I have hated fear most my life. Since I haven’t been able to get rid of it, I learned to be intimate instead.
I remember writing a poem when I was in second grade about the monsters in my closet. They would lurk in the middle of the night. I would wake, feel the soulful terror, and with barefoot little feet, run across the house to my parents bed. I sprinted that “wee hour sojourn” for many years, until I got kicked out and had to face the closet monsters alone.
I didn’t know what I was so afraid of, but the fear felt real and anciently terrifying.
Monsters in the closet were not the only phenomena that rattled my bones with fear, so did people.
Oh she’s just “shy” some would say. I was not shy, I was frozen. I would sit in my cold, plastic, elementary seat with all the alphabet people wrapped around the ceiling. Mrs. Arnold, would ask the class, “How do you spell gift?”
“G-I-F-T,” I repeated in my head. I always knew the answers, but fear kept me from speaking. I would watch the “normal” children play from the sidelines at recess, wanting so badly to run, wrestle, bump up against other bodies, laugh, get dirty, but I sat like a statue on the sidewalk, wishing I could be back at my desk so I didn’t stick out.
Lunch time was the worst, sitting with my lunchbox, looking straight ahead or down so no one would see me. Not eating crunchy food because it was too loud and may draw the attention of others. I wanted to be invisible. I had imaginary friends. I felt existentially alone and learned to live with that feeling.
My greatest joy was before school, after school, on the weekends, running barefoot through the thick grass in my South Texas backyard. Jumping on the swing that was my saving grace. I would spend hours in my own world, flying back and forth, long pig tails, finally free from the terror of being in the “people-centric” jungle.
As I grew up, not much changed. Soccer was an outlet, as I could be with others, working towards a common goal. I loved the physicality of it, the teamwork, the dirt, sweat, blood, smell of grass and I was good at it.
But I was still afraid. All the time. I was privileged enough to live in a house with my own room, in a safe neighborhood, where I could retreat and re- armor myself to go back out each day into the world that terrified me. The one with people in it.
There was so much I wanted to say. I had a deep desire for others to know me, to be vulnerable with them, to have intimate relationships, but fear kept me from being able connect in the ordinary, day to day world.
I was not completely dysfunctional.
I went to college and played soccer, I lived in the favelas of Brazil, working at a street children’s project, I volunteered for a year in Denver at a food pantry, studied for a Masters of Divinity, but despite all the experiences, fear caged me in. The big dreams I had, felt impossible.
It wasn’t until I came to Washington DC, that my relationship with fear began to shift.
I went to DC, with the hope of working with kids, as they were much more forgiving than adults. But as life would have it, I ended up at a hospice instead. Joseph’s House, an AIDS hospice for homeless men and women became my re-brith into the world of living. Instead of hating fear or being frozen by it, I turned towards it.
Snuggling up to death has a way of saying hello to fear with the most profound, ancient salutation.
Death: the phenomena we spend our whole lives running from, trying to avoid, not talking about, became my best friend.
For the next decade, I spent days and nights sitting at the bedside watching labored breath leave bodies. Falling in love so deeply and quickly with people felt easy in this container. So did repeatedly getting my heart broken when they died, but it was broken open to a new flow. The one called change, that is a constant undercurrent of our everyday living.
The real conversations were often not with words, but a touch, a gesture, a warm towel, understanding eyes, a steady seat. That liminal space between life and death felt safe to me. It felt like a homecoming. I could connect with people in ways I had not been able to my entire life. When people are faced with the knowledge that they are going to die, things change. The world looks different. Priorities shift.
In the living world, I had always watched as an outsider. I struggled to understand the buzzing nature of small talk, parties, and so many goddamn “how are yous?” without really wanting to know the answer.
I never fit in. I did the best I could, but that world felt too intimidating.
I thrived in the “in between” space rich with symbols, archetypes, soul talk, forced vulnerability of the bodies breaking down and all the fucking realness that comes with that.
People would always say, “Wow, that must be such hard work!” I didn’t want to dismiss the sentiment, but it didn’t feel hard, it felt real and simple. Hard work for me, would be getting dressed up for a party with a lot of people I didn’t know, and “networking” Or dating, that would be really, really hard and why I never did it.
What being close to death taught me, was that fear did not have to be my enemy anymore, it could be my greatest Ally. Instead of unconsciously ruling my life, I could get intimate. Talk to fear personified. Do things that scared me, because growth and courage called just as loudly.
Through this work, I learned two pillars significant to my nature.
1. I live with intense fear, everyday, since the day I was born, and I’m not going to get rid of it.
2. I am soulfully compelled to move towards what scares me, in the name of growth, love and human transformation.
Practicing Yoga and eventually teaching Yoga became the next step for my re-birth back into life. I learned very quickly, that it was highly distasteful to talk about “washing dead bodies” in the middle of half pigeon, to poor students just wanting a nice lunch time Yoga class in Georgetown.
I started practicing this foreign language called “small talk”, and realized it doesn’t have to be “small” it is just a way to connect on an everyday level and test the deeper waters.
Although I always preferred conversations around deep pain, joy,and aliveness, I also began to dabble with the ways of weather, work and politics.
Martial Arts/Self Defense was my third rise of the girl that always dreamed of carrying a straight razor in her boot. A confident, trash talker molded through intense training. Kicking, punching, grappling and wrestling her way to freedom. Death and Martial Arts have a lot in common, there is a realness to these worlds. You talk with your bodies, you learn trust, vulnerability and communication. You tap when submitted, simulating a death.
I just turned 40, and I am am catapulting into a new decade. I am still learning how to live everyday, how to navigate relationships, how to not become too attached when I finally let someone in.
It’s messy, I’m a “work in progress”, but I am fiercely committed to continue grappling. I am no longer angry with the lifetime of control fear has had. I’m softening into a state of curiosity, wonder and hope.
My liberation lies in learning to take fear, grief, shame, resentment, jealousy, anger, the whole top team of repressed emotions and let them have a voice. To really listen to what they have to say.
Not to dismiss and project them by looking outward with blame, justification, and need for concrete answers.
We have unending power when we can disassociate the storyline and choose to feel the ancient waves that move through us.
They are just waves, bodily sensations that have no meaning. They will not destroy us. If we can unleash the ancient ocean into timeless creative fire, we become indomitable forces that will always have voice because it is our own.
I will commit to continue my bumpy, often unskillful, awkward, sincere, pretty fucking hilarious, sometimes wild and crazy, attempts to engage in the scary everyday world of people. As I sink into my own skin, make mistakes, practice forgiveness of myself and others, I take a deep breath and drop into more easeful-ness.
I am not sure why I was given this gift of intense fear, but I suspect I’m not the only one out there and I will continue leading, teaching, loving and learning from this space, without shame or need to hide, with boldness, all the fucks, and an absolute relentlessness to rise.