At the end of the book Journey to Ixtlan, the Don Juan trilogy by Carlos Castenada, the protagonist wanders in the desert and faces his greatest fears. In the dark of the night, Carlos realizes the fear is actually his spirit animal and his guide, the coyote. He had been running from it for most of the book. He confronts it. It becomes his ally.
When I was a child, I bought Guatemalan “trouble dolls” at the United Nations gift shop on a visit to NYC with my grandparents. The trouble dolls were to quell my nightmares by holding on to my troubles as I slept. I just had to whisper my fears to them before bed. It seemed to work. I slept better.
Later in my early 20’s, I learned to stop running and turn around in my dreams if someone was chasing me and confront the chaser. Immediately, the chaser became an innocuous object or person who then added some odd comic relief to the nightmare.
Now over 40, as I reflect and watch my own life unfold, build my newest business, walk with students in new experiences, and travel overseas with teens, I see fear as an ally.It is telling me what I need to do, confront, or simply pay attention to in the moment instead of running. Fear is my compass. Ancient wisdom says, “The problem is the path.”
Today I witness our nation, our citizens, struggle with violence and turn against each other. I see that fear is not guiding us. In fact, we are simply continuing to run from it, ignore it, and blame others for it living inside ourselves. Fear of what others will do to us, fear of all the destruction and turbulence in the world, fear of the other, and fear of not fitting in while fearing the pressure to be unique, successful, and standout. Oh, and the news both feeds on and propagates fear. It is running wild.
Fear originates in the oldest part of our brains, yet the tingle can be felt in the heart, stomach and neck. A friend calls those her “Spidy Senses”. While it is useful to avoid immediate danger, danger as we once knew it does not exist. While some situations, conditions and environments are perpetuating fear be it with violence close to the home, isolation, and ignorance, fear is living inside us. It can be confronted. The real danger is in feeding fear.
Of course, JFK’s quote is appropriate here, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear is tearing apart our country from the inside out.
Confronting fear is not shooting an innocent, or even possibly guilty, person. Confronting fear is not getting into a fight with a bully. Confronting fear is not yelling at your boss and quitting your job. Confronting fear might simply be the recognition of fear.
If it is your ally, and you identify it as such, then questioning it, asking it for guidance, or simply noticing when it is by your side can be all you need to have it point the way. The path can be seen when the fear becomes a guide.
Students’ greatest ah-ha moments come from the moment when they step into the fear and become courageous. Being brave or courageous is not “fearless” but noticing the fear and looking at it. Flipping the script and making it your ally. It’s telling you something deeper. It is telling you something deeper about yourself. It may be triggered by external forces but it is inside you.
Why all the shooting, the suffocating, the incarceration, and the gun deaths? All of these to such a maniacal degree that America, land of the free, home of the brave, is among the most tyrannical states of the world with more in people in jail, death by each other, and civil rights moving in the wrong direction. We are doing it to ourselves.
Fear has us trapped. We are not in the land of the free. We need to be free from the chains of fear. We are not brave if we keep running from our fears and locking them up. Fear lives inside us and if fed, takes our freedom, squashes our courage. It blurs our vision.
I strive to be a guide. A field guide who walks with you so you can feel safe exploring the unknown. Face fears knowing I’m right here and it will be alright. I hope to create opportunities for young people to confront fears and dream big seeing the world as a safe place that will nurture them and water their blossoming greatness. I dream of a time when people notice fear and confront themselves. Then, allow fear to guide them to do something different, something challenging and stretch, strengthening the infinite potential and see clearly our shared desire for a safe peaceful world.
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