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We are all learning a lot about our own fear responses and the fear responses of others, whether we know it or not. If you know what to look for, you can see how people around you have learned, over time, to acknowledge fear (or not), since most of us tend to fall in to our old patterns of responding when faced with a threat.

Ultimately, when faced with a crisis, whether it’s in our face and obvious or more non-specific and invisible, we rely on the things we’ve always done.

If we were taught to “suck it up and move forward,” we may throw ourselves in to work right now, crossing things off our list and attending video conferences with hair brushed, a pile of papers next to us, and a mug of hot coffee at the ready.

If we were taught to compartmentalize, set aside the alarm bells and “fake it,” we may be inviting friends over for dinner, gathering at the beach to play, heading out to the movies to take advantage of the empty seats.

If we were taught to seek understanding and plan for every contingency, we may be scouring the internet for articles to share, advising our friends on the best way to protect themselves and their families, and stocking up on cleaners and medication “just in case.”

I am reminded, when I hear people angrily commenting on how others are still out and about, or mocking those who seem disproportionately afraid, that many of us are running on autopilot because we are in fight or flight mode. Because the “fear” part of this response is jarring to many and uncomfortable for all.

We are not taught to acknowledge fear in healthy ways, for the most part.
We are not taught to sit with fear.
We are not taught that fear won’t break us in a way that is irrevocable.

But it won’t.

My ex-husband was a person who said things like “it’s fine,” “it will all work itself out.” He was someone who didn’t ever say to me, in 26 years together, that he was afraid. In many ways, I appreciated that. I was afraid a lot and having someone around who was seemingly never worried about the outcome, who was supremely confident that things would be ok, gave me a strange kind of confidence.

Except when I wanted him to be afraid. Then, his demeanor enraged me. It felt like gaslighting. I needed someone to acknowledge that some things are scary, and that being scared alone is a really awful, isolating thing. But I think, at that point, we had so firmly set our pattern that it would have taken a lot to undo it. I relied on him to be the stoic, fearless one, and he relied on me to hold the fear for all of us. It worked because my fear didn’t paralyze me. I was one of the “plan for every contingency” people who got strangely calm in the face of crisis, was able to discern and move forward with purpose. But there are some crises that call for us to do nothing for a while and I think this is one of them. I think that we are being called to learn to sit with fear and uncertainty and let it break our old patterns.

If we can learn to be scared together, and trust that it won’t kill us, we will learn so much. If we can acknowledge that the “sucking it up” and the “faking it” and the “just in case” are all avoidance mechanisms that don’t serve us and that place the burden of fear on others in disproportionate ways, we can begin to come together. It is a privilege to pretend that you’re not afraid and just go about your normal business. It is a privilege to choose not to sit with the emotions that this crisis stirs up within you. (Folks with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and those who are not served at all well by the dominant systems in place already know that – watch them, listen to them, learn from them).

We will not come out of this with privilege. We will not come out of this with the systems that serve us intact. And if we rush to either preserve the systems that are crumbling or to craft new ones before we’ve truly understood what this is all about, we are not doing the work that we are being called to do right now. We are being called to listen, to get very small and quiet and pay attention to what sustains us. Not what sustains the systems we rely on to sustain us, but what sustains us – the people, the connections, the acts that give us joy, the art and music that touch us, the nourishment and types of rest. We are being called to shed the notion that we can be independent, the idea that we can pick up where we left off without being changed by this.

While there are individual traumas happening because of this, this is a collective crisis, and it requires a collective consciousness. While there are individual people and families who are being hit harder than others, in one way or another we will all be touched by this and we will weather it much better if we recognize that. Having compassion for those who have not had to examine the way they respond to trauma before is key. Sitting together in fear (without wallowing – just noticing, acknowledging, and recognizing how we try to avoid it) is key.

