In the folly of my teenage years, I had a default coping strategy which, although not actually acted upon, most likely set the stage for some problematic years and experiences. Whenever a troubling circumstance or situation felt beyond my skill set, I would visualize running as fast as I could and jumping a freight train. Where was the train headed? In my adolescent mind, the answer was always: “Wherever I could escape having to experience the damned feelings running through me.” The great flaw in this strategy, of course, is that wherever you go, there you are. To run, run, run, run-runaway makes no sense at all. Neither, truly, does anger, when it is a means of coping with fear.
Although I stopped visualizing jumping a freight train to escape uncomfortable or fearful situations many years ago, my childish strategy for dealing with the stresses of life may have covertly morphed into other mechanisms (such as distraction, or a bull-dog “let’s-make-this-right” attitude) that are also ineffective at dealing with the root of the issues. In the first, we’re basically ignoring the hurt through redirection of our attention; in the second, we’re putting our shoulder against the world and expecting it to move. The main point is that unfelt issues related to the human experience–such as loss, embarrassment, guilt, shame, regret, grief, loneliness, ridicule, resentment, and fear–are potentially going to turn around and bite us where it hurts unless we acknowledge them at the time…and feel them. The following are examples of situations that might give rise to uncomfortable feelings:
- What does it feel like to lose a loved one?
- What does it feel like to experience sudden divorce?
- What does it feel like to be given a life-changing diagnosis?
- What does it feel like to be faced with homelessness?
- What does it feel like to be forced to change careers midlife?
- What does it feel like to be estranged from family members?
- What does it feel like to have high expenses and low income?
This strategy related to feeling is not intended to bog us down in self pity or remorse. Its effect is actually the opposite–to liberate us. By feeling what needs to be felt, we gain greater clarity of perspective and allow ourselves to positively move forward. I believe that the following quote from Joseph Campbell expresses the best potential result:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
By simply being with our fears (and, as a dear friend suggested, even welcoming them), we disarm so many of their negative effects. When we take time to be (with the good, the bad, and the ugly), we allow their energies to be felt and accepted. Our intention is not to judge anything; for this is the grand territory of Isness, not the petty place of rightness or wrongness. From the vantage point of Being, we realize that nothing can truly harm us. We are not our stories of triumph or tragedy; nor are we the character playing the starring role in our life movie. Fear, when faced, loses so much of its imagined power.
In my life story, I have come a long apparent way. No longer am I seeking to run away from my fears on a freight train headed for who knows where. Now, I’m willing to sit with what frightens me–including sides of my personality that are less than perfect, and circumstances that feel uncomfortable. This, I believe, is opening me to all of the incredible goodness that this life has to offer. May such also happen for you.
Dare to dream (and care for one another).
With heartfelt regards,
Copyright © – 2022 – R. Arthur Russell
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