Friday 16 October 2009

The limits of fear

I was in the gym this morning when I was literally blind-sided with fear. I suddenly ‘got’ how different my life would be if we were lucky enough to have a child.

It’s so easy to become comfortable and settled in my life; my daily rituals, my preferences, my time… heck, even my sleep! The realisation of what it would be like to lose my grove, to lose everything that is familiar and reassuring, hit me full on: I felt myself panic, as though I were being choked by a black cloud.

Now this is an irony – how can I fear something that I would consider such an honour, that I pray for with such earnestness? It got me thinking about fear.

We assume fear is evoked because we are afraid losing something we value, but we can as easily be afraid of gaining something that we value. The underlying issue is not loss or gain, it is change. As human beings, we appear to be hard-wired to resist change at all costs. Yet this makes very little sense to me rationally because our own experience shows us that change is the only constant factor in our lives. Nothing stays the same; not our waistlines, not our careers, not our families, not our homes, not even our finances. We age, we develop, we make mistakes, we learn, we travel, we dare… our lives are jam-packed with changes. Whether a change is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we never know with any degree of certainty in advance. Change is not aberrational, change is the norm.

Control is another critical factor intimately linked with change and fear. We like to feel a sense of progression in our changes, that we are giving up something we value less for something we value more. But the simple fact remains that if we value something (even if it’s not something that really serves us) we can experience some anxiety at the thought of losing it because the loss will leave a space, a fuzzy area outside of our control. And our ability to deal with loss of control may be even worse than our ability to deal with change!

So how do we deal with this? I’m over this morning’s panic attack – thank goodness! – but here is a basic outline of my thought process.

Step 1 – Freak out
Step 2 – realise I’m freaking out
Step 3 – start prodding the fear with a very long stick to see what’s beneath it
Step 4 – ah ha: “I’m afraid I’ll lose my free time, that I won’t know how to cope with a small being and that I’ll lose my life as I know it”
Step 5 – “Yes, that is scary. And others do this, so it’s doable. I’ve faced challenges before, I’ve come through them and getting through my fear gave me an enormous sense of achievement, made me somehow more myself…. Hmmm….”

I think Step 5 is really about owning that fear and acknowledging it. Some may say that I’m rationalising it, but I think it’s more about building my confidence that I can cope with my own fears.

All the fears I’ve known so far have been markers, defining the edges of my comfort zone. My ego is very happy inside that zone, but my soul likes to push me further, to stretch me; and when I succeed in passing the edge of that zone, whether I succeed or fail (see the Water-skiing blog!) I always have an enormous sense of mySelf, of my ability to create my own world beyond the narrow confines of my comfort zone.

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