Thursday, October 12, 2017

50 for 50 day 36: Fear

This is post 36 of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

I am at a book festival. Yesterday I told stories (fairy tales for grown-ups, not the fringe set) and today I will teach a class about applied storytelling techniques. I'm having a lovely time and am reminded of how much I love my work. I am also reminded of how storytelling can connect deeply with listeners, often in ways you don't expect.

As part of my performance set today, I invited questions. They were great, ranging from questions about my creative process to wondering if I'm a good liar (often but not always) to where I find inspiration. The last was wondering in particular if I found inspiration in dreams.

The answer is a resounding yes, and I shared the dream that led to a particular Crazy Jane story. The dream was unsettling, involving the devil sending me on a quest, but it turned into a great story. Frankly, the dream didn't bother me once I got over the chill of having met the devil. It was a dream. That's all.

After the set, one of the audience members lingered as I chatted with various listeners. They were all kind in their praise, some had additional questions, and then it was just me and the lingering girl. She told me that she had some questions about dreams. She was wondering if I was frightened by the presence of the devil in my dream. I told her that no, I wasn't frightened. She pushed, wanting to know why not, what if this really was a visit from the devil?

(What follows is an attempt to summarize a thread in what was a pretty far ranging conversation. Please be patient.)

It was a good question. At first I responded that, in my understanding of dreams, it couldn't have been an external evil force, that dreams are how we talk to ourselves (most of the time). I thought about it for a moment longer, then explained some of my worldview. I wasn't afraid because I can choose to let fear dictate my actions or I can choose to respond differently.

I tend to lean into fear. If there is something that frightens me I will try to understand why, then walk into it. I would rather confront fear (or at least understand it) than let it limit my world.

She was skeptical. She really wanted me to find supernatural reasons for this dream and that's just not what I think was happening. Then she asked me to talk more about why I lean into fear, why I choose to not be afraid. She told me she is afraid all the time and is so frustrated that she can't change anything, what should she do?

It's not comfortable being asked to be guru, but she was clearly in a place of some darkness. I hope my answer helped.

There is so little in this world that we can control. Politics, the weather, the footsteps from your upstairs neighbor. We can control very little. The only thing we really have a chance of controlling is our response to the things we encounter. I would rather not respond with or to fear, because I think fear drives poor decisions. I'd rather respond in other ways, whether that means leaning in, reaching for compassion or pushing back.

I told her that when I was in my late 20s, as she is, I was in a rough place. As I grew older and realized more and more how the only thing I could control was myself, things got better.

She replied, telling me that she feels completely powerless and just wants to give up. And I said that by giving up we let them win; I'd rather go down fighting than know I gave up my own soul. That seems like a clearer kind of devil than the one in my dream. Mind you, I don't know who her "they" are. I also urged her to get help, that she doesn't have to do this alone.

I do know this: Realizing that fear is a feeling like any other, realizing that I have some measure of control over my response to it, has changed my life. I do know that realizing just how little control I have over the world has helped immeasurably, because I can focus on the things that I can change and even small nudges in the fabric of the universe can make a big difference. I know that I'd rather go down fighting.

She seemed a trifle brighter by the time we stopped talking. I don't know if what I said made a difference then or will make a difference going forward, but I hope she finds enough in herself worth fighting for. I hope she is able to lean into the fear and is able to find her own power. I don't know if this will happen and it's unlikely that I ever will. Yet another thing I cannot control. I do know that I at least tried.

This is what 50 looks like. Surprised to find herself an elder and a little unsettled by the responsibility. But trying anyway. Lean in.

(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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