Living with kids close to nature and on a creek, I find that my fear-mind has many opportunities to reveal itself. In spring, when the creek swells to river stature and rushes in white-lipped rapids, I worry that one of my kids will somehow escape through the gate and… In summer, as we gleefully splash in its pools and rock-hop to the other side, I worry about one of them slipping on an algae-covered boulder and… And now, in winter, as my older son courageously and curiously wants to explore the multi-faceted and miraculous displays of ice, my worry-mind sees the ice cracking, breaking, and…
Of course, I’m very careful (probably too careful). I teach them to respect Nature and learn her ways while remembering that her ways can be unpredictable. Last summer, Everest and I were walking up the creek when suddenly the volume of the water’s babble noticeably increased. I said, “Let’s move onto the bank,” and sure enough, the creek rose by several inches in a matter of seconds and the water transformed from a gentle meander to a rush. Fear swelled up in me, and this time it was the kind that I needed to listen to.
For me, Nature is the greatest teacher and there’s nothing that brings me more fulfillment and peace than seeing my boys revel in Her mysteries and joys. One of the reasons why we moved into this house was to be closer to nature and invite Her, through proximity, to be one of our kids’ primary mentors. I could play it safe and move my family to city, thereby removing the potential danger of water, snakes, bears, and mountain lions (all of whom have paid visits to our neighborhood), but then I would miss the splendor that lies before us.
There is no doubt that with Nature comes a bit more risk than, say, swinging on a swing at the park or playing in a nice square patch of backyard grass. Oftentimes, the risk is minimal and mostly exists inside my worry-prone mind. Nevertheless, fear is here, and the challenge for me it not to allow it to rule my decisions or squelch my kids’ exploration. I must let my sons explore and face their own fears or doubts, knowing that each time they take action against fear, they move in the direction of faith and love.
This is, of course, at the heart of my work with clients in relationships. The battle is between fear and love or fear and faith. And while I offer many techniques for battling fear (Lesson 5 of the E-Course is exclusively devoted to this topic) from breathing practices to changing the thought channel to blowing bubbles (yes!), one of the most effective antidotes is taking action that sends the message to fear of, “I hear you but I’m not going to listen to you.”
Action is at the core of all rituals that people in indigenous cultures enact – and some that our culture still retain. The young boy on the threshold of manhood must face his fear as he enters the forest and engages in a solo vision quest. Scarification rituals must engender buckets of fear that are only diminished once the act is complete. A woman nearing labor feels the fear of what lies ahead and knows that she has no choice but to face that mountain of pain so that she can hold her bundle of love in her arms. And the wedding, although typically thought of as only an act of joy and love, is actually an act of courage where, when entered into consciously, reduces fear and places love and faith in the driver’s seat.
Let’s pause for a moment and examine this last sentence: the wedding is an act of courage? Yes! It takes courage to commit yourself to one person for the rest of your life. It takes courage to keep walking forward toward the wedding day when your fear-mind is screaming RUN at every turn. It takes courage to look at the statistics of marriage and divorce and of happy, successful marriages and say, “I know it’s bleak, but I know we have what it takes.” I used to think that my clients’ anxieties diminished after the wedding day because they had taken the question of “Should I or shouldn’t I?” out of the picture. While I’m sure this a significant factor in post-wedding anxiety-reduction, I know now that another factor is at play: by getting married, my clients have taken a firm and positive action against fear and toward love. It’s a powerful action that says to fear, “I hear you but I’m not listening to you. I know you’re telling me that love isn’t safe and that I’m making a mistake, but I don’t believe you. I’m making a choose based on my rational mind and based on faith in what I know to be a good relationship. It’s time for you to take a back seat now. You’re no longer driving this car.”
Fear-reducing actions also figure prominently in the engagement period. In the rituals category of this blog, I talk about acts like skydiving and ropes course that address fear head-on and often take a big bite out of its power. I recently received a great email from a client and e-course participant who wrote:
I don’t know if the fact that I’ve been facing my fears has anything to do with it but last weekend I went ziplining. Now this is totally against my character. I don’t like anything scary or anything where I think I can get hurt. So for me to take an air tram to 1,600 meters and then clip myself to a cord and jump from one mountain to another was pretty crazy. I remember screaming until I couldn’t anymore, then screaming again…. and then there was silence( the jumps last about 45 seconds) and in that silence i just started crying. The funny thing is I can’t quite explain why but it wasn’t because I was scared anymore, it was more a sense of relief that I had done it. I hope I feel that way about my personal life soon!
Getting married is like jumping off a cliff or ziplining or skydiving: there is risk involved and you’re scared of getting hurt. But you cannot live life fully without risk – and with risk comes fear and with fear comes the opportunity to challenge that fear. And when you challenge fear you see that you are bigger than it. There is a parachute that opens… and that parachute, in a word, is called love. Not the feeling that we normally associate with the word love, but an active, daily choice to learn what it means to support and commit to another human being, to open your heart to the fulfilling and miraculous gift of a committed relationship.
Every time you say no to fear you say yes to love. Every time you take an action that puts fear in its place, you make space inside for love to enter. The action might be large – like jumping out of an airplane – or small, like reaching for your partner’s hand even when you’re in the grip of fear. Or perhaps I should reverse those measurements and say that often times, reaching out to take your partner’s hand even when you’re gripped by fear is a greater act of courage than jumping out of an airplane. For there is nothing as fragile and vulnerable as the human heart, and there is no greater risk than loving and committing yourself to the journey of love.