On the Far Side of Fear

I was complaining recently that my life doesn’t look anything like what I imagined it would. In particular, I moaned about not being able to pursue my passions, even though I couldn’t really define what my passions were. My listener’s response gave me a lot to think about. “Everything you want,” he said, “is on the other side of fear.”

He was right.

river rapidsEver since then I’ve had this picture in my mind. I’m standing on the bank of a river. It’s not very wide, but it is extremely cold and swift—at least that’s my perception. On the far side are things I would like to do and, more importantly, ways I would like to be. The name of the river is Fear, and I’m afraid to ford it. I don’t like to feel fearful and anxious, so most of the time I stay on my side of the river, envying those who don’t particularly like the cold fear either, but cross the river anyway. I want to be more like them.

Not long ago I came across this quote from Aristotle Onassis: “We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds.” So often I think life would be much better without the winds of trials and troubles in our lives. Surely, I say to myself, calm seas must lead to happiness and fulfillment. The problem is, if we are sailing in calm seas, we run the risk of being becalmed. Without the wind to fill our sails, we end up going nowhere. Though the wind might make the seas rough, it is also the thing that helps us progress on our journey.

Framing this quote in terms of my river metaphor, I keep hoping the river will become warm and gentle, lazily meandering through a grassy plain. Then, I tell myself, I will gladly cross the river and do all of the things I want to do and become all of the ways I want to become. But that’s not reality. Reality is that the river will remain swift and frigid, and I must learn to swim in those conditions. But I’m afraid.

I’m reading a book called How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. The book is one I’ve read before, but, quite frankly, I’ve never made a concerted effort to implement the choices. I’ve always been afraid to try. What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t learn to make those choices? What if I learn to make those choices and they don’t lead to happiness? In other words, What if I fail? What does that say about me?

The following quote by Gordon B. Hinckley is tacked to the wall above my computer and has prompted me to make the attempt in spite of my fears. He said, “The faith to try leads to direction by the Spirit, and the fruits that flow therefrom are marvelous to behold and experience.” Of course, in my fear of failure mode, the advice leads to self-doubts. What if I try but don’t get direction by the Spirit? What if I don’t see any fruits?

I will admit that until I began writing this post, I felt like I wasn’t receiving any spiritual guidance and that my tree was bare. But if I’m being honest with and about myself, I have to acknowledge that, if not fully grown fruit, I’m beginning to see some buds. The first choice that Foster and Hicks describe is intention; extremely happy people intend to be happy. The assignment at the end of the chapter was to make a list of your most important intentions. I couldn’t come up with any, so, feeling a little bit like a failure already, I skipped it and went to the next chapter. But as I thought about it over a couple of days, I realized I did have some long-term intentions that influence my choices. They aren’t the same kinds of suggestions as those listed in the book, but they are things that resonate with my soul. It’s a beginning, a bud.

And that’s not the only thing I’ve come to understand about myself in the last few days. For a very long time I’ve felt inadequate because I didn’t have any passions—or so I thought. I know from my previous reading of the book that identifying and pursuing your passions is one of the choices extremely happy people make. I’ve been worried about what I was going to do when I got to that chapter. Was it just going to make me feel more like a failure? But yesterday I realized I do have things I am passionate about—learning and teaching. It may seem like a small thing, but I believe that insight came through spiritual direction. Voila! Bud number two.

My dislike of plunging into cold water is both literal as well as metaphorical; I really do hate any activity that is cold and wet. I took ski lessons when I was a teenager and in college, but I was never very good at it. I also learned to water ski, more or less. I was never very good at that either. Now I’m faced with another cold and wet endeavor—crossing that cold, swift river of fear that runs through my mind. I worry that I won’t be very good at that as well, but there is simply no other way of getting to my dreams and aspirations on the far side bank.

There is one water-related memory that gives me hope. My family used to take a yearly vacation to Lake Powell. It was always hot, usually anywhere from 100° to 110° or more during the day. But all we had to do was jump in the lake to cool off. I always hated the jumping in part because I knew how cold the water would feel against my hot skin. For many years I hesitated making that leap off the back of the boat. Eventually, however, I realized that the sooner I got in, the sooner I would cool off. I also figured out that if I jumped in, got out immediately, then jumped right back in, the water would feel warm and comfortable.

I’m hoping that the same principle will apply to my forays into fear. Perhaps if I jump into that icy river, climb back out and then immediately dive back in, maybe it won’t seem as bad the second time around. So far my efforts to incorporate the nine choices of happiness in my life have been mostly just fleeting moments of sticking my toes in the water. But I learned at Lake Powell that gradually walking into the water just made the discomfort last longer. Jumping in all at once would leave me gasping when I reached the surface, but was always better in the long run.

I still have a boat load of fear about immersing myself in the things that I have allowed to keep me from enjoying life, but I’m thinking it might be worth the risk. For one thing, I’m curious. I wonder, what does the view from the far side looks like?

Image courtesy of 123RF  ID: 12151684 (S)



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