Facing My Fears   Leave a comment

“GIT YER DOG OFF MY MAILBOX!”  The angry shout came from 100 yards up the hill, from the shadows of the house, and it slapped me back into awareness from my mental meanderings.  He was pissed that my dog had peed on the wooden pole of his mailbox by the gravel road we were traipsing.  “Sorry!” I called back, but he was not mollified.  “YER LUCKY MY PIT AIN’T LOOSE!” he hollered, a veiled threat to sic his pitbull on us if it happened again.  His anger seemed excessive to me.  Dogs pee on everything, especially anything vertical, and I’m quite certain the neighborhood dogs, all of which run loose, regularly mark every roadside post within miles.  Since my dog Mitts had been piddling for the last 5 miles, his tank was empty, so his lifted leg was entirely for show, but that made no difference to the hothead up the hill.

That was yesterday, and even as I write, the feelings seep back in–fear and defensiveness towards a world where even pastoral, peaceful spots now feel unsafe–and other nameless feelings flow through, shadows that settle in from being unfairly misunderstood, misjudged, belittled, chased off.

Moments before I had been reflecting on my spiritual journey, and many thought streams had unexpectedly merged into a sense of direction for 2015, summed up in the word “courage.”  My 2014 focus was “gentleness,” first to myself and then as an overflow to others, and though the visible changes are small, my outlook has started to shift fundamentally.  Being gentle with myself has given me some emotional resources for choosing courage.

In our culture, courage is a force marshaled against fears, taking a beachhead at first and then slowly conquering more territory.  You bravely take the stage to speak or you ask your overbearing boss for a raise, and gradually you become less fearful and more in control of your life.  But I’ve discovered a very different take on bravery–my real fears are not out in the world so much as in my own soul, and I need courage not to conquer my fears but to embrace them.  In other words, instead of trying to override my fears and silence them, I try to understand them compassionately.  Fears are my friends, not my enemies–they are clamoring to tell me something important about myself which I ignore to my own peril.  My journey has been completely in reverse of the norm–starting out fearless as a young man (because I was in denial), then learning to recognize my fears, and finally growing to welcome those fears as helps along the way.  We are most controlled by the fears we least recognize.

As I trudged, I pondered.  I have been dodging certain fears, leaving them unaddressed until I had enough emotional resources to open myself to feel their punches without crashing my heart, a truce of sorts instead of a lasting peace of mind.  I am finally ready, I thought, to address some of those dark shadows within.

Then that loud, angry shout yanked me back to the present and opened a psychological fork in the road–how should I respond to these feelings?  As I turned out of sight around the bend, I wondered how to pick my way through the mental debris.  Should I try to brush aside his words by changing the subject or argue with him to prove my innocence or castigate myself and resolve to do better?  What internal dialogue will protect my heart when it feels under attack?  And this odd solution came to me: rather than defend myself, I open myself to feel the sting and understand it with self-compassion.  That is the courage I am choosing this year as I support myself with gentleness.

This is the next leg of my journey: to sit with painful and scary feelings, to let them course through my veins and pound in my heart, to let them tell me all they wish to say about my own struggles and wounds and skewed perspectives, about my subconscious self-judgments, crazy expectations, and harsh demands, and to lovingly listen and feel sympathy for a boy that has always tried so desperately hard to find the right way and walk it against all obstacles. I need to gently open myself to feel and understand how this world’s edges cut my soul, to follow the contours of each gash with my fingers and trace its origins from the tender vulnerabilities of my early years.  Wounds need the gentle touch of sun and air to heal.

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Posted January 21, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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