“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is 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, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
The word staccato is Italian for “detached.” (A little Italian lesson as I write this on the flight to our Italy Bootcamp.) In musical notation, it signifies a note of shortened duration separated from the note that may follow by silence. Sound followed by silence; sound and, again, silence. It reminds me of the stilted rhythm I can find myself in when I’m feeling the fear I have of my own power and stifling my fullest expression. The original impulse comes, then I hold back , hold my breath, and stop myself from flowing freely.
I feel it when I box. I feel it when I’m with people. I feel it when I’m with my significant other. And I feel it when something important is happening or needs to happen, like when I have something big to say. That something rises from deep within my core– where sound originates as my voice coach taught me–and is the first impulse wanting to be expressed. Usually, it’s inherently aligned with my deepest truth and intuitive knowing. (I suffered through a first marriage ignoring that intuitive voice; I can trace the ways I find myself not listening closely to it even today.)
The wall of fear I face to speak up, or express fully, is daunting. As if the very essence of me fights the good fight against that fear daily just to be seen and heard as who she really is. Sometimes, I don’t even think I’ve ever seen that part of me fully, but I give her space to trust it’s okay to come out when I can feel her at edge of the wall, toeing the line, and trembling with fear.
I’ve come to like working with that edge and often will intentionally do things that scare me. I call it “running towards the volcano.” One of the lines from Trungpa Rinpoche is etched close to my heart: “Have confidence to go beyond hesitation.” That’s still a sometimes challenging move for me that may not seem big and scary on the outside, but something about my core wiring on the inside makes it the thing that calls all my demons to the surface, looming large in front of me. My full expression is silenced by my fears.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” wrote Joseph Campbell.
Overcoming all of the emotions, memory fragments, and thoughts that dominate when the demons loom large is the task of all tasks. It is like rescuing the princess, that sacred part of you that you’ve kept safe for a long time, keeping safe up in a tower somewhere, so it would survive childhood and all of its scars and imprints. That princess part of you is the part of you that you’re early neurology still wants to protect. So when you meet those walls of fear and resistance in yourself as you set out to do what it is that’s been burning truth in you, it’s that early neurology loading up. Your inner critic may get loud. Your breath may get shallow. You may feel waves of anxiety. You may second guess yourself. In a way, that’s all a good sign that you’re meeting the demons reconnect with and release the treasure it’s been protecting.
Our fullest expression–be it speaking our truth, taking the mic, acting fiercely–allows the energy that’s flowing through us to flow, unstopped, undetached. Yet, we may start to speak and stop. We may feel the urge to take action, and shrink back. We fear speaking up, because someone might tell us otherwise, and that ‘otherwise’ in our society may be a violent way of shutting someone down. We fear acting against the status quo, making people nervous, making a scene. Or we fear being shut down, shut out, shunned by them (related to the proverbial, ambiguous, they). We may complain and rage to friends and significant others and not stand up and say “This is what I’m going to do to change it, to be different,” and step boldly in that direction even though you’re walking into your most terrifying fear-demon. Our lovableness, safety and belonging becomes threatened by these very things.
Subsequently, we fear our own power because of the risk it takes to flow freely with what we want to express. In doing so, we become detached from the very purpose and potency of our deepest self that wants to flow through us.
In the face of all those fears – real, perceived, or vestiges of our past showing up in our present – we have to, as May Sarton said, ”dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” The bravest among us move brazenly through the walls of fear, facing all the demons, and move forth, reaching for the mic, in full authentic expression. Even though it’s survivable, the risk was great.
As we grow, we challenge the old core, primary wiring in us. Last week in my therapist’s office, after working on an edge I have been working on for a while, approaching in many different ways, and holding tenderly, I said, “I’m amazed at how strongly this part of me wants to hold on.” “It’s a well worn pathway,” she noted, “galvanized early on. The thing is, you are the things you want to be and are striving for. As you keep moving into that more, and expanding into those things, you will keep meeting this edge.” Her reframe calmed the ferventness with which I wanted to change that part of me. Instead of feeling a wall that could stop me, that edge began to feel like a shirt that’s too tight.
It’s a process of resilience to be present with, recognize, and get curious about those old “keep you small and safe” wires that hinder your amplification. Include those parts of you in your process by being in dialogue with it. Give it your attention, ask it what it needs, what it wants, when it showed up, and you can then begin to see what it’s protecting you from and why (what beliefs and meaning it made so early on in your development). Knowing when these parts of you get activated, and being able to work with them, allows you to keep expanding beyond their pre-set limits.
Changing by moving beyond those limits is a matter of setting out into fresh neural tracks by re-wiring pathways in your brain. Shifting things requires new choreography – and reminding yourself that “[what you want] is good, even though it feels good” (How’s that for a koan for ya? …to forge past the well worn wired parts of you.
Those parts of ourselves that wired in hard are situations we’ve survived. That’s important information for our lower brain which is focused solely on our survival. All of the new stuff you want to do–like letting your full expression flow freely–is risky according to that part of your brain’s programming. You haven’t survived it–yet. In the chronicles of your neural programming index,that edge is scary and there’s no program for that, so it reverts to what it knows is safe. But if you keep breathing through it, as you face the demons one by one, you can keep calm and carry on and remind those parts of you with old information that “you’ve got this.”
By facing every demon that attempts to keep you down, you walk through to the other side, to your treasure–a very potent part of you. Afterwards, those demons are much less intimidating. Otherwise, by staying small, we deny ourselves of so much that we can only know by letting our full expression flow. Staying there is like a wasteland of our life. As Anais Nin wrote: “There came a time when staying tight within the bud became more painful than the strain it took to bloom.”
Take these words from John O’Donohue, on courage:
We drift through this gray, increasing nowhere
Until we stand before a threshold we know
We have to cross to come alive once more.
May we have the courage to take the step
Into the unknown that beckons us;
Trust that a richer life awaits us there,
That we will lose nothing
But what has already died;
Feel the deeper knowing in us sure
Of all that is about to be born beyond
The pale frames where we stayed confined,
Not realizing how such vacant endurance
Was bleaching our soul’s desires.
Our soul’s desires are an immense power, and it’s our duty to release it in this lifetime. That power as Marianne Williamson notes above, “…It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it similarly:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Strangely enough I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way the world is made.”