Courage: Lean into Fear…
What exactly was it that I found so terrifying in the idea of living abroad with the family for a year? In the daylight hours during the year before our journey, our developing plan felt bold but grounded, adventurous yet well-considered. Give the kids an amazing cultural experience; live somewhere we could financially breathe a little easier; study Europe by visiting historical and sacred sites; connect with our ancestors; live the life I encourage clients and loved ones to embrace: relish this one precious life by taking courageous leaps. So yes, a move abroad when we don’t own a house, we can work remotely, and the kids are a good age (9 and 12) makes solid sense, I thought. In the daytime that is…
And then there was the middle-of-the-nights. The year before we set flight I kept waking up between 3 AM and 4 AM, heart pounding and mind racing. I was flooded with fear and doubt. What are you thinking? This is reckless! Who moves to Europe to save money? Will the kids be forever traumatized, pulling them out of their wonderful community and daily rhythm? What happens if one of us gets sick? Is it fair to have my mom take on our animals for a year? That seems irresponsible. What about driving? I doubt I can drive in a foreign country, and definitely not on the opposite side of the road. And so I lay there in the dark, flooded by my looming thoughts and overcome with fear. Eventually I would sleep again and in the morning the whole thing would look more balanced: Yes, a bold endeavor to pack up the family and move to Europe for the year. Risky? Yes. But reckless and irresponsible? No, probably not. So what was the real fear? I believe it was the fear of the Great Unknown that was scary. And so this was my lean into fear, to gently lean and finally leap toward the unknown trusting that things would be okay on the other side, we would be okay. And we are.
From California, I could not quite imagine my daily drive to our local health food store in our small village in Ireland, steering wheel on the right side of the car while I drive on the left side of the road, for the first time in my life. This was a big lean into fear as I found the whole “opposite-driving” process to be quite terrifying. And yet, today, after a few months of daily practice, I am finding the whole driving adventure enlivening and actually fun. A friend of mine pointed out how good this must be for my brain, creating new neural pathways.
My practice for years has been to gently lean into fear as it seems this is where courage grows. I remember years ago hearing Pema Chodron talk about the gift of fear as without it we would not have opportunities to develop courage. Well then, I thought at the time, I will certainly have ample opportunities for growing courage. Though I don’t see courage as simply leaning into our fears, though that is part of the process. I think it begins with a yearning towards something, a calling to create, to follow our heart’s desire, to experience, to change. This yearning towards growth, creativity, expansion can come in so many shapes and sizes: learn to play the guitar at 50; cook berry pie without a recipe; take a creative writing class; visit a church or temple; move to Portugal; get a new haircut; learn to speak Japanese; call someone with whom you want to make contact; attend a Zumba class; go out to dinner alone; change careers; be vulnerable with a friend; attend a meditation retreat; the list goes on and on. Each of these actions involves taking a risk as we stretch into the unknown.
In A Beautiful Anarchy: When the Life Creative Becomes the Life Created, David deChemin encourages us to take risks, big and small, as that is how a creative life is created. Reading A Beautiful Anarchy in the year prior to our departure was slowly and quietly life-changing for me. DeChemin gently calls us to take a risk, don’t wait until tomorrow — write a poem, cut an album, sail around the world — take that risk. I read many blogs during my research phase written by courageous mothers, fathers, and solo journeyers documenting their bold leaps into the unknown of extended travel.
One particularly influential blog in our trip planning was Little House in France written by Ken Wallace, father of a family who relocated from Los Angeles, California to Provence, France. In our early planning I wrote to Ken with a flurry of questions ranging from visa application queries to Steiner school questions, and he generously answered each one of them. I voraciously read through everything he posted and promised myself that if our journey ever came to fruition, I would create a blog to offer back to those others who may find our story helpful or inspiring. It was also on Ken’s blog that I first discovered A Beautiful Anarchy as one of the handful of books he recommended in his decision-making process. These were all part of the seeds I followed that led me to this moment.
Through the stories documented in Little House in France as well as so many other travel-journals written by thoughtful and adventurous parents, I started to imagine our own journey into the unknown and felt the courage developing in me to lean into fear and take that next risk. These courageous and creative mentors taught me that courage is about the willingness to listen to one’s heart calling. Courage includes allowing the fear that arises when we want to move toward the unknown, without letting it paralyze us. Courage is grown through taking gentle risks, over and over, even when fear arises. Allow your heart-calling to spring forth, feel the fear that may arise, lean toward that fear by taking a gentle risk toward that heart-calling. And so it seems that courage grows in the intersection between one’s heart-calling, fear, and gentle risk.
Invitation to Practice:
Sit down with a notebook and set a timer for 10 minutes. Write freely without stopping until the alarm sounds, allowing anything and everything to come to mind as you complete this thought: “I would love to…” After 10 minutes read through your list and choose one small action in the direction of one of your dreams.
For example, perhaps you wrote, “I would love to write a novel.” Then your action step might be sitting down for 10 minutes and writing freely your ideas for this novel unleashing your creative voice for just 10 unedited minutes. Or your action step could be to go to the store and purchase a notebook that is dedicated to jotting ideas down that relate to the story you want to write. Could you imagine writing your novel for just 10 minutes a day for a week? Or a month?
Another example: perhaps you wrote, “I would love to start painting again.” Your action step might be to go through your garage and pull out your old paintbrushes and set them on a table near your kitchen, allowing the sight of them to begin to work on you. Another action step could be to pull down some of your old painting books and spend 20 minutes looking at works of art. What pieces touch you and are they different from what used to move you? Do you feel inspired to paint?
A final example: maybe you wrote, “I would love to move to Berlin for an extended period.” Then your action step could be to go to the library and check out a few books on Berlin, including a coffee table book with nice photographs. Sit with those books and see what the images bring up for you. Can you see yourself living there? Or your action step might be to spend 20 minutes and do a google search on “Expats living in Berlin” or “American family living in Berlin” and see what comes up. Can you see yourself in the stories you read?
These are all small action steps, gentle risks and acts of courage that could move you closer to your heart’s desire, to manifesting your dreams. With each of these examples, notice where you feel enlivened and curious. What images or fragments of insight arise? Jot them down. Also notice where self-doubt arises, what are those messages? Document what you are discovering. Thanks for reading and send me an email and let me know how these practices are going for you!