Fear: How consciousness and courage are your tools to enlightenment
I am currently reading two books at the same time; The Untethered Soul by Micheal Singer, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I ordered both books on Amazon, one was for a book club I am a member of on Facebook (shout out to my bookworms!) and the other book is one that has popped up into my awareness through several avenues and I took it as a sign that it was a book I would enjoy reading - because of the title, the colorful front cover, the author, and the rave reviews (pretty good signs all around). Both books are fascinating and compliment each other in surprising ways.
One of my favorite things about the journey I am on is the dots I am connecting between authors, theories, ideas, and metaphors. These books bring in different perspectives, creative ways of wording similar subjects, and unique experiences and stories. As I read each book and highlight or underline what stands out, I am also making notes in the margins connecting ideas to past books I have read. It's a beautiful process and I feel more and more grounded and supported in my own self-discovery and development as I go.
Reading these two books simultaneously is shining new light on both subjects and creating a deeper understanding of how I can learn and live these concepts, as well as coach my clients through their journey as well.
Big Magic is all about embracing the brave and creative life, while embracing fear and harnessing courage to allow your special qualities or "jewels" to shine bright. Gilbert says,
"A creative life is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner - continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you - is a fine art, in and of itself."
She goes on to say,
"Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it's important to recognize the distinction."
Both Singer and Gilbert speak of Fear quite a bit in their books (and I am only half through both books). They both touch on the fact that evolution has created an overly sensitive and over-reactive limbic system that is seeking to protect us at all costs, but gets hot and bothered at the smallest signs of uncertainty, doubt, insecurities, or any other uncomfortable feeling. This system that has the one goal of protecting us from harm, is actually causing many of us to avoid fear-inducing situations, to play small in order to stay "comfortable", and to keep our presence quiet because expressing our unique-ness draws attention and can cause heart-ache. Gilbert speaks to this in one of the funnier examples I have ever heard,
"...your fear is like a Mall Cop who thinks he's a Navy SEAL: He hasn't slept in days, he's all hopped up on Red Bull, and he's liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone 'safe'."
Singer mirrors this notion is his words by speaking to the necessity of this system back in the day when danger was prevalent, and now that danger is not hiding around every corner (unless you are in a war-ridden area or living in the jungle),
"...the protective energies have adapted toward defending the individual psychologically, rather than physiologically...Ultimately, if you protect yourself perfectly, you will never grow."
That is the point to emphasize! When we seek to protect ourselves at all costs, when we avoid discomfort, when we allow our fears to dictate what we experience and how we show up in the world, we prevent our growth. And really, what is the point of life if you are stagnant, stuck, still, fixed, small, in-expansive, and scared of the uncertainty that is an unavoidable and beautiful part of life?
Eventually you may get to a point where you are barely phased by fear. But in reality, fear grabs your attention like nothing else in this world. Cortisol surges into your system to activate the Fight-Flight-or Freeze system and there is no way to skate through that without noticing (at least not before years and years of intentional and mindful practice). Fear is good for you, it makes you feel alive, and it reminds you of your mortality. It makes a clear line between comfort zone and growth, and it challenges your will-power.
Rather than avoid fear; embrace it, love it, breathe it in. Find beauty and excitement in knowing that Fear is simply a sign of uncertainty, and it's an opportunity to show up with courage and effort to shine bright and bring your unique passions and "jewels" into this world. Gilbert notes,
"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."
This is the area that Singer really dives into; whatever you focus on, you will attach to and create more of in your life. He speak of consciousness, what it is and what it is not. So often we attach to the inner-chatter in our minds, thinking that is who we are. This inevitably brings confusion as we are indecisive and can easily argue for many sides of an issue or impending decision. So which voice do we actually listen to? Which voice is the true me and which voice is a distraction or fear? Singer says,
"Stop feeling that one thing [your inner-voice] says is you and the other thing it says is not you...You are the one who hears the voice...There is absolutely nothing that voice can say that is more you than anything else it says...True personal growth is about transcending the part of you that is not okay and needs protection. This is done by constantly remembering that you are the one inside that notices the voice talking."
Easier said than done, but this is the practice. Detach from that voice. Realize that you have an "inner Roommate" that has no filter and who likes to think of the worst case scenario. Singer suggests one way of keeping yourself steady and on track in your chosen direction is to set goals and intention when you are feeling calm and clear, and then get moving. Observe the inner-voice but let it float by just as you observe trees and cars while you walk and forget about them as they pass through your field of vision. The challenge is to stay in the moment, to stay present to the only real time in existence, which is NOW.
Dan and Chip Heath in their book "Switch", among many amazing insightful tools they offer, they say, look for a strong beginning and a strong ending, and get moving. The middle is going to be full of ups and downs and it is important to allow yourself the space to learn and grow and roll with whatever each passing moments presents as opportunities. If you allow yourself to get swept up by the past, or too focused on the future, or too attached to the inner-chatter, you will miss the many amazing possibilities that are presented throughout your day.
So this is what I have created to make sense of all of this and put it into practice (because experience is the best teacher).
A strong beginning -->
Create a morning routine that clears your mind and focuses your attention on how you want to show up today. Set an intention, set actions, and create clarity in how you want to feel at the end of the day. That is your beacon of light. This is what you hold onto when that inner-chatter starts to question or go into self-protection mode. If your intention is Courage or Explore or Adventure or Connect or Collaborate, etc. it is clear that when you get an opportunity to play big and step into the arena of life, you will not hesitate and will jump into action.
A strong ending -->
Finish your day with some reflection questions; i.e. What am I proud of? What was a small-win today? Where did I show up brave? And what learning will I take into tomorrow to continue my growth?
Throughout the day -->
Stay mindful, open, and receptive. Hold onto your intention and look for opportunities to push yourself and grow. Know that living outside your comfort zone is the best way to make shit happen and to blossom your unique talents and strengths. Trust the process and don't spend much time overthinking, second-guessing, "should-ing", "shaming", or projecting yourself into the past or future. Be here now. Live, breathe, focus, experience, and let your bright light shine.
So embrace courage and curiosity, and don't settle for a life on the sidelines. This is your life, your unique journey, and the world needs what you have to offer.