We all feel afraid at times. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
Last week, we discussed the way your fear intends to protect you. When you feel fear, it is an indicator that risk and the unknown are ahead and that you’ve been hurt in some similar way in the past.
If our greatest moments of growth and transformation happen in moments of risk and unknown, then we need tools for engaging and pressing into our fear.
There are two main categories to use as you think about your response to fear: 1) feeling the fear, and 2) engaging with the fear. They are closely related, but different.
Here’s how I see those two categories interacting with each other:
Option 1: No feeling, no engagement—the Scarecrow
This is the most common response to fear and also the trickiest. The Scarecrow doesn’t feel fear and doesn’t engage with risk. He just sits in his field doing his job. This person avoids challenges and risks. Fear for him is such an intense and painful experience that he doesn’t even allow himself to feel it.
This person lives for his own comfort no matter what. In The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow was given a brain by the Wizard. Our scarecrow, sadly, never risks leaving his cornfield with Dorothy. Getting a brain is the least of his concerns.
Option 2: Feeling, but no engagement—the Cowardly Lion
This is the next most common response to fear. The Cowardly Lion knows that she’s afraid, but isn’t willing to push into it any more than she has to. The Cowardly Lion will do anything she can to fix the fear. Any amount of uncertainty must be replaced by certainty. Any risk must be totally calculated.
Unlike the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion is self-aware enough to talk about her fear. She knows she doesn’t like it, but she is very driven by it. The Cowardly Lion needs to learn to that it’s ok to be afraid, and that fear is an asset and a tool, not a threat.
Option 3: No feeling, but engagement—the Tin Man
This is the stereotypical image of courage—recklessly pushing forward no matter the cost. The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz is lacking a heart. Our Tin Man, similarly, is out of touch with his feelings. Where he may feel fear, it is simply replaced by reckless forward movement and engagement.
The Tin Man has no relationship with his fear because he’s out of touch with it. His reckless forward-movement will eventually catch up with him. Burn out, crisis, and addiction are some of the places the Tin Man may head. What he needs more than anything is to recognize and listen to his feelings.
I doubt many of you would be in this category. You wouldn’t have started reading this in the first place.
Option 4: Feeling, and engagement—Dorothy (the Courageous Pilgrim)
The Courageous Pilgrim is aware of her fear. She knows the stories that inform it (see last week’s post) and she uses it as a tool to keep her stretching, growing, and doing her true work in the world. She’s not afraid to feel her fear (as opposed to the Scarecrow and the Tin Man) and she’s also not afraid to engage it (like the Cowardly Lion). She chooses when to let it dictate which path to take and when she can express a gentle “No, thank you,” and go the other direction.
Truth be told, none of us are any one of these all the time. We move around and change, depending on the circumstance. My hunch is that you have one that you identify with most. Which one is it? My hope is that you see these categories as an invitation to stretch in a particular direction, as Courageous Pilgrims do.
What would be different about your life, spirituality, and relationships if you were a Courageous Pilgrim? What is your natural response to fear? Which character are you and how might you grow more courageous?