The best way to meet fear is to allow yourself to feel it. For many people, social situations are a nightmare. What to say? What to wear? What to do if you’re left in a corner and no one is talking to you? What to say or what not to say if someone is talking to you? Whether you’ll get that call, and how badly you’ll feel if you don’t. Public speaking, lots of people are terrified about that. There’s fear of intimacy, the risks required to tear down your carefully constructed walls. Fear you’ll never live a life that feels good to you, you’ll never reach your potential. Or the fear that you will, and then what? Fear of spiders, challenging conversations, hurting other people, rejection, dying alone. There are all kinds of things that might scare you.
Being scared isn’t a problem; running from the feeling is. If you’re panicked, there’s a reason, and you have an opportunity to know something about yourself, probably something very important. All the shadow emotions are markers. They’re like burning flags, waving in the wind patiently, waiting to be examined. They’re marking those places where you still have some healing to do, but so many people are so averse to feeling uncomfortable, they flee. They fling the feeling away, or numb it out, or deny that it exists. They run from that flag like their life depended on it, when in actuality, their life depends on their willingness to walk right at it. If you can’t sit with your sadness and allow the tears to spill, how can you relieve your pain? If a close friend called you in real need, do you think you’d help them by hanging up the phone? Or getting them drunk, or taking them shopping or getting them laid? Yes, I said that, because many people seek relief from their pain in those ways, and no, none of those things would help. Dr. Earl A. Grollman on this, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.”
When I say the “shadow emotions”, I mean fear, rage, shame, guilt, doubt, insecurity, jealousy, bitterness. The feeling of having been betrayed, or judged or shunned — any of those feelings that have some heat to them. Culturally, we aren’t trained to sit with that stuff. We’re told, “Don’t be sad”, “Don’t be scared”, “Don’t be angry”, as if we could just snap our fingers and make the feelings vanish. We learn some feelings are not acceptable, some feelings make those around us uncomfortable, and so we should hide them. In our crazy framework, men aren’t supposed to show fear, and women aren’t supposed to be angry. You know what we call an angry woman. We have a word for it, and it isn’t nice, but this premise is so nuts. We will all feel everything, regardless of gender. We will all have moments when we wonder what we’re doing here, and what happens after this. We’ll all doubt our ability to have an impact on the world around us from time to time. We’ll all wish we could do certain things over again, and differently. This is called being human. We aren’t robots. We can’t edit out or shut off the parts that are unwanted.
I met an eighty-seven year old woman today. It’s not the first time I’ve met her, she’s the mother of a good friend, but it’s the first time we really talked. Her husband died this year, and her brother, and his wife. She told me she goes out every night. Goes to the theater, goes to her bridge club, volunteers. She said it doesn’t change anything, but it makes the people around her feel she’s okay. Can I tell you my heart broke a little? She was married for sixty-six years and her husband never wanted her to have lunch or tea or anything at all with any other man. She told me that while she laughed and shook her head. I told her he knew he had a good thing. My point is, this life makes you vulnerable. That’s what’s asked of you. To open your heart, even though you understand your time is finite. Feel your feelings. Feel all of it. The heartache, the despair, the uncertainty. Feel it so it doesn’t block you, because life is simply too precious for that. You don’t have years to waste being stuck. It might take you years to heal, but that’s different than time spent on the run. What you run from, owns you. That’s clear, right? Anything you won’t face controls you. You’re not meant to be controlled, that’s why it doesn’t feel good. You’re meant to be liberated, but you have to use your key. Hoping that you do, and sending so much love,
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