Looking back at what has turned out to be a long life, I began to wonder this morning, why have I held back so often from trying out new things? And why was I so often unable to honestly admit how I really felt to others, or even to myself? If that sounds familiar to you, let’s explore it together.
Whenever I dare not try something new, what first comes to mind is fear. Fear of taking a risk; of being wrong; of offending others; or of not being able to finish what I start. We could go deeper into these rationales one by one.
Fear of taking a risk is a common reaction to whatever new is coming at me, but today’s situation is unprecedented. All over the world, the life we have been accustomed to is threatened by the unknown. What’s more, beyond the dark questions about our own future and that of those we love, is that of the planet itself.
Maybe it’s time for a bucket list for the soul. What would you answer if someone asked, “If you knew you were going to die in a year, what would you want to have done before you go?” An even more important question to stop us in our automated tracks is, “What wants to come into the world through you?”
Maybe I owe something I’m not even aware of yet for this privilege of living, fraught though it may be. Like you, I am a small person with an enormous possibility. Remember the woman who was able to lift a car high enough and long enough for two neighbors to pull her child out from beneath it? And I recall a photo of a French Resistance hero smiling tenderly at a Nazi firing squad, just seconds before they executed him. Such moments demonstrate the unprecedented strength of love.
Then how to meet the blows of life, or the maleficent virus that plagues us and sometimes makes us fear each other? Should I keep my biggest defenses up in front of people I meet and challenges I face, or take the risk of opening to them? It’s a tough choice.
Fear of offending others is another big one. Especially if you tend to want to please people, as I do. “Don’t rock the boat,” says a voice inside. “Quieter is better. Maybe no one will notice you.” But what if that is a sin against life—an offense against experiencing new possibilities and budding relationships built on trust?
As for fear of being wrong, for someone like me that can be the hardest of all to deal with—and the most deceptive. Because the fact is, even when we are trying to do our best, we are never ‘right’ except subjectively, in our own eyes. To operate under that banner is to play games we can never win against the gods of competition. What’s more, wanting to be ‘right’ is often a disguise for seeking power over others.
Ever since I realized that, I repeat Rumi’s invitation to myself:
Out Beyond Ideas of Wrongdoing and Right doing there is a field… I’ll meet you there.
It opens up a new attitude, calling me back to the joyous sensations of lying in the grass of a summer’s day, high on a hill, listening to the tiny sounds and smelling the rich country scents. A happy place to be.
I’m often faced with the bugaboo, how to finish what I start? But the fact is, when we experience life in the present moment, we are always in the middle of something. It’s never over! Everything is changing into itself or something else. Nothing is lost; only forgotten. So why worry abut the finish line? Here I am, trying my best to let go into life, to live like an explorer rather than a naysayer. Nothing is as black or white as it used to be. Life and decisions and longings take on multi-colored and ever-changing hues.
The biggest change in attitude appears when I remind myself that fear itself can be a great teacher. It informs my consciousness of whatever state I’m in. For example, when I am poised at my center, there is little fear. When caught in superficialities, I’m lost and anxious. Then I can begin to look for the still point T. S. Eliot spoke of so tellingly:
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
All of us can seek that still point often, reminding ourselves that there is no fixed place in the universe, or in us. Everything is in movement; everything vibrates. At any moment we can consciously join the eternal dance of atoms and molecules as we go forward—embracing our own cells as we dance. And if there’s only a short time left to explore what it means to be human, surely we will want to spend some of it following whatever calls us to be centered in ourselves.
In fact, there is a mighty well of creative energy deep within each of us—the source of genius but also of everyday get-up-and-go. Therefore let us, at least from time to time, let our genie out of the bottle and follow for a little while wherever it leads.
Come to think of it, this could be my last chance to find out who I really am!