What are you afraid of? Dare I even ask this, given how much there is to fear, dread, or worry about? What are we NOT afraid of?
There is so much to fear: death, injustice, illness, horror, isolation, vulnerability, being misunderstood, living without meaning and purpose, grief, anger, conflict, failure to achieve our dreams, success, to name a few. Some of fear grading deep into the night, or taking exams, getting through the end of the semester slog, the meetings, a new and uncertain academic year. Of course, most of us are moving ahead so fast and furiously that we haven’t got a sense of fear, just endless and sometimes unfocused motion.
We are two kinds of people: those who avoid what is fearful and those who approach. Most of us are avoiders, I am told, and turn away in our very particular ways of what scares us. Avoidance comes in the form of moving in the other direction, being too busy, refusing to think of it, claiming we are unaffected. We have so many creative ways of avoidance. But aren’t we, just a little bit afraid? In the deepest night what worries us, what challenges our hearts and minds, what asks to be seen?
Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, in her book of essays When Things Fall Apart, asserts that in order to be whole, what we most fear, we must approach. Walk forward toward what frightens, she advises. She says, “nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Every day, every change, every relationship offers us opportunities to see ourselves for who we are, life as it is, unblurred truth as an opportunity for growth. Avoidance stunts us, and facing our fears draws us forward. You might not call them “fears.” Call them what you like, especially if you (like me) were taught that fear the opposite of faith. Alternately, faith is the foundation to face and move through what is not of our choosing, what we do not understand, what we might not want to be true.
What does it mean to approach what we fear?
We look ourselves in the mirror of our hearts and minds. We see questions that pepper our minds and hearts day and night. Journey inward to perceive what is within us and befriend it for as long as it takes to learn its lesson.
We speak. Words carry worry from our hearts into air, into the care of others. Our confession is a truth we cannot avoid, and must tell to be ourselves.
We listen. All around us are those who need us to listen them into being, as poet Tillie Edwards names our human duty.
We move. We do what we can not to run, but to hold our space, to steady ourselves in the face of the unknown. We do the work we can without turning from ourselves and the world.
We pray. God, the Spirit, the Universe hears us. Love moves in the wind to show us the way, not around fear but through it.
The faithful show us squarely that illusions wound and the truth will set us free.
The Rev. Dr. Jan Fuller is University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement. She can be reached at email@example.com