Tea Time With Fear


What does fear feel like to you? 


During a conversation with my Al-Anon sponsor about leaving my life-long public teaching profession, she delicately but directly suggested that what I was really talking about was fear. I had called to sort out some nagging questions that I suspected were subterfuge for an underlying truth that she instantly identified. I wanted it to be something more complicated and nuanced, but instead, it turned out to be one of the basics that we all face in many distressing disguises. 

Psychologists, ancient religious practices, and modern mindfulness all propose the simple but radical concept of deep listening when it comes to any kind of overwhelming emotion. There are a thousand ways of doing it, and it's helpful to keep trying new ways because fear can be bashful, elusive, or even aggressive in its attempt to self-preserve. 

Over the last five years, drawing has become an integral part of deep listening to myself in my daily journaling practice. My hand often starts sketching something before I know it, and all of the sudden my thoughts and emotions reveal themselves effortlessly, comically, and most importantly- endearingly

Almost immediately after my sponsor phone call, I started to sketch the above photo. I didn't realize how cold and sharp my fear about leaving my job was, how moving forward meant the possibility of getting stabbed by metaphorical falling icicles. 

I decided to take the next step and start an open, curious dialogue with fear by inviting it to tea. The fear icicles joined together to make an ice monster which dropped me instantly into an observer position and ignited a sense of humor and compassion. Keep reading to see how the conversation evolved….



ME: Can you tell me what you are so worried about?

FEAR: Yes, but first, do you know how exhausting it is to be like this? Everything about me has to stay completely tense and rigid. If I let up just a little bit, I actually lose myself! Right now I look pretty scary and imposing, but it wouldn’t take much to turn me into a puddle.

ME: I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it makes sense. I’m sorry it’s so hard to be you.

FEAR: Are you making a little pun there? Because I was trying to be real.

ME: No, I wasn’t, but that is a little funny.

FEAR: Ok, a little, but I’m in a lot of pain!

ME: Yes, that’s what I was getting to. I really understand worrying about losing yourself. That’s actually the very thing that brings us to this little tea party.

FEAR: What do you mean?

ME: Well, what’s making me more aware of you is that I feel like I’m losing myself with my teaching job, so I’m trying to leave it. 

FEAR: That sounds dangerous!

ME: Yeah, it does to me too. But it also feels dangerous to keep frozen(no offense) in the same place and not release this bubbling spring of creativity to see where it leads. 

FEAR: I have dreams like that!

ME: Like what, you mean the spring?

FEAR: Yes! Sometimes I’m a hot spring at the base of a snowy mountain, or other times I’m a huge wave hurtling towards the shore. It’s very exciting.

ME: No way! I have the wave one all the time.

FEAR: Really? I thought it was just me.

ME: No, I hear it’s common. But I agree; always exciting!

FEAR: So, you’re really considering leaving your job?

ME: Yes, but I’m terrified. My insides seize up, and my neck and shoulders feel really tense. But when I think of not being there at school, I feel wide and expansive, curious; awake. 

FEAR: Bubbly? Flowing?

ME: Yes, that’s a good way of saying it.

FEAR: Well that sounds amazing. I feel like I can remember those sensations in my molecules. 

ME: Me too. The thing is, when you flow, you never know where you’re going to end up.

FEAR: Right! That’s what keeps me frozen.

ME: I thought you were scared of losing yourself.

FEAR: Yeah, but not being able to recognize yourself or your surroundings is like losing yourself. 

ME: Or maybe finding parts of yourself you didn’t know existed……

FEAR: Whoa, like I’m more than I think I am?

ME: Not just that, but we are actually everything

FEAR: Okay, you’re getting kind of trippy now.

ME: It’s really just science. I mean, you’re H2O and that is what me and the planet are made of.

FEAR: Sooooo, what you’re saying is that I’m over here spending all my energy on staying sharp and solid to protect against losing myself, but if I let go and melt, not only will I feel the excitement and joy of flowing, but I will actually discover that I will become larger and more free. That I could never lose myself because we are all one.

ME: Okay, Mr. Metaphysics….

FEAR: Wow. I need some more tea.

ME:  Wait! Not the hot one; here’s the iced tea.

FEAR: Maybe I’m feeling adventurous. Pass the Earl Grey! 


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