I wonder how I may have harmed my ex by letting him be the one in our relationship who wasn’t allowed to be afraid. I regret not knowing that I was doing that. And I know how to recognize it now because I’ve sat with fear and I see how I avoided it. I wonder how I show up for my kids in this time and how I can shift to a way of being that is more in alignment with the collective consciousness. This will not destroy us. But if we let it, it will change us for the better.

Elizabeth Warren, official portrait, 114th Congress.jpg
“I want her, too, but she will never get the nomination.”
“She’s not electable.”
“I don’t think this country is ready for a woman president.”
I could go on, but I’m certain I don’t have to. I’m certain many of you have either heard and/or uttered similar phrases. 
This is absurd. 
This is us staying small and playing within the confines of the system that was set up without us and not for us. 
This is how we give away our power and agency. 
Can we stop? 
Please? 
It is not only a lack of imagination that leads us to this place, but it is also fear. Which makes it understandable and also incredibly difficult to break free from. 
Many of us have spent years minding the levies.
Many of us have been groomed to hold fast, take baby steps, think about the ones who are coming behind us. 
But it is important to recognize that the levies are man-made. They weren’t created to keep us safe, but to keep us small, to keep us compliant, to make us believe that venturing beyond the boundaries will surely destroy us. 
The overwhelm is real. 
Once we begin to think about what might be possible if we look up and out, peer over the walls we’ve been told are impenetrable, or at least can’t be breached right now, we can be flooded with confusion, and we are much more susceptible to the cries of
“Not yet!”
“Be realistic!”
“You’re going to ruin it for all of us!”
It is true that change can be made one tiny step at a time. We have seen it happen with everything from women’s suffrage to same-sex marriage.
But how many years did we wait for the ERA to be ratified? 
And what happened in the interim?
How many women’s voices and talents were hidden and squashed?
We are at a tipping point, and we’ve gotten here with baby steps – this adherence to Capitalism at all costs, Individuality above all else – it has gotten us a health care system that is quite literally killing people. It has gotten us an overwhelming population of people living in cars and tents and sleeping on the street. It has forsaken education and locked up children and made a world where people who aren’t white, non-disabled, cis-gendered, heterosexual, English-speaking, non-mentally ill have to work harder and harder to simply stay alive.

The old saw about whether the glass is half full or half empty? That’s us keeping ourselves small. That is Capitalism and patriarchy giving us the parameters within which we are allowed to live. That is the way we are told what our reality should be. 
But the truth is, we don’t have to just have one glass. 
And it doesn’t have to be filled with water. 
We can cup our hands and drink from an ever-flowing stream.
We can fill a mug with tea.
We can squeeze juice from an orange in to one glass and sip it alongside a mug of coffee.
During this presidential primary, maybe it would work for you to set aside what you’ve been told by fear or the media or your trusted Uncle Joe. 
Maybe gathering the courage to vote for the woman who shows up to listen, who has proven herself capable of learning and growth, who comes with a plan and a history of getting shit done is a way for you to stand tall and peek over the levy to imagine what might be possible if we do this in a big way. 
Maybe marking the circle next to Elizabeth Warren’s name would feel like you’ve just entered a bigger room where there is more air to breathe.
It could be that that simple act of courage, taken by all of you who say she is your preferred candidate, is a powerful counteraction to the shrinking, the resignation, the acceptance of the boundaries we’ve been told are unbreachable. 
And if there are enough of us who are willing to vote with hope and agency and clarity of purpose, we can begin to untangle ourselves from the Gordian Knot we’ve been told we have to live with. Join me? 

I am writing my way in to my body. This is difficult, but not counterintuitive. In the last ten years or so, I’ve discovered that what I used to think was counterintuitive was simply fear. Instead of doing what I was told to do (don’t poke at that, don’t examine the pain, pretend it isn’t there or deny it or minimize it) for most of my life, I have learned that opening up, asking questions, and leading with curiosity is actually the most intuitive thing I can do.

So, while it has been a while since I sat down to write, I am agitated and hyped, uncomfortable and tense, and too far in my head. It is time to write my way in to my body.

