If you missed any previous posts in this series, you can find Life Lesson #1: Show Up With What You Have and Use It Well HERE, Life Lesson #2: Everyone Matters HERE, Life Lesson #3: Be Playful and Laugh at Yourself HERE, and Life Lesson #4: Give Yourself What You Need to Do Your Best HERE.
This play was no exception, I felt all these things each night before I went on. But I did have a moment on opening night when I was able to recognize how familiar this fear was. I'd felt it at dozens of performances in the past and suddenly realized that I would feel it at dozen of performances in the future. It was like an old, if unwanted, friend. I'd been reading Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart, which explores a Buddhist perspective on accepting and dealing with the coming and going of hard times, anxiety, fear, and sorrow. Chodron tells us that in life, it's not a matter of if things will fall apart or become difficult, but when. Fear is a natural human emotion that has been felt since the beginning of civilization, and isn't going away. She suggests that the solution is not to banish fear, but to get familiar with it. One phrase she suggests is "Welcome, fear."
Remembering this (and still shaking), I feebly whispered "Welcome, fear." I waited and wished for magic. It didn't make my stomach knot go away or heart pound any less, but it was a tiny bit comforting somehow. I have to get comfortable with fear, it's going to show up at every performance. It's not about making fear disappear (in fact when I try to do this, it just gets worse). It's about acknowledging the fear, looking it right in the face, and then going onstage anyway. Once I'm out there, the fear doesn't go away, but it's not the loudest voice in my head anymore.
We have a choice in these moments of fear: to go onward even if we are afraid, or to choose not to do whatever it was we were planning to do. There's no right or wrong answer, and every day we make decisions that represent moving forward with fear, or turning back because of fear. Maybe the point is not to do every task you set out to do, but to just notice when you are willing to march onward and when you're not able to. I've noticed for myself, if I really love doing something, I'll be willing to do it even if I am afraid, whereas if it's something I'm not as passionate about, I'm not willing to do it.
I am willing to perform even though it scares the daylights out of me every time, because for me, it's the most powerful way I've experienced of expressing myself and telling a story. I am not willing to go hand-gliding (yet) because the fear I feel is stronger than the desire I have to try it. I'm open for that to change, but so far, I haven't been able to go forward with it. I think that's ok, it's a process.
"It was not an easy ascent, but even in the struggle at its hardest, there was a delight and a zest known only to those who aspire to the heights."
He was right. I rode the roller coaster half a dozen times with him that day, hanging on to the safety bar for dear life, but screaming out of fright and happiness at the same time.
How do you talk to your fear? What is fear holding you back from right now?
Come back tomorrow for Life Lesson #6: Be Here Now.