Fear is an uncomfortable feeling, existentially extreme. Some describe it as a place, some as a verb "to be afraid." It is something that grips us, paralyses us, keeps us small "for fear of..." whatever it is that we've been told will come to get us if we dare.
I've been dancing with Fear lately. Dancing with its subtle hold on my heart, its cacophony of verses, its gentle but oppressive reason in moments of irrational possibility. I know it's there to protect me - I'm learning to thank it for that. The wonderful Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Fear writes: "The only way to ease our fear and be truly happy is to acknowledge our fear and look deeply at its source."
So, I've been taking more notice, stopping mid-flow as we dance to ask Fear: what if we didn't waltz this way? What if we tango? What would happen if you let me lead? Why are we dancing in the first place? Will you whisper that to me instead? ... Stopping in the middle of the song feels unnatural, but perhaps the only way to disrupt the familiarity of these intimate and automatic ways of moving through the world.
The Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (along with many others) said: "There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt."
From fear also comes separation, from love, union. We can see this in the rifts opening up around us - in society, in ourselves, between us and the rest of the natural world. Absences that grow and slowly destroy us from the inside out. And we can see the work of love too, in the people building bridges, opening their houses to strangers, planting trees and coming together to speak up and out - all present to the moment, each other and the world.
These two paths are mapped out in Otto Sharma's Theory U process model for personal and organisational change:
Suddenly, Fear is not alone on the dance floor. Here is its counterpart: curious, compassionate, courageous. The more I perceive fear as a choice, the more possibility presents itself in the moment just before action. This choice is an unworked muscle, but it's palpable.
What would happen if this choice was more alive in each of us?
What does 'fear' meant to you? Let us know in the comments.