The word agitated conjures up the washing machine of my youth – the golden colored 1970s top loading contraption that swirled clothes to clean them by violently twisting them back and forth. The one I had to stand on my tiptoes or levitate off the ground in order to reach that last sock or pair of underwear caught on one of the fins of the center agitator before tossing it all in to the dryer. Is this agitation getting things clean? Is it separating the dirt from the substance?

I am an extreme empath, especially when it comes to my daughters. When they are overwhelmed or upset, joyful or incredibly excited, I am too. I feel it in my core – like that washing machine agitator of old. I think sometimes I need that twisting motion, that constant shifting and moving inside me in order to parse out what is mine and what is theirs. Especially when the intensity is driven by fear.

It is my job as Mom and holder of space, purveyor of radical acceptance and unconditional love to operate from a place of calm and curiosity and centeredness. In order to do so, I have to filter out the fear.

It is Spring and I am eager to burst forth in to new growth and projects. Last fall I went to a plant sale and bought two tiny dogwoods and a lilac. They were in 1-gallon pots and at the time, they were simply sticks standing upright – not even impressive enough to be called a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I was skeptical that they would grow at all, but even after the 15 inches of snow we got this winter (unheard of in Seattle), a week ago, they each sported one tiny leaf. Today, they are all decked out in green, leaves growing by the minute thanks to the rain and sun breaks we have had. I like to imagine that all winter they lay resting, knowing that the time would come for them to busily push forth new leaves, maybe even agitating deep inside as the Earth rotated and the days got longer, readying themselves for the burst of energy it takes to produce new growth.

I think I’m a few weeks behind, but I’m going to get there.

By Dave Huth from Allegany County, NY, USA – Pill bug, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64866062

My gut can be the source of some pretty deep knowing. It’s often the first place I get an energetic “hit” when something is off or really, really right. But it’s also the site of connection to my daughters and I realized this morning that if I’m not paying really close attention, it can lead me to places I don’t want to go.

I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to make parenting decisions (or, really, any decisions, for that matter) out of fear. While fear is important, it’s important as a first hit emotion, not a “let’s move forward” emotion. So when I let energy sit in my belly, it’s not good. Especially when it comes to my kids.

The alternative to acting out of fear, for me, is acting out of love, and for that, I need to be in my heart. I have to really work to open a portal from my belly upward and let that energy move to a place of abundance and openness and vulnerability. And that’s the shitty part.

When I close my eyes and think of my gut and the way fear feels there, I shrink forward like a pill bug, curling around those soft parts and protecting them. But that traps the energy there and while it feels safe, it’s not sustainable. My babies were in my belly for a finite period of time for a reason. I wasn’t meant to protect them forever. And as they grow up and make their way in the world without me, I still feel that tug just below my navel – a cord of connection that is like an early warning system. It’s always ‘on.’

These days when I am afraid for my girls, the stakes seem so much bigger. They’re driving, working, spending time with people I’ve never met and maybe never will. They are making decisions I don’t know about and maybe wouldn’t make for myself or them, given half a chance. The gut hits tell me to draw in, tug on that cord to keep them closer to me, curl around and try to protect them again. That’s fear. Fortunately, sometimes I have the presence and ability to remember that I chose not to act out of fear.

It’s time to draw that cord up through to my heart, to open and expand, to breathe and shine light and lead with love. It’s time to trust that the connection will always be there, it’s just that the nature of it is changing, like everything else does. It’s time to remember that fear shrinks, dims the light, takes so much energy, but love expands and shines and releases energy. These girls are up and on their own legs, and when they wobble, I’ll be here, with open arms, standing tall with my shoulders back, leading with my heart, because love is so much more powerful and transformative than fear.

