Fear: Move In to Move On

They say the best teachers are the people, or things, in life that really challenge us. So it doesn’t surprise me that while many people have said they’re happy to hear that I’m happy, one of my truest and best teachers, my teacher trainer Kara Sekuler, wrote to me with a challenge/suggestion.

She pointed out that there might be some reason why I couldn’t do handstand–perhaps fear. But whatever the reason is, the way to grow as a person and practictioner is to really examine both myself and my fear, instead of just pushing myself physically in hard classes.

She totally hit on something that is both a major part of my practice, and my life. (Which doesn’t surprise me, because I was just talking to a co-worker yesterday about Kara saying, “of my teachers, Kara is the one who really gets life.”) What I realized is that I have an attachment to the phrase, “I can’t.” For whatever reason, in some weird way, not being able to do things is comfortable for me.

So after I heard from Kara, I had to ask myself why I was afraid. And I realized that my real fear wasn’t of handstand, it was filling the space I’d find when I stopped being able to say, “I can’t do handstand.” I’d come to define myself with negativity, and the habit has grown so strong, I’m literally afraid that I won’t exist without it, as though my failure is as essential to my being as my right arm.

Of course, discovering this doesn’t mean I’m going to pop right up. It just means that I have to develop “an intimate relationship with fear” as another teacher told me. That seems to be the theme this week. Phenomenal anusara teacher Julie Dohrman taught class on Wednesday urging us to get in touch with goddess Kali. Kali, she explained, is the thing that we don’t want to face. Kali is black, representing both the darkness of our fear, and the infinite potential to create when we explore it.

And while all that sounds great, getting close to your fear requires a lot of work. But I think I have experienced something that has outlined this work for me, ironically, in Savasana.

It happened when I was in Hawaii, and went into one of those deep Savasana dreams. I was up on a mountain, and although I had been with someone else, he was scaling off it, and leaving me behind. I watched him climb down without reacting. Then, when I found myself alone up there, I started to panic. All my physical body wanted was to open my eyes and save the body in the dream from the misery of being up there alone. Somehow, I forced myself to stay.

I watched the dream body searching the side of the mountain for an exit, and the fear was so unbearable, I knew that the easiest thing to do would be to give up and come out of Savasana. Yet somehow, in that moment, I had the strength to stay. I told myself there was no eye-opening allowed, and slowly I let go of consciousness. The dream body paced on the side of the mountain for sometime, slapping her hands across craggy pieces of earth. And then after what seemed like forever, at the very edge of the mountain, I found a path through the rock. I crawled through the rocks and found a road, and at the end of the road was a village.

I suppose it had been there all along, but I couldn’t see it until I spent a fair amount of time facing the fear that I was left with nothing. The Catch-22 is that the fear comes from lack of belief that there’s anything on the other side (or, anything to replace the phrase, “I can’t.) However we don’t get assurance that there’s something there until we learn to move in to the fear. We can’t move on until we move in.

After Kara’s email, I realized that the reason I don’t want to go into handstand because I don’t want to put in the work to get close to my fear. Every time I give a half-hearted kick, it is the equivalent of opening my eyes as an easy way to get myself off the mountain. It’s the same old me that secretly likes giving up. The edge I need to find is not the edge you find in a 2/3 class but the edge of my own emotional core. And only when I balance on that edge will I finally see the village.


6 thoughts on “Fear: Move In to Move On

  1. Woooh, I just commented on your previous post then read this one, and, well…yup, it's fear with me too alright! Even if my muscles were strong as an ox I would still be terrified of popping upside down (same reason I never accomplished a cartwheel when I was a kid). Very interesting insight.

    This post is beautiful and wise, and will be a help to any seeker who reads it. Your dream was awesome, RB, really a gift that you opened up…and I just thought of something. As with some of the most artistic gifts we receive, there are no warranties involved. It seems how you described moving in to our fears is a way of accepting that life doesn't come with a warranty and that is at the foundation of fear. If not faced, we remain stuck.

  2. Wow, just stumbled on your blog and I guess it was just perfect timing…
    Yesterday I took my usual Thursday yoga class, and we were only two students, so my teacher took advantage of this to make us work on inversions, including handstand (against a wall), which I had never tried so far. Well, talk about fear… I let fear take control, and let's just say I have some work to do 🙂

    Thank you for your post, great great lesson for me today.

  3. “For whatever reason, in some weird way, not being able to do things is comfortable for me.” Ah yes. I so get this. By saying this we're esssentially confirming the adage, “Well, no one's perfect!”

    The greatest lesson I've learned through my yoga is the idea of “you fall out to get back in.” You just keep trying. You just keep reaching your edge and then pushing yourself off it. Because, after enough practice, after enough falls and climbs back up, you begin to trust your strength, your determination, your ability to return, again and again, with more and more confidence.

    I really loved this post. Thank you!

  4. This is a great personal essay, RB, and so true for many more people than you might think. “Keep your eyes closed” may become a new way to say “Be brave!”

  5. Completely striking, and a feeling (and fear) I think many of us can identify with. I am starting a new journey in my life, and have been working with facing the fear of that journey in my yoga practice. Thank you for sharing this. It's good to see others traveling the same road.

  6. Been meaning to comment on this post for all of the last week. Sometimes it takes me a while…

    A theme I've been working with is trying not to project myself, my thoughts or desires into the past or the future. Good goddess that's hard!! Especially because I think it's what we do as human beings most of the time.

    And I also think our fears come from this kind of projection. We can't be what we want to be right now, so how could it be any different?

    So we create walls and boundaries that help us feel safe where we are, even if it's not a true story. And we fear everything outside of those boundaries because we don't understand it.

    We can't imagine our future, not really. We need to learn to live where we're at. And in doing so, we let go of what we want or want to want but are afraid of. We can't imagine it, we can only do what we do each day. And then one day we are surprised when we can do what we always thought we couldn't. And we got there without imagining how it should be or could be. It just is, because that's where we're at.

    Yeah, it's a tough one to get a handle on…


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