Bravery: to feel fear and do what must be done anyway
I was an anxious kid. I worried about pretty much everything. Convinced I was doing everything wrong, I was overwhelmed by the boisterous, gregarious energy of people who always seemed to have something to say and expected me to do the same.
I was also a perfectionist. I hated failing and if I couldn’t learn how to do it well, I learned how to avoid doing it altogether.
I wish I could say that I outgrew these tendencies.
I’m still pretty much anxious about everything. I’m a shy introvert with strong anti-social tendencies when I’m stressed out. And I still aspire not just to do things perfectly, but also effortlessly. Because as any true perfectionist knows, you not only have to do things flawlessly, you have to also make it look easy.
Until recently, I would have said that, despite all of this, I am a “feel the fear and do it anyway” person. I’ve done my share of scary things, daring things, difficult things. I’ve moved across continents and oceans. I’ve lived places where I don’t speak the language. I even bought a manual transmission car without knowing how to drive stick.
(That last one may have been less “brave” and more “stupid.”)
All of these things were scary, but I did them anyway. I did them because even though I was frightened, I wanted the experience more.
I did these things that scared me… but I’m not sure I really felt the fear. Instead I think I gave fear a hard shove and started running, hoping to get far enough ahead that it couldn’t catch me. I ignored my fear, distracted my anxiety and channeled terror into nervous energy.
The fear didn’t really disappear. Instead it all got shoved into a metaphorical closet in my mind, ready to come tumbling out should I open the door even a crack.
Turns out meditation is quite a door opener. As I dive deeper and deeper into a regular meditation practice, I keep stumbling into fear. I feel it in my chest and my throat. I’m starting to remember my dreams when I wake up each morning and they’re often about being trapped, or lost or bitten. I’m starting to get downright jumpy.
You have no idea how tempting my coping mechanisms are. I so want to avoid feeling all of this. I don’t like it. I want to keep very, very busy or perhaps dive headfirst into a Netflix binge and not come out for three days.
Or maybe just eat ALL the Oreos.
But I’m working very hard to feel the fear this time. To sit with it and see what happens. To look at it, noticing how it feels and where it manifests in my body. To be curious about whether it’s a specific fear or more of a generalized anxiety. To see if a fear once felt can finally be released.
I’m not going to lie. I really hope that this is a phase of mental housekeeping that won’t last forever. It’s exhausting and more than a little worrisome.
Counterbalancing that worry is this suspicion that on the other side of this fear, if I move through it rather than around it, is a life less burdened by old emotion. I’ve been living with some of these fears for so long that I’ve gotten used to the mental real estate they inhabit. I’ve learned to step around and dodge and accommodate these fears, but I haven’t let them go. If I can learn to feel fear and then truly release it rather than run away from it, how much more mental energy would I have? How much more joy could I feel?
Would I finally feel brave?