.  But if I bend my right knee first and allow that to pull and straighten my left leg, then I keep my head level as I move from front to back.

I translate “bend first, then straighten” to mean “accept first, then change.”

Like acceptance, “bending” first requires intention, discipline, and strength.  Flexibility and receptivity are not for the faint of heart.  But when I am willing to soften and slacken my tight, insistent grip on “how things should be” and accept “how things are,” I can move forward with a level head and take clean action.

“Straight” describes the clean, sure, balanced action that results when I bend first.  When I don’t accept before I act, I move forward without benefit of a level head and clear mind, and the action I take is less focused, more suspect, and generally off-kilter.

I hope that as I mindfully do each repetition of “bend first, then straighten” in class, the lesson of acceptance before change moves so deeply into my muscle memory and bones that I can practice this no matter where I am or what is happening.

3 Writing Tips from a Tedx Presenter

At its core, TED’s mission is to do for others, to share with them “ideas worth spreading.”  And while “doing for others” was also core to my mission as a Tedx presenter, I cannot deny how much this experience has done for me.

So, in keeping with the spirit of “doing for others,” I will embed how I benefitted within 3 tips for any writer:

1.Write about something you like and want to get to know better

Since you’ll be spending a lot of time writing, revising, and editing your work, you’ll ideally want to choose a topic you like and want to get to know better.

You wouldn’t choose to begin and develop a relationship with a person you didn’t like or whose company you didn’t enjoy keeping, so refrain from doing this with your writing.  The more you like your topic, the more time, attention, and care you’ll give it, and as a result, you’ll produce better work and get more out of the experience yourself.

How I benefitted:  I got to know my content so well that it is now like family to me; it’s a part of my life and visits me often.  My Tedx talk was about using a little mnemonic to feel better, so at times when I’m feeling off, content from my speech visits me and reminds me what to do.

2. Thoughtfully, vigorously, and ruthlessly edit your writing

When you are writing for yourself, write to understand; when you are writing for others, also write to be understood.

To this end, you must be willing to delete some or much of what you have labored to create, even if what you have written has become like family to you. While I know that this is difficult to do, take heart:

How I benefitted:  Every vital idea, image, and metaphor I wrote and deleted is still with me and is still part of my family.  Like the content I kept in my talk, the deleted content also visits me and helps me, typically by enhancing my understanding of something happening in my life.

3. Trust yourself and take action

When I started this journey, I did not know much beyond the fact that in the end, I would be standing in front of an audience, sharing a speech I had written and memorized, and advancing PowerPoint slides.  I also had confidence that I could do this.

How I benefitted:  This experience reaffirmed my belief that I do not need a concrete destination or roadmap to get me to where I need to be; I just need (1) to leave enough time to reach my destination in case of detours or road blocks and (2) to take the next best action one step at a time. I also am benefitting from knowing that since I made it to the top of this mountain, I can also make it to the top of other mountains.

May you likewise go forward on your writing journey with confidence in your ability to reach your destination, and may you too benefit from your experience in ways that are specific to you.

Catch It, Newcomb Style

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I thought it was called “Nuke ‘Em” when I was a kid attending summer camp in the 1980s, but it’s actually called “Newcomb,” and I loved when my counselors announced that we were playing it instead of its bigger, burlier brother, “Volleyball.”  Newcomb was easier to play.  It was slower-paced.  It involved less skill.  It allowed me to, even required me to, catch the ball and hold it for a few, slow moments before sending it back over the net.

I can now appreciate this as a way to respond in life.

How many times a day does someone drop, lob, or even spike an expected ball over the net and into my court?

And how often do I react, “Volleyball Style” – hitting the ball back, quickly, and without thought?

(No disrespect to volleyball players intended; your honed instinct and fast action on the court are assets; my blind, habitual reactions are often liabilities).

The next time life sends a ball into my court, my desire is to catch it, “Newcomb Style”.

To first accept the ball, and then to hold it, for at least a few moments. Long enough, perhaps, to see this ball not as a threat, but as an offering, an opportunity, or a teacher.