Facing fear — or not

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

― Frank Herbert, “Dune”

As much as I would have loved to be a Bene Gesserit Witch, I don’t think I have chops — mostly because I have the shakes, so to speak.

Many times during my yoga practice, I will assign myself a challenge pose. Often, these are the ones in which I face the greatest mental blocks: forward-leaning arm balances (Crow and derivative) and total inversions, such as Handstand. Oddly enough, I used to be able to perform Headstand against the wall quite easily, but had to stop because it is one of the sole aggravators of my thoracic outlet syndrome, aside from weird sleeping positions. (I finally learned that the small disclaimer noting that you should avoid Headstand if it’s medically contraindicated actually does pertain to me.)

This morning, yet again I tried Handstand. Or rather, I tried to try: I put my hands down at the wall, walked my feet up into a short Downward-facing Dog and kicked up — halfheartedly. It was pathetic how little I kicked up. It’s not because of a lack of strength — I am strong enough and then some to kick up into a Handstand — but because of fear. The animal part of my brain doesn’t want  to do Handstand — ever. It’s somehow fine with half-handstand (an L-shape with my feet against the wall), but the full inversion? A whole lot of nope.

Yoga books aren’t a help here. They shrug at the problem: “It’s just fear. Fear isn’t real. Just do it.”

Which is a whole lot of bullshit.

Fear is real. It’s one of our greatest primal urges; it shapes our mammal nature. The rustling of the grass may be a tiger. Falling on your head may hurt you.

True fear is paralyzing. It’s one of the most real phenomena you’ll ever face.

I understand my animal mind. When I was five years old, I fell down the cellar stairs — and have had barophobia (the fear of falling) ever since. This was compounded during an after-school gymnastics class when I was 10 or 11 years old, during which I repeatedly fell on my head and, in one case, was nearly torn apart during a flip on the rings — because the adolescent spotters never told me when to let go. It was as if the Three Stooges combined into one human being, shrunk down to the size of a pre-teen girl, and joined middle school gymnastics. I was that bad.

To this day, I grip the rail when walking down the stairs. Skipping across rocks over a stream? Shaking fear. Rock scrambles when hiking? the same — even when elderly hikers are literally passing me with canes. I challenge myself to work past this. Singing, for example, seems to work when hiking or crossing the rocks on the stream; it takes me out of fear mode. I had a mantra going in my head during the rock scramble up Porter and Cascade in the Adirondacks — and made it, after three tries. Fear is the mind-killer.

Oddly, my fears seem to be entirely physical in origin: falling, blood and strange dogs (the latter from years of being chased and nearly bit as a runner). Public speaking? No problem! Making an ass out of myself in public? Got it! I have no fear of humiliation, of the judgment of others — or of intellectual challenges. I recently switched careers and, while that was a strange prospect, I wasn’t afraid.

But the fear of public speaking is real and debilitating, even if I don’t share it. It’s just different: inward focused rather than outer. My fears do not stem from myself, but from the world around me. I know and trust myself, and my capabilities. I just don’t trust the floor to not break my toes if I come down too fast in Handstand.

I’m not sure what to do about Handstand, exactly, or how to get over this block. Inversions and forward-leaning arm balances are the roadrunner to my coyote, and the floor is the giant anvil marked “Acme” that’s coming right toward me.

And so, in my half-ass way, I try. I try to try. I walk across the rocks in the stream. Every now and then I try Crow and put all my weight in my hands, although a toe still remains on the floor — for safe-keeping.

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About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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