On Fear and Faith

The other day I received a fortune cookie from my first Chinese take out here in upstate New York. When I opened it, there were two slips of paper inside, instead of the normal one. This is what they said:

Fear drives you and makes you better.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

Now, I’m not one to take much stock in fortune cookies. But these two resonated with me. Fear and Faith are themes that are coming up a lot lately in my life and work.

Let’s talk about fear first.

Some people say, “oh, don’t give voice to your fears because that gives them power over you.” I happen to think the opposite – that by acknowledging your fears and staring them right in the face, you actually diminish their power over you. Once you’re sitting with your fears, you can analyze them, break them down, and figure out ways to co-exist, perhaps even use them to move ahead. I don’t believe in the phrase “fearless” – except when it comes to young children who don’t know any better. Rather, I think people learn to use their fears to fuel their passions.

A race car driver will use her desire for winning and her fear of crashing to learn how to better control her car at high speeds.

An entrepreneur will use her passion for business and her fear of failure to learn everything she can about her field.

An actress will use her passion for performing and her fear of performing to work extra hard and be more than prepared for opening night.

I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid of lots of things – too many to mention in one post – but (these days) the Big Three are: fear of failing as a writer, fear of crashing my motorcycle, and fear of the dark.

Yes, I’m afraid of the dark. I didn’t realize how much so until this recent move to rural upstate New York. I’m living in an old house which literally creaks in the night (and day). Outside it’s often windy, which sounds louder than usual because there are no other noises other than the occasional bird, critter or passing car. At night, it’s so dark, I can’t see more than a few feet ahead of me. You would think it would be nice to go outside and take advantage of the darkness to see the stars etc, but I can’t do it. I live in a woodsy area, so the trees block much of the night sky. In any case, I do not go past the front porch once the sun goes down.

I’m managing, of course. It’s not like I’m huddled in bed quaking with fear at night. On the contrary, I sleep like a rock. But I am constantly telling myself to not be afraid of the dark, the noises, the creaky house and the wind.

Fear of crashing the bike is totally rational. Motorcycles are dangerous. I know people who have had accidents (bad ones). I’m a relatively new rider and still learning. While I’m not riding in a crowded city, there are still plenty of hazards here in the countryside including gravel roads, wet leaves, deer and other critters, and of course traffic (light though it may be). There’s also my own error and lack of experience. But the only way to gain experience – and deal with the other hazards – is to get out there and practice, practice, practice. In the best conditions of course – no riding on wet surfaces or low-light. I wouldn’t be riding if I didn’t totally enjoy and want to get better at it.

Fear of failing as a writer is a big one. A writer will use her love of the written word and her fear that no one will ever read her work to practice her craft diligently every single day. Done. But even if I work as hard as I possibly can, there’s still much out of my control as far as how my work is received, and whether I can make a living from it.

This is where Faith comes in. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” The only way I can keep going is to have faith that things will work out. My job is to do the work to the best of my ability — and I’m doing that. The rest is out of my hands.

Letting go doesn’t come naturally to me. I used to be much more of a ‘control freak’ and have a lot more anxiety. But these days, I am consciously trying to let go of the need to control everything – especially the things that are beyond my control. This begins with identifying what is in my control and what isn’t.

What isn’t in my control is part of a larger vortex, of which I am but a tiny part, swirling with all the other tiny parts that make up this world. I don’t approach life passively, but I do accept that on a certain level life is carrying me where it will. There’s only so much I can do to steer it.

4 Comments

  1. I recently went on vacation to a cabin surrounded by woods. Beautiful in the daytime. Late at night, when I had to take my dog for a walk, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and I definitely had a lot of fear. I would go back inside as soon as he was done. I was surprised at myself because at home in NYC, I could be out late and not afraid of walking the streets. I guess it’s all what we get used to. But I loved looking at the stars. 🙂

  2. Two thoughts that might make the house a little less spooky — a few of those plug-in nightlights and a small, bright pocket flashlight by your bed. Jose has stocked our (well lit) apt with lots of flashlights and it’s comforting just to have them.

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