I spent the last two days at a Mindfulness Research Conference and my brain is full. I dreamt about mindfulness last night. Don’t ask me to describe it because it doesn’t make much sense, but trust me when I say it will be several days before all of the information I received filters down through the recesses of my brain and begins to create a clear picture. I was left with a tremendous sense of gratitude for all of the people who are doing such good work to uncover which practices and paradigms are the most effective. People doing work on a shoestring budget in the face of resistance to the idea that this is a science, in the face of challenges like racism and ablism and a culture that doesn’t embrace relationships between people as much as it embraces the power of money. More than once, I found myself breaking out in goosebumps as I listened to these brilliant, fierce, heart-centered folks present their work. Whew.

When I took the pups for a walk this morning before most of the rest of the neighborhood woke up, I had ample opportunity to quietly reflect on the last two days. I set out with the intention of simply paying attention to my surroundings, appreciating the flowers in my neighbors’ yards, the smell of the air after a hard rain last night, the sound of the birds talking to each other and their babies. It wasn’t long before I was distracted, however, which is akin to what happens sometimes when I sit down to meditate. Some people call it ‘monkey mind,’ but in this case, it was puppy mind. The dogs were pulling me in two different directions, each of them intent on tasting whatever they could – small sticks, bits of gravel, discarded wrappers and chewing gum they discovered on the ground. Over and over again, I tugged one back toward me with a harsh Leave It! I nearly laughed out loud when I realized that this is what I do to myself when my thoughts stray during meditation and I resolved to be more gentle. These puppies are doing what comes naturally to them – exploring their world with their mouths. Anger won’t change that. I can be more gentle in redirecting them (and simultaneously look forward to the day when I can take them for a walk and they will lift their heads up and look forward and walk smoothly instead of letting their noses lead the way in some winding treat scavenger hunt).

The actual events of the walk did not change with this realization, but my response did.

This is mindfulness. The recognition that there is a stimulus-response occurring and that I have the power to stretch out that hyphen between them, reflect on it a bit, and change the response to one that is more purposeful, more gentle, more positive without ever trying to change the stimulus.

As we rounded the next corner, I saw a neighbor up ahead walking to work. I didn’t want to shatter the quiet, so I just observed him as he walked into and then out of my field of vision. Once he had passed out of my sight, a small sedan came zipping down the street – going well over the speed limit – a young woman behind the wheel bopping her head to her music and peering in the mirror of her visor. I felt my blood pressure rise and lamented the fact that I was too far away from her to catch her eye and send her some kind of signal that she needed to Slow Down, for God’s sake!! My jaw clenched and my hands tightened around the leashes despite the fact that we were fully half a block from the street she had just raced down. I was furious.

Oh. Yeah. I was furious. This is mindfulness.

Noticing that word furious bouncing around in my brain, coupled with my physiological responses and the urge to dispel the tension in my hands and face and chest by yelling or flipping her off was enough to stretch out that hyphen space.

Stimulus                                       –                                        Response
Was I really angry? Yes.
Why? Fear.
The sudden appearance of this fast moving car on the heels of seeing my neighbor walk along that road sent my mind racing. As soon as I saw her driving quickly down the street, seemingly not paying close attention to her surroundings, I conjured up images of a horrible accident. My mind spun off into horrible scenarios: her not being able to stop in time for the crosswalk right in front of her; not even seeing a small child or pet racing across the street to catch a ball or chase a squirrel; crashing sounds, twisted metal, glass shattering on the roadway. 
Even though none of that happened, even though two blocks ahead of her was a stoplight that would surely be red this time of the morning, my conditioned response to fear of potential disaster was anger. 
Well, what about next time? She clearly didn’t learn anything this time. She’ll most certainly drive that quickly down this road again and maybe next time it won’t be fine. I wish I could catch up with her and tell her to pay more attention. 

