I’ve spent the last two years focusing on releasing, surrendering, and letting go of fear, expectations, putting other’s feelings before my own–all the normal things the average person with a healthy dose of anxiety and a well-honed type A personality carries in life. My goal in my pushing-40 time-of-life is to put all of that down and set off in to the world unbound and free.
It would probably be more accurate to say that in recent years I’ve done a lot of throwing fear down, hard, and running away fast for it might catch back up to me. In short, I’ve let go of fear but not the fear of fear.
It’s nuts, isn’t it? I’m thinking it’s logical to say ok, enough, I’m not going to be afraid anymore; I’ve faced my demons and come out the other side and am no longer paralyzed that they could happen because, frankly, they did happen and I’m just fine. That seems to me to be a lifetime’s worth of lessons right there. Why isn’t that enough?
Physics, apparently. That, and body memory.
I’m spending the summer teaching my kids how be strong swimmers and bike riders. They both could survive any kind of trouble with each, but their lack of confidence really handicaps true success in these areas and finding joy in them is a unlikely mirage of some distant future. “We can swim/ride just fine,” they say, “leave us alone to just play ball!” (Ball, no big surprise, they are great at playing and the success and joy is an instant gratification, much the opposite of the “chores” I’m trying to get them to embrace.)
This “just fine” makes my hairs stand on end. “Just fine” has kept me at about 84% my whole life: grades, relationships, work, and, yes, swimming and bike riding. I don’t want them to accept fine because fears holds them back; I want them to strive fearlessly for excellence.
“Fine isn’t good enough!” I explain, “There is no joy in ‘fine,’ there is no cool in ‘fine,’ and most importantly you guys are going to start to avoid fun times with your friends because you’re nervous about not being good enough.” In return I get the exasperated look of two boys who just want to be left alone. One, I’m irritating them to death and, two, I’ve gotten a little too close to the real truth: they are afraid.
Today, two lessons running through our three lives collide. First up, physics.
There is a running joke in my house about my husband’s nerdy obsession with physics; according to him, everything comes back to it. Today I see he might be on to something. While I got that releasing fear makes the thing I fear essentially dissipate, what I didn’t seem to understand was that every time fear crept in and I freaked out, “Oh my God, it’s fear! Get away fear, you are not wanted here!” or “Please, God, take this fear away,” or even, “Thank you for being here fear, but you are an unnecessary evil in my newly evolved life and I need you to go!” I’m essentially putting up a desperate attempt to push fear away because I’m afraid of it. And, like all good physics guys know, the more you push, the harder it pushes back.
Next up, body memory.
My body has always carried the stress of all worries. In high school my lower back started to hurt and, as I head to my 20 year high school reunion this fall, not much has changed in that area even after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to get help from every available health practitioner. Not only am I still living with back pain, the following friends have joined us in this order: pelvic pain, upper back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and an ear that has felt plugged and painful since the birth of my first son eight years ago. Not only that, migraines have increased, heart palpitations belly up to the bar every couple months and I even get a twitchy eye when it feels like coming to the party. I am almost 38 years old and I don’t remember what it feels like not to be in some kind of pain every day.
A couple years ago when I was near breakdown and made some very serious life changes to get my life back together in a healthy way, my expectation was that all that hard work would pay off not only with a healthier state of mind, but a pain free body as well. Healthier state of mind, check; pain free body, no deal.
Here’s what I put together today: even when I sense fear and trust I know I will be fine, the fact that fear is near puts me in a state of fear because I hate fear for everything it took away for me in my younger years; not only that, my body doesn’t seem to know how to do anything different now that it did then. It doesn’t distinguish between the fear of being alone and the fear of the fear of being alone. It just knows, “Hey, my girl is sensing danger, I must tense up and protect her.”
So, let’s combine body memory with physics. If I fear fear and try to avoid being in its presence, then it will continue to dog me with a persistence equal to my resistance. When my back is full of steel cables (which I’ve been told by more than one person that’s how it feels) then I may be very strong but at some point something equally strong will come to snap me in half. If, however, I can teach my mind to quiet and my body to relax, instead of full of cables my back could be full of reeds; reeds that allow me to receive the fear gently and, equally gently, send it on its way.
Along those lines, teaching my head and heart not to fear fear isn’t enough; I also need to provide my body a new set of memories. 36 years versus 2 years doesn’t seem quite balanced; does this mean I have to wait 34 more years of positive body memory around fear to make this work? I don’t think so. Something tells me that spending time focusing on receiving and releasing will teach my body that it feels much better to be a reed than a steel cable. Like any bad habit, I have to be vigilant and focused, but I also have to be gentle and compassionate.
Which is more reed-like, after all.
Speaking of reeds, perhaps I should apply the same philosophy to my kids in their (my) biking and swimming quest. Reeds of compassion swaying in the wind with a gentle compassion instead of the steel cables of have-tos smacking them over the head that they take out of my hands and use to smack me back–that seems like a logical physics experiment with a rather evident hypothesis. Instead of all the lessons and the pushing I should just provide opportunities for them to have fun. Soon enough, their own bodies’ memories will tell them that swimming and biking are things that are fun, not chores, and that they don’t need to be afraid anymore because, look at us, we’re having fun after all! We didn’t even realize that we relaxed to the point that our body can now do what it was supposed to do in the first place. Our fear is gone, our body has positive memory associations, and it was all done with a gentle give and take.
These are the moments when I wonder who God put here to teach whom. Rather than worry about it, I think I’ll just receive the question, recognize it with a moment of gratitude, and release it back to the world.
Hey Reeds, I could get used to you.
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