Tuesday, December 11, 2007

To Jump or Not To Jump

Today's radical revelation: Fear and Truth are not the same thing.

Have I posted that already? Surely that's been the revelation of the day before. It's one of those things I have to realize every ten days or so because I cannot, for the life of me, integrate it into my responses to things. Just because I feel terrified of, say, writing my dissertation, does not mean that I am incapable of writing my dissertation. Just because the thought feels sticky and looming with large, pressing hands and the flashing lights of DANGER! DANGER! spinning all around does not actually mean that there is danger there. The potential for falling off of a cliff and falling off of a cliff are, in fact, distinctly different things.

Which makes me a little irritable about the way we are wired, in a fundamental way, to feel fear. I've not fallen from a cliff, and while I'm not willing to try for the sake of a good metaphor (though I would do a lot for a good metaphor), I actually imagine that falling and the fear of falling feel remarkably similar. Other less drastic experiences lead me to believe this is true. And so if you are truly afraid of falling, it's as if your body and mind are already preparing to fall, over and over, waiting for the moment when you do. There have been, in the past, things I have been truly afraid of that have come to pass. And it's been a relief because I was so prepared for so long for it to happen.

However, it is not true, no matter how much it may feel so, that falling and being afraid of falling are the same thing. The fear of the experience and the truth of the experience may be confusing and similar, but in one you feel like shit and in the other you die by falling from a very great height.

But here's where things get very tricky: Sometimes fear isn't reality, but it is, in fact, very, very smart. Sometimes fear just knows. It looks over the cliff and looks back at you and says, "Dude. Do not fall from this very great height. That will seriously suck." In the case of the cliff, Fear is 100% right. Fear knows. And so sometimes it's extremely important to listen to the fear. What it's telling you is true and right and important.

Sometimes, though, Fear is not your friend. Sometimes, Fear lies. Not because it wants you to fail, but because Fear would really like it very much if you'd not leave the house, eat only healthy things, and choose a home far from an active fault line. Our lives are not about making Fear happy, though. They are about understanding enough about what we need and what we want and what we cannot have to listen to the fear and then move ever forward.

But my god is it difficult to tell what the fear is saying. It is way, way too difficult to tease the fear away from the truth like little glutinous strands clinging to what we need to know. So many things about our lives require risk and pain and it is absurdly difficult to know when you really hurt and when you are afraid of hurting. They aren't the same thing, but sometimes they feel the same, as if Fear is trying to keep you safe by giving you the pain up front. Sometimes, too, it doesn't really matter if fear is right or wrong. Sometimes we look over the edge of a cliff and know that the only way to where we need to be is down. Sometimes the only thing to do is to ignore the fear, stuff a parachute, hope for favorable winds, and jump.

Photo by Tobias Rütten