I watched as my mind created stories about her – she was out after a long night of partying and had to race home before her parents noticed she was gone. She was an entitled rich kid (she was driving a fairly new Audi sedan) who only thought about herself. She was looking in her visor to put on her makeup instead of watching the road.
I nearly laughed out loud at the elaborate tales my mind created in order to sustain my anger response. This is mindfulness. 
All of this happened in the space of about 90 seconds but by remaining curious and separate from my thoughts and physiological responses, I was able to move through the fear and anger and gently redirect my mind back to the walk, the flowers and the quiet and the dogs who were now wrestling with each other on the wet grass at my feet. Instead of holding on to that tightness, elaborating on that story, striding home to tell my kids about the crazy person who sped down the street and nearly killed the neighbor this morning, I took a deep breath and let my shoulders drop. 
This is mindfulness. 
I may still sit today with my eyes closed and clear my mind for a while in formal meditation. But even if I don’t, I am reaping the benefits of mindfulness practice by doing my best to extend it to the other parts of my life where my stimulus-response mechanism can have enormous effects on my mood and the way I interact with others. I suspect this is only one of the ripple effects the last two days will have and while it is invisible to most people, it will certainly impact how I show up in the world. 

I sit here full to the brim. My heart is heavy, my stomach quivering, mouth dry and thoughts racing. I remind myself to breathe deeply a few times a minute and struggle to define what is happening. I am both drawn to social media and reminded to pay attention to how it makes me feel. I am grateful for the conversations I have had with Eve and Lola last night and this morning; appreciative of the opportunity to temper anger and fear with reflection and self-awareness. So far, here is what I believe to be true:

 

  • Americans who voted for vastly different outcomes than I did have just as much right to cast their votes as anyone else. Regardless of whether someone’s vote was cast in anger or fear or hatred, the fact remains that we live in a democracy. Everyone’s vote counts.
  • I can’t know what motivated anyone else’s vote unless they tell me, and trusting the media to tell me isn’t a valid option. They’re the ones who were so wrong about how this election would go, remember? That means they have little insight into the way many people’s minds work. The media is just as divided as this country’s electorate is and is mostly populated by a group of college-educated, white folks. That is hardly an accurate representation of the country.
  • There are no more racist, misogynist, elitist, ableist people in America today than there were yesterday. And, more importantly, we can’t know what motivated people’s votes (see bullet point above), so saying that this election was a mandate for racism, sexism, or elitism is altogether incendiary and not useful. We don’t know that, frankly.
  • The people of this country have allowed themselves to be divided by fear, income inequality, geography, and hatred. Fear is a powerful motivator, but unless we really strive to listen to each other with the intent to understand, we will get nowhere. I have watched (and I am guilty of this, too) people purport to have ‘discussions’ about the election that were simply about convincing the other person that they are wrong. When discussions become about right/wrong, winning/losing, they cease to be about understanding. It is human nature to dig in and defend our position. It feels too scary to stop and wonder whether anything is truly black and white and whether we could have something to learn from someone who thinks differently than we do. Until we learn to acknowledge and set aside our fears, we cannot hope to build bridges and come together around common goals. We won’t even be able to identify common goals.
  • We often fail to recognize the ripple effects of our actions. Folks who voted as a reaction to something may soon come to regret that choice if the stock market crashes, they lose their health insurance, or Roe v. Wade is repealed. We are all connected and every single action we take has consequences that we can’t predict. Reacting out of fear or anger or hatred often doesn’t give us the time to think about what those actions might set in motion. Folks who are waking up today and reacting to the news out of anger or hatred – vowing to fight against those who elected our new president or threatening to leave the country – have every right to feel those emotions, but acting on them will only drive us farther apart as a people. We are all connected.
  • The dichotomy that exists in America is amazing. The popular vote was split nearly 50/50. In the face of elections where conservative Republicans will control the White House, Congress, and the Senate, the number of women of color in the Senate quadrupled last night. Gun control measures are expected to pass in four states, and there were at least ten anti-corruption measures that passed across the country last night. My state just elected the first Iranian-American, disabled Lieutenant Governor. We are a complex nation of people who have more in common than we know, and if we can come together and begin to remember that the value of human beings is immense, and more important than money, we can begin to heal.
I don’t mean to sound naive. I live in a position of privilege that means I am not imminently worried about my citizenship, my health insurance, my civil rights, or my ability to remain in my home. That position affords me both power and responsibility. I will continue to remember that it is my duty to be engaged, to listen and try to understand, and to support the things I believe in most vehemently, all the while acknowledging the right of others to believe differently. That is what this country has always purported to be about.

