Transforming Fear To Love

Fear is like a river that begins to flow strong and hard during a storm. If we are not careful we can get swept up into the river of fear and it can move us very quickly further and further away from ourselves. The only way out is to grab onto something stronger than our fear, something deep and rooted that are heart can connect to. Reaching out for a branch of love allows us to come back to ourselves, for love is what we are.

I see life as a continuum on one end is fear and on the other is love. We have to ask ourselves how do we want to live our lives from a place of fear or a place of love. Let’s face it, one minute we can feel great, we can be connected to love and therefore, be loving and the next minute fear takes over and our outlook becomes very different. This is life. If we are here on this earth, love is something we are working on becoming better at. Given that we are love, we are becoming better at being ourselves. Fear is not innate and yet it can very easily take us away from love and ultimately, away from ourselves.

Fear seems to rear its ugly head when we are moving into the unknown, into uncharted territory, into a place we have never been before. It is one thing to grow up on Star Trek listening to the words, “to go where no man has gone before” and another to live it. And yet to go where we have not gone before is what growth is about. Without moving into the unknown or the unfamiliar, we stay in our comfort zone. Watching young children learn new things you realize that they have no fear. This is a good thing otherwise they would never learn to walk or talk or read.

When I was about 14 months old, my mom leaned me up against the counter while she was dealing with the sales clerk. We were in the middle of New York City and it was an ordinary day filled with mobs of people and the sound of traffic whizzing by. When my mom looked down, I was gone. Fear went surging through her veins as she started screaming my name through out the store. As she was just a few feet from the front door she realized I could have gone outside to meet my death on the crowded roadway just beyond the sidewalk. Panic stricken my mom followed her worst fear and ran out of the store into the street. She couldn’t find me so she began walking up the block. Much to her relief she saw me standing in front of a pizzeria watching the man throw the pizza dough in the air. This was the day I decided to walk for the first time.

Luckily, I had no fear of traffic or crowds of people or I wouldn’t have walked that day. Even though New York City is not the best place for a 14 month old to be walking around by themselves, I was exploring where I had never gone before and it led me to one of my favorite foods, pizza. As we grow older, we learn to become more fearful of the unknown, this fear might stop us from ever leaving the town we were born in or from pursuing higher education or from bringing our gifts into the world.

By the time we are 32 tears old, the wiring in our brain has hardened and our personality has formed solid, our comfort zone is perfectly in place. If at this point we stop having new experiences and learning new things, this is where we stay for the remainder of our lifetime. Did you ever ask a friend out to an event, one they have never been to before and they ask you questions like: What is it like? Who will be there? What time is it over? Will there be food? They are trying to discern if it is out of their comfort zone or not. If it is, they almost always say no. How many things do you say no to just because it is outside of your comfort zone?

My grandmother was a very fearful person. She would not go in elevators or airplanes or for that matter any confined spaces. She was so fearful that it limited where she could go and who she could spend time with. The extent of her fear was really brought home to me one afternoon when I was talking with her and the news was on in the background. As the newscaster began announcing a murder, I reached over and turned off the TV so we could continue our conversation in peace. In an unusual authoritative voice, she angrily told me to turn the TV back on. When I asked her why, she said pointing to the television, “I might know them”. In New York City, a city of 6 million people, she believed she might know the person who was murdered.

Much to my grandmother’s credit, she was able to overcome her fear for love. When her son was very sick with AIDS and in the hospital, he was placed on the 44th floor. She went to see him everyday and because she was terrified of elevators she would walk up the steps. My grandfather could not walk up so he would take the elevator, and my grandma would make him stop at every floor, get out, and yell down the stairs to make sure she was alright. After weeks of this, my uncle wasn’t getting any better and my grandmother was not getting any younger. She could no longer make the journey up 44 flights of stairs by foot. She had to make a choice between fear and love. She loved her son more than she was willing to let her fear direct her life. She got on that elevator, everyday, despite her fear so she could be with her son. My grandmother taught me that love is stronger than fear.

If we are not careful, our fear can become a prison of our own making. Many of us are becoming aware of the cages we have built by the increasing dis-ease in our lives. We feel trapped and long for something new and different. So coming down a long and familiar path we feel a sense of relief moving into new and unfamiliar territory. We have been longing for different scenery, even a more challenging degree of terrain. As we realize that the familiar is fading and the unknown is upon us, fear begins to arise in us. As a result, some of us stop and linger for a long time not wanting to move into the unknown. The problem is we can’t go back. It is about putting one foot in front of the other and taking that first step of faith. It is after all, the freedom we have been longing for all along. Often just that act of walking through our fear liberates us.

Have you ever been in a situation that petrified you and you did it anyway. I remember the first time I won an award and had to speak in front of a few hundred people. On the way there, I prayed for an earthquake or even a serious illness to get me out of standing in the limelight with hundreds of people expecting me to say something intelligent. With sweaty palms and an expression on my face that probably looked like a deer caught in headlights, I spoke words which woven together became a speech. Facing one of my worst fears left me exhilarated. Afterwards, I felt like I could do anything. It gave me the confidence to take risks in my life knowing if I could survive this then everything else would be a piece of cake.

There is no other way through our fears but to face them. We can spend a lifetime avoiding them and not walk through our fears and what we are left with is the prison that we have built. Fear limits what we can create in the world. It is a Visionaries worst enemy.

The good news is fear is not who we are; we are love. Fear is an emotion and we are not our emotions. It is not to say that emotions are not useful and appropriate tools. They alert us to danger and also help us move towards what makes our heart sing. However, if we get lost in our emotions, we lose ourselves. It is as if we are moving down the rapids of anger, fear or jealousy and unless we learn how to pull ourselves out, we are no longer choosing the direction of our lives.