Our relationship with fear

I started another coaching qualification in 2018. When I registered with the Newfield Network in the USA three years ago to undertake their ontological coaching programme, I had no idea it would set me on a course to truly connect with my core purpose, and in doing so, prompt me to ask the question: What is the dance between courage and fear and its power to allow us to live our fullest lives?

I travelled to Boulder, Colorado last September for part one of my ontological studies.  In my comfortable introversion, I boarded the flight wondering why I had felt compelled to join around 40 other souls, (probably all extroverts…..well, there are more of these gloriously effervescent outgoing humans aren’t there?) thousands of miles from home, to expose my heart and soul to vulnerability. I was pretty sure by now from conversations with others who had gone on this particular journey before me that this would be so, if I was truly open to what might unfold.

My week with Julio Olalla, Veronica Olalla Love, the Newfield family, and my fellow Newfield beginners, was life re-directing. Not at all plain sailing either. In fact, much of it was moving, raw, honest, overwhelming, awe inspiring, and at times, deeply frightening. I witnessed so many acts of magnificent personal courage in a sacred space held compassionately for us to explore our deepest, deeply held limiting assessments of ourselves. Preparedness to trust that this safe, dignified space created for us, would allow new openings, new possibilities, new perspectives required dancing with fear. In the allowing of this preparedness to experience fear, and courage, for they are inextricably intertwined, some of the old layers of our long held self-assessments were shifting, loosening, peeling back, to make way for a raw, for some, new-born, for others, re-connection, with the realisation that we are born whole, bursting with hope, wonder, curiosity, excitement. I read an inspirational quote recently that went something like this: “We are born complete, untouched, unscathed by assessment. Then life experiences and other peoples’ assessments of us start influencing and unravelling our wholeness”.

One of my most fascinating observations, realisations, learning, and, yes, beginnings, for me in this first week-long residential, was an awakening of conscious awareness of how my own inner dialogue has within its gift the ability to either gracefully lift me up to fulfil my whole self, or tear me down, cynically, critically, corrosively, and nudge me to live in a sense of insufficiency, inadequacy, incompleteness, and  limited possibility.

In sharing our stories as a tribe, and in small clusters within the tribe, during our week together, each of us began to see how we are all one. I heard stories of pain, sadness, doubt, resignation, guilt, shame, resignation, resentment, fear and regret, and in each of these stories I saw myself. And I heard dreams of wonder, hope, curiosity, joy, abundance, gratitude, and in each of these I witnessed myself also.

The words we use to describe our assessments of our lives, of our worth, of our relationships, of our work and purpose, are so incredibly powerful. They can and probably for most of us, do demonstrate to some degree, well-crafted limiting patterns of belief about our potential. No wonder we are all, at any given time, capable of ‘talking ourselves down’ out of, and away from, our greatness.

I travelled home reflective, drained, and yet cautiously hopeful and curious to explore how I might harness these emerging insights.

Within a few short weeks I observed a change in perspective taking place within me. Just before travelling to Boulder, I had completed the last weekend of a year-long programme of study with the Spiritual Companions Trust, facilitated by the truly wonderful Martine Moorby.

During our last Diploma weekend, after spending a year procrastinating about whether I would or would not step into my fear, I decided to be the focus for a Focus Group exercise. As the focus, I was invited to tell ‘my story’ to a small group of fellow Companion students, who graciously held the space for me to do so, in loving silent witness. I’m still not entirely sure what took place in the moments of that story-telling, nor in the compassionate observations my fellow Companion students offered in response.  In the sharing of their gratitude, I learned that when we show up as ourselves, in all of our human glory and frailty, honestly, transparently, vulnerable and trusting, fearful and courageous, our bravery is rewarded.

So this is about our relationship with fear isn’t it? The power that is can have to either allow us to love who we are in all aspects of our being, or the power to bring us down, to reduce us to feelings of inadequacy in a world where others appear to be complete, free from fear, bold, certain, confident, whole.

This is not so. When I work with clients in one to one coaching conversations, it doesn’t take very long for the client to arrive at a point of awakening, and in this awakening, a point of choice. Choice which requires accepting that to grow, to move into our fullest lives, requires the willingness to inhabit fear, or not. The choice is this, and I paraphrase in the first person, for clarity: Do I continue to invest my energy in staying emotionally ‘safe’ in order to avoid my inner critic telling me I’m somehow ‘not enough’, and ‘make do’, or do I develop a new practice of acknowledging my inner critic when it’s being unhelpful, and instead turn the volume up on that quieter, compassionate voice in the  background, the one who knows I am enough, who knows that we all live this interplay between our compassionate self and our critical superego.

Freud used the word ego to mean a sense of self, though revised this during later research to mean a set of psychic functions like judgement, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, defence, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning and memory. The ego separates what is real. It helps us organise our thoughts and make sense of them and the world around us. It represents what might be termed reason and common sense. The ego is constrained somewhat by the super-ego – the critical inner voice, the one that leads us into shame, guilt, humiliation, embarrassment and such. The ego readily breaks out into anxiety…realistic anxiety, with the external world; and moral anxiety when it hears the super-ego in its critical voice.

The super-ego aims for perfection. The super-ego can be thought of as the type of conscience that ‘punishes’ what we perceive as acts of misbehaviour, anything less than perfect. Whether real, or interpreted. This is the choice.

The knowing of how these parts within our psyche operate isn’t enough to still and quieten to noisy inner critic. We need to identify practices, conscious, daily, disciplined practices, which allow us to acknowledge the presence of our inner critic, though not allow it to dictate how we live our lives.

There are a thousand times a day, maybe more, when, if we give it headroom , our inner critic can feed a constant dialogue of inadequacy to us. And that means there are a thousand times a day when we have a choice. To notice but not give credence to our inner critic, nor let it consume our thinking. To live within the fear it can so quickly evoke in us, or to gently but firmly nudge it to one side and allow our compassionate, loving self to lead us into our fullest lives.

So what did I learn from my time with Newfield in Colorado and my time with fellow Companioning students on the Spiritual Companions diploma?

That knowing what causes our fears isn’t enough to allow us to sit in them, move through them, and realise our fullest potential. We must, at an emotional, at a language, and at a physical level, embed practices, sayings, mantras, whatever you would like to call them, in a disciplined, committed manner, to allow ourselves to move from habituated responses to our fear triggers, into a space of recognising them, smiling knowingly at them, as we bypass them, perhaps even playfully winking at them, and moving forwards to embrace our fullest, most whole selves. I sense it is a lifetime’s practice, with no guarantee of mastery.

I wish you deep joy in the discovery of your own life-enabling practices. ♥

 

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