Slowly but surely, inexorably, every step this country takes pushes us farther into a corner. It didn’t start with 9/11, but it certainly accelerated our descent into fear, and we are now reaping what we have sown. A populace who succumbs to the shouted words of its leaders to “protect yourselves,” “be alert,” “report suspicious activity,” and complies, putting police officers in schools, adding security protocols layer by layer, selling military-grade weapons to local police departments – this populace has come to this: snipers on rooftops shooting at peaceful demonstrations, punching each other at political rallies, spending millions of dollars attempting to block individuals from using public restrooms.

How can we be surprised? When we have all listened to the rhetoric that warns us about the Other?
How can we feign shock when we have been conditioned to look for what separates us and be on guard?
When our politicians increasingly skip over the step of diplomacy and build coalitions to “bomb the shit out of [insert country/terrorist group here],” can we not see how much of our collective American psyche is built on fear?

The thing about fear is that it is necessarily reactive. We like to think it is proactive, that we are simply PROTECTING OURSELVES, but the act of protection means that there is something we are afraid of. And in protecting ourselves, we build walls, we isolate ourselves and retreat into tight spaces where often the only recourse is to fight our way out. We have bought into the idea that in order to be safe, we must be feared ourselves, and so we arm ourselves with weapons and hateful words to be used against others.

And this fear takes on a life of its own – it prompts someone to report a suspicious character simply because of the way he or she is dressed or to be kicked off of an airplane for being middle eastern and doing math.

It takes us to the point where we are so fearful of sharing a public restroom with someone who doesn’t look like us, act like us, think like us, that we try to enact laws to keep transgendered people from peeing in the stall next to us.

Every time an unarmed person of color is shot by a police officer, we live the result of that fear.
Every time a non-binary-gender-conforming person is killed or beaten, we live the result of that fear.
Every time we choose violence over dialogue and assume that the only way to protect ourselves is by shooting first, we reinforce that fear and paint ourselves farther into that corner.

The United States has become a country whose primary focus is on protecting itself, whose primary motivation – by default – is fear. It will only get worse from here unless we make a conscious effort to elect officials who come from a place of community, openness, shared humanity. The only thing we will get from fear is more fear.

I love yoga. Not only for the sweating, quiet
determination, sore muscles and peace I gain from it, but because it is where I
hear that strong, inner voice most clearly. Without fail, as soon as I let my
guard down and begin my physical practice, words come to my head. Simple words
that don’t necessarily strike me as being important at the time, but they
resonate for days afterward. Last week’s epiphany was no exception. It didn’t
knock me over with a shout inside my head or jolt me into instant clarity. It
fell like a raindrop in a deep pool. It was quiet, melted into my brain without
a trace, and rippled. And rippled. And rippled.
What would this look like if it didn’t come from
a place of fear?
Throughout the week I continued to examine that
thought. Throughout the week I found myself amazed at how often my reactions
originate in fear and how fear is responsible for outlining the space in which
I act. When I recognize the source for what it is and consciously move from
fear to acceptance or love, everything changes. I can feel a shift in my body
as I relax into groundedness and space. My mind becomes open and possibilities
expand forward. The walls around begin to dissolve.
When I operate from a place of fear, my options
are restricted and I begin to make connections that aren’t necessarily related.
If this happens, next comes this and then it swells into that and…Oh, No!
Spiraling anxiety as the fear feeds on the tightly coiled energy inside my body
and brain and I’m locked inside with it.
When my responses originate from love or
acceptance or groundedness there are no boundaries. In fact, once I make that
subtle course change, I no longer feel the need to drive any agenda. Whereas
with fear, I’m compelled to either stick to the course my anxiety has laid out
or fight to alter it in some way, when I let go of fear, I am more likely to
sit back and see where things go next. I don’t need to act within any
particular moment to make something happen or prevent it from happening. I am
able to temper my responses and, very often, the next step reveals itself or
negates any action on my part at all.
In the last several days I have been able to
watch myself and come to realize just how often angry or frustrated or anxious
feelings arise from my fears. When Eve and Lola begin bickering, it is my fear
that leads me to snap at them to “knock it off!” When I send out yet
another email to a prospective agent or publisher, it is fear that drives me to
downplay my own writing abilities or the importance of this book project to me.
When I get annoyed at being interrupted while I’m mentally planning my day, it
is because I am afraid that I’ll lose the thread of thought and somehow
“fail” to do all of the things I’ve convinced myself I ought to do in
order to be the best mother/writer/wife/friend.

