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Fear of Possibility

There once was this criminal who had committed a crime

(Because, hey, that’s what criminals do. That’s their job!)

Anyway, he was sent to the king for his punishment.

The king told him he had a choice of two punishments.

He could be hung by a rope.

Or take what’s behind the big, dark, scary, mysterious iron door.

The criminal quickly decided on the rope.

As the noose was being slipped on him, he turned to the king and asked:

“By the way, out of curiosity, what’s behind that door?”

The king laughed and said:

“You know, it’s funny, I offer everyone the same choice, and nearly everyone picks the rope.”

“So,” said the criminal, “Tell me. What’s behind the door? I mean, obviously, I won’t tell anyone,” he said, pointing to the noose around his neck.

The king paused then answered:

“Freedom, but it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope.” 

Fear. “Do not fear,” said Yahweh to Abraham. “Do not fear,” said Yahweh to the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Malachi. “Do not fear,” said Jesus. “Do not fear,” said the angel to Joseph, Zachariah, and Mary. Over and over again to many people in scripture we hear the injunction to “not be afraid.” Why shouldn’t they be afraid, because, we hear over and over again, God is with us in the Divine Unfoldment (that we talked about last week) of our lives.

Listen to Nan Merrill's interpretation Psalm 5:8-9,  

Lead me, O my Beloved, in your mercy lighten my fears;
Make your way straight before me that I may follow.
For there is no truth in fear;
It leads to downfall;
It opens the door to loneliness;
It speaks not with integrity, but out of ignorance;

There is an age old tension between our longing for possibility and our fear of that same possibility. We fear the unknown, change, uncertainty, failure, responsibility. We fear loving and being loved. We fear being hurt or vulnerable.

All these fears can sometimes turn into “What if…” Syndrome. You know this one. It's the game we play with ourselves when we're afraid. What if I fail? What if I don't like it? What if people make fun of me? What if something happens?

“What ifs” and fears focus on the negative in any situation. They keep us from taking a chance, from following our dreams, from being attentive to the Divine Unfoldment before us. They cause us to listen to our own inner self-criticism that tells us we aren’t good enough, smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough to take whatever chance is presenting itself. “What ifs” and fears can even influence our relationships if we aren’t willing to allow ourselves to be loved, or risk an intimate relationship.

Here’s another thought, perhaps we’re sometimes afraid because, What if I succeed?

Spiritual author, Marianne Williamson, in her book Return to Love, wrote: 

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear in that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

What if I have the brains to do more than I'm doing? What if I have the power to help enact change? What if I can make a difference? What does that mean I’ll have to do, give up, change, risk? I knew a few people who truly felt called to the ministry, and they weren’t afraid of failing, but of succeeding and how that would change their lives. Neither of them followed that call.

“What ifs” and fears can (and do) keep us from living life to the fullest. As Les Brown says, “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we’re living our fears.” Which do we want to live? Our dreams and the abundance of life? Or our “what ifs” and fears? It’s our choice which call we listen to and heed.

Alan Watts: “Our lives are one long effort to resist the unknown.”

David had avoided flying on airplanes for most of his life because he found himself terrified of crashing. “I couldn’t stop thinking about all the disasters I heard about on the news, and every time I thought about flying, I would begin sweating and my heart started pounding. I only felt better by avoiding travel altogether.”

But as time went on, David’s fear began to prevent him from doing things he wanted to do. He missed his niece’s graduation and an important work conference, and his fear prevented him from taking his family on the vacation to the coast. “After years of avoidance, I realized this fear was holding me back, and I had to do something about it.”

David met with a therapist, who encouraged him to examine his thoughts about flying and to question their basis in reality. After some research, David had to admit that his fears about plane crashes were greatly exaggerated in his mind—the flight industry is extraordinarily safe, and accidents are rare. The therapist also taught David some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and visualization, that he could use any time he felt afraid.

David decided to stop avoiding his fear, and he booked tickets to take his family on their dream vacation. As the flight took off, David focused on keeping his breathing calm and even. Whenever thoughts about crashing entered his mind, he replaced them with a positive thought about how much fun he would have with his family when they arrived. He closed his eyes and imagined the warm sand and waves lapping at his feet, his children laughing and building a sand castle. As the flight progressed, David began to relax. He even enjoyed looking out the window a bit. Anytime he felt himself getting nervous, he gently turned his attention back to his breathing until the feeling passed.

When the wheels touched the ground, he felt something more powerful than relief: “I felt so proud that I had faced my biggest fear head-on. As we landed, I felt like this thing that had such a powerful hold on me for so long had finally loosened its grip. I knew that I would probably still feel some anxiety when flying, but now I had the tools to face it with mindfulness. I finally feel free.”

Dawna Markova tells a story about going to a weekend workshop with Russian physicist named Moshe Feldenkrais who’d founded a system of psychophysical reeducation. At one point in the workshop he invited everyone to fold their hands habitually, like they had done their entire lives. (Go ahead, try this.) Notice if your right fingers were on top of the left or vice versa.

Then he asked them to unfold them, keeping them open in wonder for a little bit and then reweaving them in the opposite, non-habitual way. They folded, held open, wondered and refolded for several minutes, habitual to wonder to non-habitual to wonder to habitual, while Moshe asked them questions.

“Which way feels more comfortable, easier?”

Dawna’s hands told her immediately, “Habitually.”

“Which way feels safer?”

Again, the answer was obvious. “Habitually.”

“Which way are you more aware of the spaces between your fingers, of your bones and the feel ofyour skin?”

This was getting interesting. “Non-habitually.”

“And which way are your hands more alive to you?”

She was stunned. “Non-habitually.”

Moshe took them one more step. “Now reconsider which way your hands are safer. Which way could you move more quickly to get them out of the way if they were in danger?”

She kept folding and unfolding in wonder. She couldn’t believe it. Obviously her hands were safer if she was more aware of them, and obviously she was more aware of them if she folded them non-habitually! But she had spent most of her life finding the easy, comfortable, habitual way, avoiding what was awkward at any cost, believing, she said, that “somehow that this was making me safe. Instead, it was making me dead.”

The moral is obvious. We continue to do the things we do because they are comfortable and easy and we honestly don’t really even think about doing things a different way because, well, why would we? Why would we risk being uncomfortable by trying something new. But, what if being comfortable leads us to spiritual and intellectual and even emotional death. What if to remain vital, to be more alive, more aware, we need to let go of our fear and do things that we wouldn’t normally do. Get out of the boxes we’ve put ourselves in, experience the possibilities in the Divine Unfoldment of our lives, knowing that God is with us every step of the way.

Enter the day as a toddler learning to walk – sure we might fall down, we might not do it well, but there is so much out there to explore and see and learn about. It’s time to let go of our fears and go for it.

Love & Light!