Fear is a funny, horrible, tricky thing. I have felt it all my life. A constant nagging fear. My mother always called me a "worry wart," from the time that I was quite young, which makes me smile now that I'm old enough to realize that it took one to know one in this case.
The first time I was in San Francisco (on a cross-country road trip when I was twenty-one years old), I called home from a pay phone and my mother said, "oh my god, get out of there, there's probably going to be an earthquake any minute!" Of course there wasn't. My mother loved me dearly. She was always nervous that bad things would happen to us, her children. Mostly, they didn't.
But sometimes they did. I often think it was an enormous blessing to both of my parents that they passed away before my brothers Robert & Mitchell. My mother, I honestly believe, would not have survived well or long after losing two of her babies.
When I think, in general, about my mother's habits, mannerisms and ways of being, I realize that she suffered the same general anxiety that I suffer. Always waiting for the next bad thing to happen. Always expecting the worst. That sounds "negative" and it is but it's not a mean or malicious negativity. And it's also not "wrong." Sometimes "the worst" does happen. I have lived through several "worsts" in my life. One gets in the habit of living for the moment when "the worst" comes to visit instead of happily entertaining all the great stuff that visits in between.
I am full of fear at the moment. There's something going on with my health. Something not right. Honestly, like many of my stress-related health scares in the last several years, it is probably nothing or next-to nothing. It is probably stress. Stress I ultimately cause my self by being so fearful.
I have a fairly invasive medical test tomorrow that requires anesthesia. Again, it's really routine & will probably be a snap but my mind immediately jumps to the worst case scenario.
And the tricky thing about fear is that we are so ashamed by it and afraid of it, we cover it up with all kinds of other useless emotions, like anger. My UU Pastor gave his message today about fear and talked about this but this is something I also read several years back in Thich Nhat Hahn's book, Anger. In part, he said, the anger comes from feeling like you've failed.
I feel like I've failed. I have been on this road to health and wellness for a long time. In the past twelve years especially I have changed my diet and my movement patterns so completely that I can hardly imagine the person I was back then. Still, it hasn't been enough. Or, it hasn't made a difference. I have been so sick these past few months and especially weeks that I've had to abandon many of my hard-won habits. Some days, I simply don't care anymore. I become that person that I was again. And, thus, one my greatest fears for myself, is realized. Ugh! And this creates an endless stream of anger. So much anger. Because anger is so much easier to feel than fear.
My second pregnancy was a time of extreme fear for me. At one point, early on, I was even told that I had lost the baby only to find out through tests that I had not. Instead of this being a relief, it simply filled me with non-stop anxiety. Near the end, especially, I never slept well. A friend suggested the book, Birthing From Within and I read and performed the activities diligently. I'm sure it was because of this book that I woke up one night from a good dream where I was completely free of fear. I was surrounded by hands and birthing my baby in a tub of warm water and everything was peaceful and right. I woke up with a start, grabbed the first piece of paper and pen I could find (not hard, I usually keep something right in my nightstand) and wrote, "Freeing myself from fear is the most radical act of courage and the greatest gift that I can give my children."
When fear leads to anger, everyone around us suffers. My mother's fear often led to withdrawal which felt like a form of anger to me. I withdraw but I also dig deeper, demand more from those closest to me. My children suffer for my fears. Not only because they have to deal with my anger but because they look to me to know whether they should feel scared about something. If I always feel scared, so will they...and so it goes.
When I was around eight or nine, my mom was diagnosed with atrial fibulation or arrhythmia. I heard her talking about this. I heard the doctor talking about this. I had gone into her work (she worked in a hospital) after she had an episode where she was laid out on a table and hooked up to oxygen. I was terrified. She was terrified. I could see this in every line on her face, this terror. One night, shortly after this, I asked her if she was going to die. She said no, not right away. But I remember her being sort of mean to me about it. She acted as if I were stupid or ridiculous for asking such a dumb question. I know now that she was just so scared of that question that the only way she could deal with it was to mask her fear with an easier-to-feel emotion. Eventually my mother got a pace-maker and eventually, almost thirty years later, she did die of a heart attack.
I want to write "those thirty years don't matter" because I lost my mom anyway. She did die. And it didn't matter that it was thirty years after my first realization that she could die because losing her hurts just the same as it would have then. But...that's not exactly true. Those thirty years made all the difference in the world.
The trick of mindfulness or zen or Buddhist detachment is living in the present moment. If all I can do is fear death or anything that feels like "the worst," I waste moments, days, and years of perfection, of sweetness, of health, of beauty, of love, of happiness-- real happiness. If I let fear own me, I waste my life. If being fearless makes me powerful then being fearful strips me of power.
I think, despite constant inner anxiety, there are probably many ways I seem outwardly fearless (possibly even powerful) to others. I have done many things in my life that have required a great deal of courage. I have practiced being courageous often enough to realize that in courage, it's not that you don't feel fear, it's that there is no room or time for fear.
Tonight, as I end this post and try to get over myself and my anxiety about this little routine procedure tomorrow, I'm thinking of my beautiful friend Charin, who around the same time tomorrow, will be going in for surgery to have her kidney removed. She has been diagnosed with cancer -- but this surgery will get rid of it all. This is not the first "worst" Charin has faced in her life, by a long shot. I dare say this is not even one of the worst "worsts" she's faced. And she is facing this diagnosis, this surgery, as she seems to have faced every damn thing in her life: with relentless courage and good cheer. Her smile gives me confidence. Her fearlessness steadies my nerves.
For the past couple of months, my family has been writing gratitudes every day (most days) somewhere between dinner & bedtime. We each write three, share them then put them in the gratitudes jar. It occurs to me now that gratitude is one of the opposites of fear. I am grateful for the additional thirty years I had with my mother. I am grateful --so grateful-- for the health of my two amazing children. I am grateful that my brother Mitchell and I became close in the last few years of his life. I am grateful that my dear friend Charin's cancer is treatable/removable. I am grateful for being outside all day in the beautiful sunshine today after a long, burdensome winter. I am grateful for the man I love who makes me feel truly safe when he's around. I am grateful that he likes to dance. I am grateful that he likes to sing karaoke. I am grateful that his steady, graceful nature doesn't allow my fear much room to grow. I am grateful that he and my sister and my friends are always there to remind me of myself and the fact that, like us all, I am so much more than my fears.
Another opposite of fear is love. MoJo's Kitchen strives to cook and eat with love, when we can. We also think, lately, that it's a good idea to let the people we love know how much we love them every chance we get. In this way, our lives become the moments we are loving others and cease to be unlived moments waiting in fear of losing them.