When I sit back and ask myself the question,
“What would this look like if it weren’t coming from a place of
fear?” I am astonished at the possibilities. What if I trust my own
abilities as a mother/writer/wife/friend and simply act out of love and the
understanding that I have enough. I am good enough. There is an abundance of
love/compassion/intelligence/patience/money/whatever I need. When I source my
feelings and thoughts and actions from that well, life looks pretty damned
amazing.

*This essay is one of several that originally appeared in BuddhaChick Life Magazine. As the magazine is no longer available, I have reposted it here so that readers can find it. 

I know from fear.

I grew up an anxious, perfectionistic little kid, afraid of new things and new people and situations I couldn’t control.

I spent the first years of my parenting life terrified that I was doing everything wrong, that my children would get terribly sick or my husband would leave us.

I know from fear. And my life began to turn around the day I decided I would no longer be ruled by it. It wasn’t a sudden thing, just a gradual dawning that I had a choice to make, and once I recognized that I had been choosing scarcity and fear for most of my life (all the while wondering why happiness and contentment weren’t showing up at the door), it was pretty profound.

I have been watching with amusement the growing concern over the Zika virus “outbreak” and, until yesterday, was mildly confused. Yesterday, NPR broke a story about the World Health Organization saying that this virus had “explosive, pandemic potential” and it was all over my Facebook page. Really? This virus that most people never even know they have because it causes mild cold-like symptoms is all of a sudden something we are cautioned to freak out about? Yes, I understand that it has major implications for women who are pregnant, although as of yet, there is no causative connection that has been established. And I get that, in many countries where there are no options to control whether or not you get pregnant, this is a conundrum.  Wow. Nothing like stirring up fear of something that is likely to not really cause any problems for the vast majority of us.

This morning, NPR had one of their correspondents in Iowa interview Republican voters regarding last night’s GOP debate and I was struck again by how the front-runners have stoked the fears of people in order to gain votes. Over and over again, I heard people talk about terrorism, ISIS, and the fear that, if a Democrat were elected to the presidency, their guns would be taken away and they would be left altogether defenseless against “meth addicts in my front yard with guns.” Huh? In Iowa? Is there some sort of terrorist cell network in Iowa that I don’t know about? Are there lots of armed, methamphetamine-addicted folks running around at night burglarizing towns in Iowa?

A little later, on the Tavis Smiley show, there was a political analyst who was talking about the odd phenomenon that is Donald Trump and when Tavis asked him about the “best way to fight Trump,” his answer was, “I’m curious why you’re focusing on fighting Trump and not supporting Hillary.”

Yes. Not that I’m a Hillary supporter. To be honest, I am pretty firmly in Sanders camp, but that’s not something that we need to discuss here.


