dear hilary: gripped by fear

Yesterday, this kind of amazing and crazy thing happened. I got to share over at Lisa-Jo’s space, and I would love it if you’d visit me over that way? Just click here. And if you have a question for me to ponder with you? Just email me: letterstohilary@gmail.com

Dear Hilary,
I don’t think of myself as a pessimist (and I don’t think others do either) but I’m noticing my tendency to expect the worst. The phone rings and I think tragedy has struck. Someone pulls me aside and I instantly assume I’m in trouble. Sometimes the fear makes me sick to my stomach.  I know worrying isn’t productive and most of the things I fear never come to fruition but logic isn’t loosening fear’s grip on me. How can I shake it?
Gripped
Dear Gripped,
I read your question and thought about it as I drove home from sign language class. I drove in silence, asking myself occasionally what fear is, where it comes from – what might we possibly do to shake ourselves free from it?
The words that came to me as I swung my car into the driveway, and trudged up the steps to my house through the slush and rain, through the night that always feels impossibly dark, were not my own words. They were Rilke’s. I wonder if you know them, from his Letters to a Young Poet?
“Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.”
I don’t pretend to really know what’s going on in these words, because I’m far from having sounded the depths of much of anything. But, Gripped, I think Rilke’s bigger point is that the opposite of fear is not only courage. It is also trust. 
We are all convinced that the things we do not know – the phone calls we haven’t picked up, the being pulled aside by the teacher, the long silence from a friend, the unreturned email – they must be a monster. They must mean that terrible thing that we have always secretly wondered about, but never really tried to understand or imagine. Fear thrives on the things we don’t want to know – thrives in darkness, in vague worry, in the unexamined and unaccepted. We too often keep ourselves from knowing the things we are afraid of. And so we do not trust them. And so the fear lives long.
To shake fear, I don’t know that you always need to be brave as we typically define it. It doesn’t mean being angry with yourself for your fear or trying to “outreason” or “outlogic” yourself or demanding that you suddenly be fearless.
Instead, perhaps we can shake fear by widening ourselves to receive all that the world holds for us. What might the experiences that have you shivering with fear hold for you that is rich and beautiful and good? What might they grow inside you? What might they help you become? What might the phone call bring you – can you imagine in the thirty seconds before you answer it being something marvelous? Can you widen, even if you just say it inside your head, your heart to accept this new thing?
Fear keeps you from being that fully alive self Rilke talks about: one who is open to even the most incomprehensible experiences, one who trusts that even those things which are strange and terrifying hold something good. Fear feeds on our uncertainties, but most of all, fear thrives on our lack of trust.
I think we shake it by repeating the gestures of trust over and over, in our head and in our life, until they are as natural as breathing: arms open, eyes wide, running toward the world.
It will undoubtedly disappoint us sometimes. It will be less than what we want. It will be too much. It will bring crappy phone calls and teachers yelling and family fights and silence and shouting. But all of this makes us more alive, Gripped. All of this, even the things you fear most this moment, can be the very things that are the making of you.
Trust me.
Love,
hilary
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5 thoughts on “dear hilary: gripped by fear

  1. Pingback: Walking on Ice | Not Knowing Where

  2. Oh my. I wandered over her from Lisa-Jo’s blog, and found my perfect word for the day. Thank you so much for working out these thoughts in your post! I hear a lot of people say “trust the process,” as if it’s something really important to understand and hold in your heart. This reflection on Rilke’s words help me see that perspective in a more full way, and think how I might start my own process of applying trust to my growth.

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