I have a binder for my English class that I scribble my thoughts down on. When the binder is open, there’s a margin along the side, about two inches or so wide, that is the perfect place to get words out of my head and into the world. I exclusively write in pen, because I have a strange aversion to pencils, and it always rubs away within a few days. I like this idea of impermanence- lasting only so long as to solidify the once liquid concepts in my brain to cement them into existence, then disappearing and leaving room for the new. I’ve written many short scribbles that end up as full posts on this blog later, once I’ve had time to think about the line or two that came to me when I was supposed to be paying attention in class.
This past week I penned this as I was waiting for the bell to ring:
“‘Take your fear with you.‘
Being brave doesn’t mean not having fear, not feeling fear, or even defeating fear. Being brave is seeing fear as a companion in your life, a friend in your ear daring you to dream. Be willing to listen, be willing to leap. Take your fear with you.”
I know that I’ve heard the concept of “taking fear with you” somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me pinpoint where. I do this a lot- remember bits and pieces and fragments of ideas that resonate with me, and am left wondering if I read it or if I just made it up myself. Regardless, we can assume that it’s taken from the human collective, and embrace it is an idea that should be universal: fear is not the enemy.
Fear is something that we’ve developed in order to survive. We fear fire because it can burn us, the dark because of lurking predators, and deep waters because we could drown. We’re all survivalists when it comes down to it- animals who want, above all else, to stay alive. And because of this fear has never been inherently a bad thing. Fear is a guiding force in our lives that ensures that we stay here long enough to actually make a difference, and fear can be utilized in our daily lives as motivation: fear of losing your family makes you double check the locks at night, fear of losing your house makes you remember to check the oven, fear of losing your ability makes you wear your seatbelt on the way to work. These are simple things that are, when we get down to it, motivated largely by our fears.
The problem is that we develop far too many fears, and above that we develop an attachment to them. We develop fears that aren’t about staying alive, but rather about what we project out into the world. We fear that we’re too much, too little, too big, too small, too proud, too humble. We fear not that we will not survive, but that we will survive as something that is displeasing to others. We fear that if we pick a job on passion we’ll be seen as irresponsible, and yet we equally fear picking the “safe” job and appearing boring. We fear eating junk food and being seen as gluttonous, and we also fear eating healthfully and appearing obsessive. We fear being rich and being seen as spoiled, we fear being poor and being seen as lazy.
We fear being too far on either end of the spectrum no matter what the issue is, because inevitably we will end up offending someone. This fear stems from our attachment to not rocking the boat, to keeping things steady and unoffensive. There’s very few people on this planet who truly do not care about what others think of them- and I’m certainly not one of them. I want people to think I’m smart, but not too smart. Strong, but not too strong. Ambitious, but not too ambitious. I want to please everyone, a task that is far too great to ever be accomplished and one that fear drives us to believe is entirely necessary to our wellbeing.
Teaching has taught me much about this fear. I wanted to be a good teacher (the survival fear- “I need to teach classes that people want to come to if I really want to teach”), but I also wanted to be a favorite teacher (the projection fear- “I need to please everyone if I want people to think I’m a good teacher”). Someone would tell me the music was too loud, I’d turn it down. Someone else would tell me it was too soft, I’d turn it up. The heat would get cranked, then the AC. We’d do tons of hips, or we’d do no hips. I was struggling to find the identity of my class because I feared that one person out of all of them wouldn’t have the greatest experience of their life.
And while I was trying to do this, I wasn’t teaching the kind of classes that call out to me- the kind of classes I wanted to teach, not the ones my fear led me to believe would be the most broadly appealing. I was trying to control the minutia of people’s experiences and in that, losing touch of the experiences I truly wanted to cultivate with my teaching. It was at this point that I realized I needed to take a leap, and embrace the fact that by teaching the kind of classes that resonate with me, I’d be not fully satisfying some students. And that is okay.
At first, it was terrifying. And to be honest, it still is. I’m still too loud for some people, and too soft for others. Too hard and too easy. Too quiet and too preachy. Just like every other teacher on this planet, I’m exactly what some people want and exactly what others avoid- and walking into a room every week knowing this is nerve-wracking to say the least. But in order to start speaking, teaching, and living my truth, I didn’t try and defeat this fear, not did I attempt to dismantle it or deconstruct it. I had to embrace it. I had to take my fear with me, make it a part of the experience, and see it for what it really is: a companion in life that lets us know we’re taking a risk, and oftentimes, that’s a pretty good sign that we’re seeking and achieving growth in what it is we are doing.
Fear does not need to abandoned, it needs to be understood. Fear is an obsession not with what is happening in this moment, but a preoccupation with what’s happened in the past and could potentially happen in the future. We need to stop viewing it as something that’s holding us back and begin seeing it as a litmus test for growth. If you’re not feeling, experiencing, or witnessing fear in some aspect of your life- chances are you’re not being challenged in the ways you need to be. Right now I’m terrified that I’m going to move away to college, lose my connections in my current community, and lose my identity as a yoga student and teacher. But it’s a sign that I’m being pushed. A sign that I’m going to have to work hard to prove what is important to me and what it is about me that makes up the core of who I am. It’s a sign that I’m being pushed out of the comfort zone I’ve developed such an attachment to- perhaps too much of an attachment.
It wasn’t always so comfortable. When I first started practicing yoga, I was absolutely terrified of taking my first class. I walked into Just Be a half hour early, threw my mat down the wrong direction, and nervously waited and wondered about just how “bad” I was going to be. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and everyone seemed to know exactly what they were doing. I felt completely out of place, and part of me wanted to go running out the door away from the room that was scaring me.
But I stayed. I took my fear with me to my mat again and again. And overtime I got to know this new companion in my life- someone who was helping me grow, change, and develop. I took my fingertips away from the earth in balancing half moon just for a moment, because things were getting too easy, not because I wasn’t afraid of falling down. I tried crow because I was up in my head and not experimenting with my abilities, not because I wasn’t afraid of faceplanting and looking ridiculous. I showed up every day ready to change, ready to become someone new, and that meant packing up my fear along with my yoga mat and facing each class as a new possibility.
So often what we fear is exactly what we need. And so often what we fear is rooted in inadequacy: that we’ll push ourselves only to still fall short of expectations. But what will never change, regardless of the outcome, is the fact that we took our fear into our own hands and used it to shape our lives and who we are. We took our fear with us, and we didn’t let it weigh us down.