Yesterday, when I got the phone call about my friend's daughter, I had just written the following paragraph:
"A few minutes ago, I was looking for a particular book and my hands kept brushing against a book I'd forgotten, "Feel the Fear...and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. I'm always open to a little serendipity, and considered that perhaps the book had a message for me. So I picked it up and saw that there was a book mark still in it, I had forty two pages to go before finishing it. I thought I had read it entirely several years ago, but typical of the way I do many things, I had been superficial in my focus, and dismissed it as a very good self-help book, but one that didn't apply to me that much. I don' t remember giving up on it, but I guess I abandoned it for some other book, perhaps one that didn't confront my self-deception so strongly."
Today, I sit and ponder about the significance of fear. I find it interesting that upon hearing of someone else's misfortune, my impulse reaction was to feel fear; and in a most shamefully human way, to thank God that it was not my daughter who died.
For so many years, I've been processing the events of my life and working on letting go of things - negative attitudes and old internal "tapes" that haunt me as they filter through my consciousness. In the process, fear received much attention and I grew to consider myself a conqueror, no longer driven by fear but ready to confront and kill all my internal monsters and demons.
I am happy to announce that I am no longer afraid of bugs. Yay. It's great to know that I am fearless around minuscule creatures that usually mean me no harm. On a higher level, a more symbolic one, perhaps this means I no longer fear the little challenges and obstacles in life. No longer do I fret over driving in unknown territory, no longer do I cringe when I have to speak up in front of a group, etc. It may appear so, but this is no small matter. Little things do mean a lot and I'm glad that most of the time I don't sweat the small stuff, as Kristine and Richard Carlson wisely advised in their famous book.
However, as I go deeper, reluctantly, to see the truth of my growth, sadly I must admit there has not been as much progress as I thought. I now think that time just naturally made me overcome many fears, making it seem as if I have bravely and intentionally overcome them. I remember being afraid of giving birth, then raising a child, continuously enriching a marriage, then pursuing a career, then working as if I knew what I was doing. Scary stuff, but essentially it's just a life evolving from its choices - a natural process. I couldn't help but live out the consequences of my choices, though I still felt the fear, I had to do it.
It has been said that one of the greatest fears is fear of the unknown. This may be true. I recall being enveloped by terror as I lay in bed trying to accept the death of life as I knew it, and the birth of a life unknown. My mother, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the doctor had determined she could no longer live alone. I was uprooting her from New York to come live with me in New Mexico. As far as she was concerned she was moving to another planet, and as far as I was concerned I was about to enter a frightful Twilight Zone. It's been almost five years now. I still grieve the aspects of my former life, which perished, and whose memories are fading, like a dream. But, I'm doing it - in spite of all the panic.
I think some fears are actually based on the known as well. I chuckle as I see the depth of my fears - I'm even afraid to identify them as if ignoring them will somehow make them disappear. But maybe one of the first steps is to overcome denial, one of my ego's best defenders. So, though nebulous in detail, once I inspect it, I am forced to accept that I'm afraid of old age and the aches, the debilitating gradual loss of function, the potential financial depletion, the mental deterioration that may be in store for me. Yet, unless fate surprises me, I'm headed towards some of those known, unavoidable stages.
A few months ago I took a trip to Sedona, Arizona with my family. I expected a serene, meditative, calm experience, but my daredevil son-in-law had a different idea. Up and around and up some more, he skillfully maneuvered the rented jeep as we climbed tremendous rocks and skimmed the edges of profoundly steep cliffs while I sat in the back; muscles contracted, eyes closed, questioning, if not cursing, the moment I agreed to take that crazy and dangerous ride.
"I'm feeling the fear and doing it anyway," I blurted out, trying to give myself some undeserved credit. Wisely, son-in-law retorted, "No. This doesn't count for you. You have your eyes closed."
Though not exactly a meditation, that little trip taught me a few things. Life's tour doesn't count, if you have your eyes closed; most of us are afraid of the heights we can reach and often we must be driven there; no matter what label we give it - fear of heights, bugs, planes, water, injury, destitution - all our little and big fears culminate in the ultimate - fear of death. This is one of the things life has been trying to teach us - every loss is but a little death, which even if you fear, you'll have to do anyway.