Making Friends with Fear

Despite having spent most of my life doing what others might consider risky business, I’ve never been one to dwell on my fears. Perhaps it is because I didn’t tend to sit with fear and really look her in the eye that I’ve often taken what may appear from the outside to be impulsive or risky action. Think: travelling alone as a young woman to unstable parts of the world because it’s exciting. Having a baby with a man you’ve only been dating for three months because you just know it’s right. Going on a road trip from Canada to Mexico and back with a baby who had open-heart surgery because you’re not ready to be a boring grown-up. None of these things felt particularly risky to me — I was too focused on adventure and thrill-seeking. But now, with the power of hindsight, it’s clear that fear was always in the picture. I was just really good at ignoring her.

Since leaving my comfortable 6-figure job in the midst of a pandemic to do what I feel called to, fear has come to hang out. In the past months, she won’t seem to take a break from whispering mostly unhelpful advice in my ear. I know she means well — she’s just trying to keep me safe — but there are definitely moments when I want to yell at her “I’m driving here! Can you please keep quiet for just 10 minutes?!”

That’s obviously not an effective way to deal with fear (or any emotion, for that matter) and I know it. I know that the best way for me to accomplish all of the big things I want to in life is to keep fear around and accept that she’s trying to look out for me. Yes, she sees a lot of very mundane things as scary, but she certainly keeps me on my toes. She reminds me that part of the reason why I am where I am today is that despite what I’d like to believe, she’s been there my whole life, reminding me that I might have forgotten something or that something seems a bit fishy or that a person may not be what they seem.

There’s another big important piece that I may have been leaving out. Since I came to the life-changing realization that the only joy in my life is the joy inside me — and by “coming to the realization” I mean letting go of my stories about someone being blown away by my brilliance and handing me success and happiness on a silver platter — my life has been a whole lot more joyful. When you’re able to really get present and tame your mind’s dramatic tendencies, there’s a lot more space for joy and fear seems to take a back seat as a result.

When I’m here in this present moment — as I am now, sitting on the couch at 4 am, my legs wrapped in a home-made blanket writing about things that matter to me — I can feel deep inside me how beautiful and joyous existence truly is. I can remember that despite my lifelong quest (and it’s been pretty relentless) to find novelty and excitement out in the world, the reason I love travelling and meeting new people and embarking upon new adventures isn’t that those places are better or those people are more interesting or more special than the ones in my life right now. It’s because when I’m in that mental space: when I’m in the mindset of being an explorer someplace new with foreign inputs and unknowns everywhere, that I’m having an amazing time because I’m so present to the moment I’m experiencing. I’m right there seeing the unknown street signs, peering at unfamiliar trees, gazing in awe at massive structures, staring with my heart bursting open at the roiling of the ocean.

In those moments, my heart is wide open, as are my eyes. The noise stops. Fear ceases her chatter, as do all of the other voices in my head. I simply look around and see things as they are. I take in the world around me without judgment but with curiosity, and if fear or any of the others start to talk, I take little notice. I let them speak: they’re entitled to their opinions. But I just take it in…and smile.

I’ve been practicing this in my home life since Covid began. After realizing that it would be a good long while before I would be hopping on a plane for another adventure, I reminded myself (as Josh has done so many times) that our life in Montreal is an adventure. Being a parent to two feisty, creative, tenacious children is an adventure. Starting a business is certainly also an adventure — and one that I’d like to be present for.

And so, I’ve learned how to let fear hang out. Sometimes I feel like she’s a cat, lying on my chest in the pre-dawn hours, telling me I should get up and do something. I listen to her and I get out of bed and write or do yoga and feel grateful to her for reminding me of how much I love this time of day. Other times, she’s more like a crow, startling me out of my reverie and making me look up and around me to make sure there’s no actual threat. The rest of the time, she’s more like a little mouse in my pocket. I know she’s there because I can feel her warm little body vibrating ceaselessly. If I touch her, she’s soft and lithe and wriggly and her tiny heart beats oh-so quickly.

She’s afraid because she feels small and there are so many big unknown things out there. With all of her trying — her knowledge-seeking, her acceptance that lived experience is the best way to learn about and understand the true threats — she’s still waiting for some catastrophe to befall me and prove her right. And that’s okay. I know she’s got my best interests at heart. I know she’ll keep me out of real danger if a tiger should leap out of the bushes or I should happen to stumble into the path of an urban bear. And the rest of the time, when people say or do things that make her recoil, when the future feels unbearably unknowable, when time feels like it’s passing in a flash, I do my best to sit with her and tell her (and myself) that it’s okay.

Choosing to live at the edge of my comfort zone means sitting with fear every day. I do want to be here, creating a rich and exciting existence for myself and my family, even with no certainty of the outcome, just the knowledge that the future will bring new lessons and new gifts and new relationships and new everything. I can choose to judge those new things, or not. Chances are that if I don’t, I’ll have a much better time of it. By continuing to do what I’m doing — learning, writing, creating, playing with life, connecting with myself and others, sharing my knowledge and experiences — I also get to keep having joy in the seat right beside me. Fear will be here too, of course, but she seems to be getting better at watching and staying quiet. In fact, she’s looking around right now, her eyes wide with awe and wonder.

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