September 10, 2012

walk right into your fear

This last week has felt like the most anticlimactic creative roller coaster possible. Too many dips and turns for comfort, yet no breakthroughs big enough to feel worth the ride, let alone merit a celebration. I know that this phase is necessary, that sometimes (often, if I am being honest) the creative quest requires great discomfort. And I know that pushing through the discomfort to find your personal best stride is the only way to achieve your goals. But it can be such a difficult journey.

I began last week optimistically: "I am going to reach harder!" I felt motivated, energized, and ambitious. I waded boldly into the space of creative waters and began to feel the flow of my creativity washing over me in uneven waves. I was prepared to practice discipline, resilience, and focus - I set out in these directions confidently. I sat down to write, I kept my "bottom in the chair," and there was a momentary sense of triumph at the discipline of it all. I entered into the stories which I began writing months before, and reoriented myself to their meaning and rhythm and setting. I added new words, and took other words away. I organized phrases and paragraphs to make the words even stronger. I felt my brain begin its creative humming as I grew preoccupied with my practice. And then the waves of doubt began washing over, and as I felt them, I could not catch my breath, and I felt myself begin to drown. I wanted to get to shore as quickly as possible, to stop the flow of vulnerability and the risk of failure. 

All at once, it became clear what I am really, truly up against. It is not, as I had thought, merely a lack of discipline or ambition in my daily life that keeps me from reaching further toward my creative goals. That is a part of it, but not the whole. What I am up against is my own self: my own crippling fears and doubts, my own deep-seated belief that I am risking ultimate failure, my own harshest critic. "If I do not try, I cannot fail." This is the autopilot response, the voice of the critic within me as I begin to open up and practice vulnerability in creating. I know this belief is not true, as I sit here and read it back to myself. What is true is that if I do not try, I guarantee failure. I am not 'trying' for the sake of anyone else. I have no teacher to please, no grade to earn, no specific project to achieve. No one but me is standing and waiting for results. My goals are my own, they are moving targets as I grow and discover my own truth. I will benefit the most from accomplishing my goals. But likewise, my fears are my own worst boss, brutal and unwavering in their harsh expectations. 

I experienced the same warring dynamics of courage and fear, of purpose and futility, when I was beginning to share my writing here on my blog. I have felt these insecurities and the impending doom of failure in each new thing I have ever attempted, whether a job or a skill or a project. And the deeper I need to dive into any given pursuit, the heavier and faster the waves seem to come crashing. But I am so quick to forget the journey once I have reached my destination. And then it seems I must learn my lessons all over again, and from the start, every time. Are you like this, too? 

I continued to return to my chair this past week, not every day but more days than not. And every time I wrote, I felt the same waves of doubt and fear. Every day I felt the possibility of failure growing nearer with every word I wrote. And every day it felt terrifying all over again to go there, to reach deep within and face my fears directly. Often, when I am feeling paralyzed by fear, I remember these words of wisdom from Martha Beck, who wrote in her inspiring book, Steering By Starlight
"Instead of skirting [fear] or soothing it or processing it, you might just want to walk right into whatever you fear most. If you're afraid to take a certain action, take it. If you're afraid to feel a certain emotion, feel it. The only way to the Place beyond Fear is to do the thing you fear most. This is how to surrender to your best destiny." 
This week, as I begin again, I will choose to embrace the courage it will take for me to walk right into my fears. I will choose to be proud of the time I spend trying, and focus on the courage invested into the effort itself, rather than on what the effort produces. I do not have to know my end destination yet. I do not have to know if this story will be awful or great, or if it will be published or rejected. I only have to know that I am moving forward, pushing through my fears into the confidence of courage. Thinking this way does not make my fears seem less powerful or daunting - they just feel more worth facing. 

I will walk right into my fear because I know for certain I did not have peace where I was before. Something within continues to prompt me to reach further, harder, stronger towards dreams that still feel very out of reach. And I hope that as in the quote above, doing the thing I fear most will lead me to the Place beyond Fear. 

Do you have peace with the limits you have set for yourself? Do you feel the need to keep pushing further? Is it as uncomfortable and scary for you as it is for me? I hope that you will think of walking right into your fears this week and experience the pride that comes as a result. 

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