I was reminded of the knowledge that what we fight against grows in power, if only because we are giving it our energy. The key is to direct our energy toward the thing we desire, not against the thing we are afraid of. That is not to say that there aren’t things to fear in life, but if we take a step back and really think about it, what are the odds that any one of us in this country is likely to be touched by terrorism, contract the Zika virus, or be shot by a meth-addicted robber? We are more likely to suffer slowly from income inequality, domestic violence, and pollution. And in the meantime, when we let our daily activities and choices be dictated by fear of things we won’t likely ever encounter, we are wasting our energy. When we make the choice to rail against the things we are afraid of (most of which will never come to pass, and even if they did, we have almost no control over them, anyway) instead of creating space for the things we do want to see in our lives, everyone is hurt.

The main difference I see between focusing on hope and focusing on fear is that one of them is actually more frightening than the other one. When we focus on what we’re afraid of and put our eggs in the Trump/Cruz/Rubio basket, we are actually less afraid because we think we’re following people who can control or prevent what we’re scared of. When we focus on hope, we are putting ourselves out there in a way that is vulnerable, with the knowledge that it will take some effort on our part to make it happen, and that responsibility is often much more frightening than sitting back and letting someone else do it. But ultimately, that is what this country was built on – groups of people who were committed to working for a better collective future for us all, and that is where I will continue to put my energy. Here’s hoping there are lots more people out there that feel the same way.  Fear is a strong motivator, but it doesn’t ultimately get a damn thing done that is good for all of us.

I am taking an online class taught by Brene Brown for the next two months, and if you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you know already that she is one of my sheroes. I love her no-nonsense style of talking that cuts right to the meat of any issue, and I find her endlessly quotable.  

So prepare yourself, because I predict many blog posts will come from this experience as I have epiphanies big and small, thanks to her words.
This week’s lesson was based on the first chapter of her book, Daring Greatly and it delved into the topic of courage. One of the things that she said struck me like a hammer to the thumb, reverberating into my consciousness and making me really think.  She told us that, for much of her life, she consciously “engineered smallness” into everything she did. While she may have had big dreams, she purposely did things in small, safe ways that would mitigate her level of risk because she didn’t want to get hurt or look like a fool or fall flat on her face.  
It takes a lot of courage to step out of that mindset, and some people never do. I think it’s akin to flying under the radar. You’re still technically flying, but you are really looking to not get noticed because you don’t want to get shot down. But the irony there is that you end up becoming resentful and unfulfilled.  I know, because I’ve done it that way for decades.
I, too, have engineered smallness into my life, dreaming large and taking baby steps, all within my comfort zone. Wishing that my work and my passion might “get discovered” one day, but without putting it out there for the world to see, what are the odds of that? It isn’t often that I send my writing to big outlets because I am both worried that I will be ignored or rejected, but also because, if they do publish it, how will I feel when the trolls come out and say horrible, horrible things about me (because they will)? 
It sounds trite, but all of those old adages are true:
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
No pain, no gain.
If you don’t take the leap, you’ll never know whether you can fly.

I was happy for a while, living a safe life. Until I wasn’t. There was a time when safety was more important to me than courage, but I’ve changed. And while I am under no illusion that courage won’t be painful from time to time, I am willing to suffer the blows that come with living my values, if only so that I can say I did. It doesn’t make me feel very good about myself to live a life that doesn’t align with my values, and even if I get hurt or laughed at, I’d rather say I tried. 
It occurred to me this morning that the people I most revere are people who live with courage and demonstrate it in important ways.  The people who engineer smallness, who live in fear and advocate shrinking down, who shy away from the real work because it’s hard – those are not people I am interested in. It is the people who acknowledge that there are scary, challenging things out there and still forge ahead who have my respect. Those who choose the easy fights (ahem, every GOP presidential candidate) and criticize without ever really putting on the armor and risking something important? I’m not a fan. I’d rather align myself with folks who dig deeply, who feel strongly, who rise to the level of courage and risk personal disaster.  May I be one of them. Here’s to engineering greatness in my own life.