It goes something like this:
A young warrior awoke from yet another nightmare with a raging pain in his belly; a remnant of his dream. Confused as to the source of the pain, he consulted his father. “Father,” he began. “Night after night I have the same nightmare. It is of two wolves within me. They fight incessantly. Why do I have this dream? What does it mean?”
The father replied that these two wolves are representations of his warring emotions. Extremes, they represent, one for each. Love. And fear. His father continued by explaining that they will always be there, fighting for all time. The young warrior asked, “Which one will ultimately win the battle?” The father answered, “Why, the one you feed.”
Such is the essence of fear. The extreme and polar opposite of the great emotion and desire of most. Love.
For most of us fear begins the first day someone asks us to do or say something that we are unsure we can do or say. Stretching ourselves beyond our known abilities can be very frightening. But never more so than when we attempt a new feat called standing. Stand up on those rubbery appendages called legs and walk to mama. Stand to and give a report to the class about your research findings. Relearn to walk after your knee replacement surgery is complete.
One thing I have learned over my life is that fear tends to not be what you know but what you don’t know. The things you are aware of, but unaware of its potential. We tend to fear things and people that are beyond our control and influence.
Death is an unknown that we are very aware of, but know nothing about. ‘…Oh, death where is your sting?..’ the writer says. The sting is not in the actual death. Not even on the pain of it’s coming. Oh, sure, it may hurt the one experiencing it. But once it happens, what are you going to feel? I mean really? So the sting lays in its destructive aftermath. The experience for those who are left behind. The loss. The not knowing if you went up or down, if you believe in either of those. The fear is not knowing how to go on without the one who is lost. Fear and pain seem inextricably tied to one another as old friends.
So what do we do? Should fear be fought against? Perhaps even denied it’s very existence? Starved of its sustenance if you will? Science tells us we have the fight or flight instinct. When faced with a fear inducing event we have two choices, they say. To fight it. Or flee from it. What we haven’t been told, I believe, is there’s a third option: work with it.
But does it work?
In the latest Avengers movie, the heroes asked Bruce how he was able to defeat the Hulk within. How did he control his anger? He said simply that he was always angry. He learned how to operate WITH his angers and fears. His achievement was not to fight himself but to learn to live with himself. He grew to accept that anger was a part of his psyche. As such, it was healthier and ultimately more beneficial to learn the new normal while embracing his anger.
But that is a movie. How can a movie possibly be a truth teller?
Glad you asked.
There was a sermon I was witness to once. The essence of that sermon was we must learn to embrace the fears we have. Become intimate with them. We really need to learn to get to know the fears name. Where it came from. What it likes for breakfast. How old it is. What school did it go to. You get the picture.
The idea is not to hide from our fear spot or shelter in our happy spot any more than Bruce ran from his angry spot. By embracing our fears we eliminate its crippling power.
Recall the story at the beginning of this blog. The warring wolves. Ask yourself: Which would you feed?
If you feed only the fear wolf it will grow stronger. Offer nourishment to the love wolf and it will grow stronger. But if you feed both, both will continue to serve you. Fear is inescapable. It is part of the human experience and needed for survival and recognition of the unknown dangers lurking around the corner. Fear will save us as readily as love has since love first carried us through. So why seek to crush the very wolves that must be there and have been there for us all our lives?
I would argue that fear must be embraced (with all apologies to Master Yoda) as much as love must be. It is within our base character to act within ourselves. We are humans and capable of great things. Love and fear are simply a part of the human experience.
I submit that if you wish to conqueror your fears, you are already on the wrong foot. Seek to embrace your fears. Just as you have embraced your loves. Be as intimately relational to the fears you carry as your loves. You should know your fears going and coming. Know how far it will push you and make you react oddly.
For let’s face it, unmitigated fear makes us do weird things.
But that is usually because we have not tried to work with our fears.
A child may ask how can you do this and how can you do that? That looks so scary. It’s not because you’re so much better or wiser or stronger than your fear. But because you’ve learned that by holding fears hand and saying its gonna be ok. We can do this. Fear looks back at you and says ‘.. It’s Ok. I got you if you go too far.’ I’ll leave you on this.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Traveled a lot. It’s said that when he would return home he would take his youngest daughter up in his arms and place her on top of the refrigerator. He would then urge her to leap into his arms. Time after time she would refuse saying she was too afraid to jump. Then the day came she took her fears with her.
Dr. King placed her high as usual and urged her again. This time she closed her eyes.
And her father caught her.
And Dr. King said ‘… You’ve just made the most important decision of your life. You jumped. And trusted that everything will be ok when you land.’ She learned that but trusting her fears to not take her beyond her limits. Her fears to keep her safe. The love of her father to catch her. That when she trusted her loves and fears in equal measure
She then knew that she was gonna be ok. And so will you.