Today’s prompt in Kat McNally’s Reverb15 is offered by Alana Lawson aka Wolf and the World. She writes:
“One way we can be alchemists is when it comes to fear. I don’t believe in fearlessness. I truly cannot imagine what that would feel like. But when we experience fear we can transmute that energy into something else, something more helpful. For example, we may choose to change that fear into motivation, or focus, or hyper-awareness.
Can you think of an instance in the past year where you have been successful at making fear useful?
What fears do you hold about the year ahead? And how could you use the energy of those fears in a different way?”
(Isn’t this vintage in-the-public-domain image fabulous? A perfect way imagine fear I think.)
This prompt has me examining the different ways I think about fear.
I tend to hold the idea of fear as a BIG emotion – a response to something life-threatening or potentially life-shifting, replete with big physical responses. It feels primal and raw, and not all that common, saved up for really dramatic in-my-face dangerous or potentially hugely painful occasions. Fear feels like its marked with a huge adrenal rush for me, and a kind of existential thought in the moment of “there is a possibility I may not survive this.”
I tend to think of the scaled down version of this as anxiety or worry, and these hold very different physical cues for me – more of a jittery sense; or a sense of being worn down by abrasive chafing. It also feels more open to the possibility of finding ways to disengage or distract when the emotion becomes overwhelming. This in my opinion is usually not at all helpful.
And let’s throw in a third consideration. One of the tenets I hold as core to my spiritual beliefs and practice is that fear and judgment are not aligned to love, and that it’s my aspiration to choose love over fear in every now moment.
If I think carefully about this, I think my admonition to choose love applies to both the big fear and the smaller anxiety. So how interesting this is a case where I combine the words, where everywhere else I try to separate them.
But in any case fear (or anxiety/worry as I think of it) is useful information. ALL our emotions are useful. They tell us what is preferred in our lives and what is not, and are guiding posts to help us so we make decisions and create more in alignment.
The thing with fear (and anxiety) is that it tends to throw us not necessary out of our bodies, but out of connection with what can help us most – our inner guidance. And so it’s very key to remember this. When you experience fear or anxiety remind yourself of that, and kick in your best grounding and centering practices. Deep slow breathes, hand to heart, your choice of some flavor of I-am-okay mantra – whatever. They can all be useful and help you remember this is simply information. And you have choices about responding.
This is of course what Alana is talking about in her prompt – the idea of transmuting the energy.
Looking over my year, one of the clearest places fear/anxiety showed up when it was when it was obvious I needed to consider whether it was time to euthanize a beloved pet. I was able to use this fear/anxiety to catapult me into deep focus and hyper-awareness, allowing me to get expert advice, create sacred space where my husband and I could process this, and most of all ask and listen to what my cat wanted. And being present allowed me to invoke heavy doses of love and compassion for all of us.
With regard to 2016, there are a couple of things I want to pay attention to. I’m not sure I want to frame it in the energy of fear, but I’m also very clear that I want to transmute and transform a couple of things.
For this entire year I’ve held on to a very unhelpful, and likely mostly untrue, belief that my skills weren’t up to what I need to create something for a project that is so dear to my heart that it makes me squeal in delight. This undoubtedly is the biggest regret of my year, and one I have no intention of perpetuating into 2016. So I intend to use this anxiety, this fear, to focus on simply moving forward, small step by small step by small step, invoking the delight, and keeping the wraps of compassion and self-love close at hand. And I look forward to having this project as something to celebrate in next year’s Reverb!
The second thing is I see a lot of ways in which I’m mired in old comfortable patterns and how those are the places that are now rubbing me uncomfortably, especially now as I am also hearing quite clearly the need to do things differently. I need to surprise myself more and invoke new things and magical surprises. I think 2016 is going to bring some big changes, both personally and collectively, and I’d like to be in a place of welcoming and not anxiety. And so as I find ways to navigate this, I’m also going to hold this admonition from Hafiz as a touchstone.
“The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down,
And shake all the nonsense out.”
Now tell me, doesn’t that sound like a good thing?
It’s my belief the level of fear and anxiety is at a seeming high in our world these days, and I think everyone would agree this is not a good thing. If we can use our fears and anxieties as the gift they are of providing an invitation to intuition, focus, clarity, readiness and vigor – this is a good thing. But when they remain obstructed – unmoving and blocked and frozen, with resulting decrease in focus and clarity this is not a good thing. I know how I hope I choose in 2016.