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Should I be kinder to my fears?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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I really appreciated Jemma’s comment on my post a couple of weeks ago about ‘getting past self-doubt to find faith‘. She said:

“One thing stood out for me – it was the language of being able to “beat the self doubt monster”… Which made me think about ahimsa. And about how my self-doubt monsters are doing their best to save me – from failure or embarrassment or some other thing they’re afraid of. And that I don’t need to beat them so much as befriend them, and help them get better oriented to the world I actually live in. They often have a very narrow and skewed view… but they seem willing to soften and reconsider when treated with respect and kindness… I think for me there is something about faith in love: that love matters, that love changes things… even the self-doubt monsters.”

I’ve often thought this myself, and still see in my own practice that a certain softening towards my fears and doubts can be really helpful. No good comes from adding more contraction, so I’m learning not to ‘fight the fear’. I totally agree with Jemma that ‘beating’ our doubts and fears, in the sense of actually hitting them, would really just be a form of violence to ourselves.

When I wrote about ‘beating’ the self-doubt monsters I meant like in a race, not with a stick. It was about moving fast enough into the space of faith to evade their sticky grip.

Because I’m increasingly seeing that no good comes from entertaining the mean voices either. It’s often useful to notice them, because what we don’t notice is more often than not still affecting us. But it’s really not that useful to pay them much attention.

This is quite a radical shift for me. I have always been very committed to shadow work, and I remain so. I’m not suggesting that we ignore or avoid the darker side of our own stuff. But I’m really interested to notice that some of the teachers I admire the most have very little time for the critical voices in their heads. They are very quick to dismiss them as entirely without any value.

You may remember in that previous post that Christina Baldwin said that the work to be done at this moment in time is far too important to indulge our own doubts and fears. It’s time to get on with the work.

That really rang a bell in my head. Looking back on my life that simple sentiment has probably been the single biggest motivator and the most reliable route to get unentangled from my fear. Remembering that the work to be done is bigger than I think I am.

This morning I was listening to Michelle Lisenbury Christensen interview Cheri Huber as part of the wonderful, wonderful The Teacher’s Path course with Michelle and Jen Louden.

Cheri said that her response, when an opportunity comes along and the fearful voices start to tell her she’s not worthy of it, is to totally ignore them and instead say to God: “Okay, if this is what you have for me, I accept.”

You may not believe in God. But the same principle of acceptance can be applied to your sense of the bigger work that is currently being done in the world today. You might being saying yes to God, or you might be saying yes to the greater whole that is made up of all of us working for good in the world – as Christina Baldwin suggested.

Then today, Jen Louden told me not to believe the mean voices:

The only difference between those that do and those that don’t (love, create, show up, connect), is those that do don’t believe the mean voices. They have those voices too and they simply don’t believe them.

Here’s where this is all going, or coming from, or perhaps just where it’s sitting right now: I have a book nearly written. It’s getting close enough that the reality that it may actually be published has started to hit me. This seems to have acted as an irresistible call to action for the voices of fear and self-doubt in my head. They are in full cry.

I could spend some time in their company, soften towards them, see what they have to tell me (and, truth be told, I did a good bit of that yesterday). But I can also ignore them, and trust that this work is the work I’m called to do right now. This story is the story I’m called to tell right now. I may not be as good at any of this (writing, teaching, being a good person) as I think other people might be, but I can do my best.

Today, I think that’s going to be my path.

I’m just watching and learning as I go. I don’t pretend to have it all worked out (or any of it for that matter) I’m just paying attention to what the wise ones are saying, and trying it all out in my own life. I was grateful for Jemma’s comment because it gave me pause, made me ask again ‘Is this true? Is this as true as it can possibly be?’ and, eventually, led to this post. So please, join the conversation. Let me know what you think about the value, or not, of listening to our fears.


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14 Responses to "Should I be kinder to my fears?"

  1. Emmanuelle says:

    Beautiful post Marianne, and a lot to think about.
    I’ve been listening to my fears for far too long, I know them in and out. And I’ve had enough of them.

    I don’t want to shut them altogether, they’re a part of who I am and my guardians. But their voice is starting to annoy me. I wish I was strong enough to take the leap of faith I feel I need to take, but yeah, I’m not quite there yet.
    Instead I’m building it up, I’ve volunteered for something that might take me even more time, which is financially not sustainable, but that would lead me to the famous “I-don’t-have-the-choice-I-have-to-ditch-something” place.

    And you’re right, I guess that when we come to the realization that what we do is bigger than us, then our fears’voice is quieter.

