The price of our vitality is the sum of all our fears. ~ David Whyte
Only a few months ago I was posting photographs of dry grass and parched earth on Instagram, wondering when the rains would come. The sticky stillness and heat felt like summer would go on forever, confined as we were at home along with the rest of the world, during the early Covid lockdown months. Outside, the temperature soared and so did the intensity of the news reports, of infections and deaths from the virus that has changed our lives and taken so many. Inside, for many of us, it’s been a time of overwhelm, of going through different shades of sadness, grief, anxiety, depression and panic. And above all, a fear so visceral it’s been hard to even name. It resides close by, even as the lockdown lifts, the season turns and the monsoon begins. Now, it’s the rain that brings fierce stories and video clips of water rushing and overflowing riverbanks and roads, flooding my news and social media feeds. With it comes the narrative of new possibilities, a reimagining of our lives post Covid. This week, I discover three varieties of jasmine blooming in the garden, their heady scent and soft white petals helping to mask the anxiety of the past few months. And I’m reminded that for us to move through it, fear needs an outlet, not a mask.
Fear is ancient. It can grip us tightly in its blaze, sparking terror. Its fiery tentacles can spiral up and down, through our bodies, shortening our breath and contracting our skins so much so that we feel trapped and bound and shaky. It can play with our minds, making what is in front of us bigger and scarier, keeping us up at night. It can play back loops of shadowed memories and tangle us up in them in ugly ways till we barely recognise ourselves. It can linger, waiting to swell up or harden into something small and tight in your chest, in the bands between your eyes, or on your neck and shoulder blades. It can shut us down, completely, if we let it. And, most strangely of all, it can fascinate us, pulling us into its own drama, rewarding us by giving us a small measure of safety if we play by its rules. For me, fear tangles up and churns my insides with an aching sense of sadness.
Whatever it does to you, whatever its pattern in your life, fear is always valid, even if it is not necessary in that moment. It is real, in the moment and it’s not meant to be explained away, ignored, resisted or hidden. Fear gives us valuable information, about ourselves, about our lives, if we stop to listen. It seeks to be named, to be acknowledged, to be leaned into, and most of all, to be held. In Dante’s Inferno, he says One ought to be afraid of nothing other than things possessed of power to do us harm, but things innocuous need not be feared. We can spend our whole lives learning the difference. Or not, as we’re discovering in the midst of this pandemic.
The ingredients of fear are in the narrative of your own life as also in the evolution of humanity as we know it. Whether you feel it as ice or fire, fear needs to burn before it can flow. To integrate fear, we must immerse in it to acknowledge its shape and texture, in the way it lives in our bodies. That’s when we glimpse what it means to have compassion with ourselves and by extension, others. Don Miguel Ruiz offers this wisdom to us in a beautiful quote: The emotions that drain you are the emotions that come from fear: the emotions that give you more energy are the emotions that come from love. Take a moment to feel what comes up when you read that and you’ll know what the journey to bringing back balance looks like: it’s a portal to love. This is not a journey to becoming fearless; that’s what we learn to discern, rather, it’s a path of curiosity and courage, an invitation into your own aliveness and possibility. When we get that, everything becomes clearer. So lean in, as Rumi says, Move but don’t move the way fear makes you move.