Hearing my fear

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Driving in to work the other day, Pete Docter, the director of the new Disney/Pixar film “Inside-out” was being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air. I had seen ads for the movie, but hadn’t paid much attention. The basic premise is that we see a young girl’s emotions as characters inside a girl’s mind, and how they drive the girl’s actions and feelings after moving to a new city and leaving her friends behind. The segment that most moved me was the director recounting a letter he had received from the father of a boy who had attended a screening the movie. The boy was in a swim class, but for the entire session he had been too scared to jump off the diving board. The day after seeing the movie, the boy finally jumped off the diving board. People congratulated him, and his father asked what had happened that had allowed him to take the jump. The boy replied with “I saw that fear was driving, and I asked it to step aside for a bit”.

It seems that the universe has been trying to send me a message. Everywhere I turn, I run across some mention of fear. From the radio to couples therapy to T-shirts and many places in between, the message coming through is that I need to pay more attention to my fear, and the role that it plays in my life.

The first time that topic of fear came up was in couples therapy a couple of months ago. For a few weeks in a row, I had come into the session feeling okay, and invariably at some point in session I would get triggered and I would emotionally shut myself off. Seeing as how this normally happened when I had to deal with voicing strong emotions or feelings, our therapist suggested that FEAR had a large role in my ongoing depression. My coach had presented this idea a long time back, so I didn’t find it a novel idea, but it served as a reminder that I had to pay attention to that.

Soon after that while reading Refuse to Choose, a book about personality types like mine who don’t seem to be able to limit themselves to one interest or pursuit in life (Scanners or renaissance souls), I found myself face to face with another mention of fear. In this case, it was demonstrating how fear can kick in too strongly and when not necessary. To paraphrase, it’s good to experience some fear when considering a life-threatening scenario, but being paralyzed when contemplating singing in front of other people(or in my case dancing) is fear overreacting. A little bit later in the book it laid out some examples of where fear can stop someone from starting on a new route or idea because rather than start small, people often look at the whole thing and get overwhelmed. I felt it described me perfectly.

Then, perhaps the coolest of all, a couple of days later I saw a T-shirt which read “Fear is the Mind Killer” The fact that fear was on the shirt drew me in, but the phrase seemed familiar and I eventually found it was the beginning to the Litany Against Fear from the book Dune by Frank Herbert. The full text is as follows:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through
And when it has gone past
I will turn the inner eye to see its path
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing
Only I will remain.

Here’s a link to a scene from David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune that incorporated the use of the Litany Against Fear

That’s some heavy stuff there, and I don’t normally have the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit holding a gom jabbar to my neck while I try to resist the primal urge to pull my hand out of a painful situation. However, I think it speaks to how if one let’s fear take over, then you lose control. My experience with a potential drowning while surfing made that very clear. Also, thanks to my experiences with mindfulness, the idea of facing your fear and letting it pass rather than try to fight seems very true. I also like how this is very visual representation of the concept that the fear or idea of what he is experiencing is much worse than the reality of the situation, his mind is telling him that his hand is burning and being ripped open, but his hand is fine when he looks at it. I think of it as an amped-up version of how my fear often kicks in to tell me that a certain task at work, or a certain conversion with my wife, will be much worse than it actually turns out to be.

Coming back to the boy on the diving board, this is where I am aiming to get with my fear. It’s been working so hard to keep me safe, but in the end I am not really living my life as richly as I would like. I still am held back in a lot ways by my fear, but I’m trying to work with it. Being aware of it is the first step. I’ve found myself more engaged at home recently, more patient and the voice telling me how horrible I am has decreased in volume, and I can usually gently answer back to it. Hopefully by continuing a dialog with my fear it will eventually relax enough to step aside for a bit, and finally let me take the plunge into really living.