What to do with fear?

When we are facing the possibility of our death or the loss of someone we love, what can we do? Fear is a useful emotion – it tells us to protect ourselves, to take action. But if our actions may not help, what do we do?

Fear, sitting in my chest can overwhelm me. I can use immense amounts of my energy suppressing fear – stuffing it deep inside. But at a huge cost. Or I can express it – talking to those I trust – or I can into the forest and scream it out of my body. There is merit in both approaches.

Or, as I recently learned, I can simply release my fear. I call this being “softly fearless”.

Coyote

I just finished today a wonderful book by authors Jim Horton and Don Bowak called Marking Life Stages which describes how New Zealanders offer opportunities for their young people to engage in safe and secure rituals that assist them in their transition from being children to being adults. They describe a thoughtful and intentional process wherein parents, guides and elders lead young people through their passage from childhood to adulthood.

We all have many transition points in our lives – going to school, graduation, first drink, first kiss, first job, marriage, – that powerfully influence the rest of our lives.

Shooting a coyote on my fathers farm was one of those transition points for me. It may be the reason that I never became a hunter. The coyote was not harming me or our farm. In fact, he had followed me for several days as I cultivated the field.

I never told anyone about what I had done. In hindsight, I wish I had talked about it with someone older and wiser. But I did not.

Now that I am old, it occurs to me that in our society, we do not place enough attention on having rites of passage, for our children, but also for men and women my age. A retirement party, some speeches and off we go. I used to think that adolescence was the most challenging time of a person’s life. But now, the data says that older men have the highest rates of suicide. And in the subset of men with prostate cancer the rate is higher still.

I am interested in developing ways that elders can assist children grow into adults as well developing ways that we older people can assume more elder roles in our communities

I think we need to talk about this. A lot.

fear-1

Fear

I have had what seems to me to be an odd experience with fear as I went through the stages of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Odd in that I did not actually feel afraid. I knew that my cancer could kill me, but I didn’t go into it. Instead, I put a lot of energy denying all of my feelings. It wasn’t until several years after my surgeries that I felt a lot of anger and by then, my PSA readings were consistently low, so I no longer had reason to be afraid that I would die.

I have come to realize that I have lived with a lot of fears that I continually, with great effort, deny. Then finally, I realize that speaking my fears out loud actually gives me relief.

I am very interested in others’ experiences – allowing feelings or not?