I realize now that I grew up in fear—fear of my father, fear of punishment, fear of bullies, fear of rejection—and that my life has been circumscribed by this fear. In fact, for most of my adult years fear has caused me to say no to life rather than to say yes. Instead of taking risks and thus experiencing the adventure, I played it safe all the way down the line. Practically everything I thought, said, and did was filtered through an imagined social approval system; thus my individuality, creativity, and emotional growth were virtually suffocated in the process. The person that God meant me to be never blossomed.
I do not want to try to imagine what my life might have been had I not been so controlled by fear. What might I have accomplished or created? What melodramatic love affairs might I have experienced? What memorable conversations might I have had with interesting people? What might I have contributed to the world?
If I am truly honest with myself, I must admit that I have not lived; I have merely existed.
Now that I am nearly sixty, I wonder how this habit of fear, so deeply rooted, can be overcome and a healthy life lived. Certainly, recognition of the ways in which fear still governs my life can be a first step in freeing myself from it. Worry and anxiety, particularly of the obsessive variety, are common manifestations of fear, for example. Shyness is also a symptom of an underlying fear. Lack of confidence is born out of the fear of failure or rejection. All of these syndromes have a paralyzing effect on human development and are a barrier to a happy, healthy, creative life.
Most people’s fears are illogical; they are out of proportion to nearly all worst-case-scenario outcomes. Yet it seems that fear cannot be banished or overcome by logic. The child who is afraid of monsters in the dark can only be comforted by the security of parental protection, not by assurances that monsters do not exist. Adults are not much different, it seems. I know that our neighbours or our homestay students are not going to hate us if our smoke alarm goes off while we’re making boeuf bourgignon and we don’t get it silenced right away. Yet my heart rate immediately goes up and I try every means possible to shut that noise down. (Such an incident—and my predictable reaction— actually occurred while I was writing this paragraph.)
So how do we set fear aside and begin to live—really live? One way is to find and to follow your bliss, a pursuit you so deeply love that it takes you outside of yourself and thus beyond all fear. Fear is, after all, a profoundly self-centered emotion; true love or passion (not infatuation), on the other hand, is other-centered. I found my bliss a few years ago, but I now understand that I have not been truly following it.
Following your bliss involves complete surrender to the journey. And what is it that you have to surrender? You have to let go of your ego; you must surrender all desire. As soon as you have expectations—of “results,” (such as visits to your blog) of acceptance (comments on your blog), of material gain as an outcome of your effort (making money from your writing)—you will also have fear that those expectations will not be met and disappointment when they are indeed not met.
The bliss, then, must be pure.
Complete surrender can only be accomplished when there is perfect trust. When I am truly following my bliss, I trust that wherever that journey takes me is where God intends me to be at that moment, and if I believe, as Henri Nouwen says, that I am the beloved child of God, I know it will always be a place of joy. If I trust, I am free to follow my dream—to act on my inspiration—without fear of danger or loss or pain and without expectation of outcome. I am free to be who I really am, and as Henri tells us, I am not what I do, I am not what I have, and I am not what others think of me.
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