    I’m reading Michael Stone’s “Yoga for a world out of balance”, a true eye-opener. Every action has consequences, and we’re all connected, we don’t live in this world, we are the world. Any action we take affects the whole world, it’s beyond us, and if we let fear paralyze us what good can we do?
    But I’m digressing, this is jet lag speaking, I’d better go to bed now 🙂

  2. Emily Perry says:

    ah, so true. i kind of think of those voices like in the movie “a beautiful mind. i hear them, but i ask them to stand in the corner so i can get down to business! =) i think it would be odd to never have fears, or doubt. i guess i feel like sometimes they keep me a bit in balance, but the key for me is to not let them fun the show. great post!

  3. oh what a beautiful heart filling piece for me to read – so happy to read you!

  4. cath says:

    my mother in law always tells me i should invite my fears and my self doubt in for a cup of tea. and thats what i try to do… if i linger with them a while, learn about where they’re from and why they’re here, and get to know them a bit, sometimes they become less scary…

  5. asiyah says:

    Hmm, I really liked Jemma’s comment and I think I will try the same thing. But I also appreciate your point about actually getting something done. It’s important that I realize that yeah, those voices are saying the same thing over and over again. Time to move on. So for me, anyway, a good dose of compassion towards my fears but also a hefty dose of letting them go on their way.

    There’s lots in your post to think about. Thank you.

  6. Jemma Allen says:

    Dear Marianne, thank you for the thoughtfulness you bring to the conversation. I’ve had a go at writing some more about what was behind my comment here: but no doubt I will keep thinking about it. An undivided life is something I aspire to – so I am working out what that means for self-doubt monsters, or shame, or any of that stuff. I am so glad that you are trusting the work that is yours to do in the world.

    Peace and all goodness,

  7. Clare says:

    Brave, open and oh so beautiful. And today, that is your path.
    As always, thanks for sharing.

  8. Swirly says:

    We ALL have those voices, every one of us. Being able to take bold steps for ourselves and our dreams is not about not having them, but about moving forward despite them. When they come barreling in my life, I simply say to them, “Do whatever you need to do, but I’m going to continue to do my work.” I imagine them as little tired kids clamoring for attention, and by just keeping my focus on my work, they eventually get bored and quiet down. It isn’t so much willfully ignoring them as just letting them be as I do whatever I need to do.

  9. Tonia says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! It must a universal shift in the air to prepare us to do what it is we are meant to do. It makes me realize that I am not alone and have never been alone. There has been and always will be the whole of us that shows up as the Universe functioning as one consciousness.

  10. Andi says:

    What a brilliant comment!

  11. Anne-Marie says:

    Can I say how much I am looking forward to reading your book when it is published?

    Also, thanks very much for this post. It’s one that I will come back to several times to unpack its wisdom.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues recently. On my birthday a few months ago, I adopted a motto: “be present”. Because I have spent all my life running from unpleasant things, thoughts, emotions; even denying that they exist. I don’t want to do that any more. But neither do I want to wallow in negativity. The challenge for me is to balance: to neither wallow nor deny.

    Today I’m feeling insecure about myself. Even acknowledging I feel that way and that it’s actually okay to feel that way [despite the voice in my head screaming “YOU MUST NOT FEEL INSECURE!”] is a huge leap. I just don’t want to let that insecurity stop me from doing what I want to do.

    I love Swirly’s saying: “Do whatever you need to do, but I’m going to continue to do my work.” I think I will try that.

  12. Eu Geen says:

    This post was so timely. It helped me crystallise my thoughts on fear. Just a few days ago, I was given a task that I found really, really scary. Previously, I would have gotten agitated, and anxious and be a total wreck, and I focused on how scared I was. However, I had set the intention to be calm, loving, open and purposeful that day. And I thought to myself ” Scary is good. Scary is something to be grateful for. Scary means growth”. And, I and didn’t freak out. In fact, I’ve already thought out how i would tackle the task,and am just moving on with it. Previously I would have been stuck in inaction as I worried about the fear, and thought about how scared I was etc etc. So yes, love works in all aspects of our lives, even with our fears and self doubt monsters.:) It’s a really awesome, liberating, empowering discovery.

  13. This post was the perfect gift for me this morning. Thank you. I was just meditating this morning on fears and internal obstructions to progressing in my life. I recently moved to a new country and I frequently experience self doubt and fear. The feelings of inadequacy literally begin to melt away when I begin to transform the negative emotion into service to humanity. Your post will keep me thinking…

  14. Heidi says:

    the topic of fear came up in my Unravelling course and it’s a sticky one…I tend to grow faster, deeper and stronger when I don’t listen. More good is achieved, the work is started, when I put the cart before the horse and jump in without thinking to hard. The more I think, the worse the fears are, the bigger the fears seem, and the louder the self doubt voices get. I’m trying to practice less thinking and more doing. And when I say thinking I mean over analyzing, I’m all for doing the work necessary to dig deep and explore where some of my fear is rooted, doing it now, but I’m finding the over analyzing opens the door and lets the gremlins loose! I’m working on self-compassion and kindness when this happens…

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