So, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted on here. I’ve been doing some personal work in this time, or more accurately, the work has been done to me. That seems to be how it goes; one can never anticipate the ways in which one will be confronted by the need for personal work. When one is open to it, as I have tried to be here in Colorado, it will come, but never in the form that’s expected.
For me, lately, it’s looked like a confrontation with my fear. In some ways, I’ve been pretty brave. For example, moving across the country, on an intuition, with no plan other than to see what comes and grow from it took courage. And I love myself for that. The ways in which I’ve been brave until now, though, have been mostly externally manifested. I’ve realized recently that internally, I’ve been a coward for most of my life.
Most of this looks like emotional cowardice, as near as I can figure it out. There are reasons for it that I can identify – I come from stoic, hard Dutch and German roots; I was raised in a form of Christianity that emphasizes fear; I was brought up and still live in a culture in which boys and men are taught not to express their feelings, but instead to be tough, to not cry, etc; I’ve been hurt, like everyone has. But these are explanations, not excuses, and I want to see them not as reasons to stay afraid, but instead as the ground upon which I have to build up from.
And I do have to build. If I’m going to write anything meaningful, anything beautiful, anything true, I need to be able to access the deep, scary, emotion-filled places within myself. If I’m to have any lasting, meaningful relationships, I need the strength to be mindfully vulnerable and emotionally available. If I’m to study the ecosystems of our world, and attempt to nurture and develop them, I have to be sensitive and aware of myself within them. And if I’m to be happy in life, I need to be able to do all these things.
I know that’s what I need to be happy, because in the times when I have been all these things, I’ve never felt better. But they’ve come and gone with surprising swiftness. I’ve been waiting on them to just happen, as they have in the past, without much work on my part. These things take work, though, I’m coming to realize. They take discipline, practice.
Writing is a great example of this. Everything I’ve read on writing craft, technique, etc, all has one piece of instruction at its heart: write every day. Make it a discipline. I’ve been struggling with that. Each time I sit down to write, or even think about sitting down, I feel fear – of emotional vulnerability, of writing something shitty, of neglecting something else I think I should be doing – and how productive I am, or aren’t, on that day has so far depended on how strong or weak that fear happens to be.
If that’s what it depends on, though, it’s no wonder I haven’t been writing every day. It’s like I’m a pole vaulter, just talented enough to make 9′ in the shape that I’m in. Some days the bar is at 9′, some days at 10, some 11, and on the days when the bar is too high I just don’t jump. I also don’t practice – 9′ isn’t too bad, really. But the low bar isn’t satisfying for very long, and if I want to keep jumping I have to get stronger. So if I want to write every day, I have to be strong enough to overcome the strongest fears. Which takes work.
I used to think that the work involved repressing the fear, minimizing it somehow. But now I think that’s the wrong way to look at it, and at any rate it hasn’t worked. Courage and fearlessness are not the same thing – fear is an emotion like any other, helpful in some instances, hurtful in others. Courage comes not from diminishing fear, but recognizing when it needs to be overcome.
Two weeks ago, I made a list of all the things I fear – internal things, that is (I feel no pressing need to work on my fear of water snakes, for example). And then, at the bottom of the list, I wrote, “I will face these fears, and I will overcome them.” I signed it, and dated it, and it’s now hanging above my desk. It’s scary to look at. But those fears have been holding me back since I can remember, and if I don’t learn to overcome them now, I’ll keep living as an emotional and intuitive coward. And I’ve had enough of that life. Perhaps this is the lesson I came out to Colorado to learn. I’m learning it, at any rate, and while my work is cut out for me, it’s going to be worth it. Every small act of courage, including writing and posting this, gives me a bit of satisfaction and strength. I just have to learn to keep at it.