Taming the Dragon

Our fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

The past couple of years have been almost exclusively about conquering, dismantling and letting go of my fears.  I’ve been afraid of so many things.  Risk.  Love.  Success. Failure. I feared if I looked at my own shadow side, it might swallow me whole.  Ironically, I was equally terrified of my light.  I often overlooked what was present in favor of focusing on what was missing.

Coming from that place of lack, it is no wonder that I did a lot of circling the drain, examining my reason for being here, for suffering, for continuing to focus on what I didn’t want instead of what I did.

That’s something we’re often taught by our parents. Mine experienced too much trauma as children to ever really trust the world. My mother grew up in a violent household.  She witnessed her mother and siblings being beaten.  She learned to hide — in the cupboard, under the stairs, in the woods out back — in order to survive.  She and all her siblings have struggled with PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder (without ever realizing that it what it was), their whole adult lives.  My father ran away from home multiple times, often getting into hot water for rebellious behavior that was directly related to the strictness of his home life. (He once got a licking for painting his best friend purple.  True story.) Everything had to be “just so.”  As an adult, he made bad choices, time and again, and was bailed out by his parents repeatedly.  He was dyslexic and had trouble reading and writing, even late in his life.  He still had the mindset of an adolescent in 2003, the year he died.

As a result of my mother’s experiences, she taught me to brace myself against loss; to distrust life; and to often resist what “is.”  Because she was afraid, I became afraid too.

I realize now how futile any of those stances are.

Loss is the gig.

Life is always about loss (as well as deliciousness, and joy, and reward).

Trust is crucial.

Distrust stems from the position that we simply “cannot handle” what comes our way.  Again, not true.  We can and we do.

What you resist, persists.

And the most pointless of all my self-protective stances was resisting life as it was. The more I resisted it, the more the situation festered and grew. When I finally started to learn the lesson of acceptance and gratitude and grace, I untangled and freed myself for the first time.

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.

~ Havelock Ellis

My best friend and I were discussing these changes this week (like we do every week, unraveling the mysteries that we face). So much is shifting and changing that I sometimes feel like there is absolutely no solid ground beneath me. Of course, I know that is not true, but when my fear kicks up, it is hard to reason with my internal hysteria.  The thing is, that is happening less and less. I feel more and more solid and sure and grateful for all aspects of my life every day. I understand that changing this has been the hardest work of my life. Trusting that if I open my door to another person, they will value and respect and cherish me, is not something that I am used to feeling. However, that is where I find myself.

I look around my life and I see a vast network of visible and invisible support.  I feel the deep love of my friends and family.  I listen to the contented sigh of my dog as she naps near my feet and think, what could be better than this life I have? I am doing meaningful, creative, interesting work.  I am writing.  I dabble, read, cook, and plant things so I can watch them grow.  I talk to students who are sometimes lost, and sometimes in need of direction, and I am able provide that for them. I have this well inside of me that is constantly re-filled by my spiritual practice and my ability (finally) to trust my intuition.  When my intuition says “yes” to someone or something, it is right on.  When it says, “no,” I had best heed its sage counsel.

The thing is, I trust myself now. I embrace (rather than resist) who I am — a woman in her fifties who finally “gets” it. I understand that loss can be a great teacher. It can create a place in my life for something beautiful and new.

I see how my mother has softened like an old cashmere coat as she has aged.  She is luminously lovely, open, and true to herself.  Instead of calcifying in her aging process, she has walked through her fear and found the other side. She is vibrantly alive and her courage is infectious. I want to grow up to be just like her.

An ending is also, always, a beginning. To me, that is what Rilke meant when he said that “our fears guard our deepest treasure.”  My life is truly just beginning.  I have so much to savor and enjoy and love in the coming years. What a gift to realize that there is nothing about any of this to fear.

© 2012  Shavawn M. Berry  All rights reserved

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