Talk me out of it! -Cowardly Lion, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Like most of humankind, I’ve been absolutely terrified of many things in my life. Some of those times I wasn’t even aware that I was being afraid, because I was simply not in touch with my body. For instance, I didn’t pay attention to the numb feelings inside and carried on with whatever I was doing because I didn’t want anyone to notice that there was something wrong, let alone myself. Other times, I would take “control” of my external environment to simulate control of that which I fear. Still, there were many times when I knew what was going on as if another part of me was just observing. Those moments took me to many, many hours in my adulthood of seeking who I am, why I am, how I am, why the hell I am afraid. It was just in my nature. I might say I was born to do it. And from my eclectic training and experience, I am sharing these extra-ordinary ways to delete fear and gain clarity about your experience.
Our Own Hero’s Journey
The process of self-unfolding happens in endless time and space. We don’t see ourselves in one full swoop. Rather, the unfolding happens in small parts, one tragic flaw at a time, one glorious strength at another. They can be discrete, isolated, or one whole rude awakening. At any rate, they reveal that side of us that has been hidden from us up to that point of awakening, an unfamiliar territory in ourselves that we haven’t navigated, or a part that has been gradually moving into the light for us to finally see. This process of self-unfolding is a journey – the journey of the hero within.
In his The Hero with a Thousand Faces, author and mythologist Joseph Campbell expounds on the monomyth (a term coined by James Joyce in his Finnegan’s Wake) – a composite of the tales of “the hero and his journey” synthesized from cultures all over the world. These common tales link us all human beings in a thread of universal experience as we go through life: the cycle of birth and death, resurrection and redemption.
The hero’s journey is a story of transformation. We all are heroes in our own personal story, maybe not as dramatic as that of Luke Skywalker of Star Wars, or Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz. But the good news is that we are the authors of our personal opus and we can write the script the way we want, including the ending. We create it with each choice we make on our journey, including co-creating it with Source (God, universe, Yahweh, etc. depending on the persuasion you follow). In our unique stories, FEAR is a character that almost always presents itself along the way.
What hero’s journey among the stories in the popular genres can your relate to? Being the hopeless romantic that I am, my personal favorite is Yentl, a Barbra Streisand movie based on Napolin and Springer’s play of the same title. Yentl is the story of a Jewish girl in 20th century Poland. Yentl is secretly instructed by her rabbi father in the Talmud (Jewish law and theology), despite the tradition that prohibited women in her community from doing such study. When her father dies, she fearlessly defies tradition by entering a yeshiva (Jewish religious school) disguised as a man named Anshel (her late brother’s name). Yentl meets another student, Avigdor, and his fiancée, Hadass. The story gets complicated from here – Hadass’ wedding to Avigdor is cancelled by her family due to their concern over Avigdor’s family’s history of insanity. The family wants Anshel to instead marry Hadass, who develops romantic feelings for Anshel aka Yentl. Meanwhile, Yentl finds herself falling in love with Avigdor and trembles with fear over the consequences that await her. The tension is resolved with the reunion of Avigdor and Hadass, and Yentl leaving Europe to go to the U.S. where she envisions a life with more freedom to do what she wants to do and be her own woman. I have watched this movie countless times, not only for its music, but also because I get a glimpse of yet another facet of my humanity and the pain and joy of “becoming me” each time I watch it.
The Hero is Within Us
The hero is within us, the self that goes on a journey from separateness to wholeness. In the hero’s archetypal journey, there are three phases: departure; initiation; and return. The hero departs from his familiar surroundings (mother, family, marriage, community, country, religion, sexual orientation, an old belief, etc.) and then is initiated into a different world where he/she meets all sorts of trials, demons, gods, mentors, other parts of the self, and finally returns with the reward, or wisdom. (*For a summary of the steps in Campbell’s hero’s journey, check out the link at the bottom of this blog.)
Each one of us can tell our own hero’s story from our individual unique experience – we can modify the template as we see fit, according to our experience, culture and beliefs. Our story could be: a journey of the mind, such as from loss of faith to firm believer; a journey of relationship, such as from being married to becoming divorced; an immigrant’s journey from chaos to freedom; a physical trip from one location to another that transforms us; or an inward journey of the self. The list is endless. That’s why Joseph Campbell called it “hero with a thousand faces.”
Into the Cave We Go
In my own personal hero’s journey, the process of self-unfolding still continues. But I’ve been down through mini cycles and back several times, and have emerged a new person all the time. We are never the same everyday.
In our everyday journey, we need to constantly remind ourselves to look at what’s in front of us, or challenge ourselves to face whatever is before our very eyes that we don’t like to see. Underneath our desire not to look, or pay attention, is a level of fear that we have probably not acknowledged; or it’s so huge that we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not there, at least temporarily.
Particularly in the initiation phase of the hero’s journey, we can be challenged by fears. We could be like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, who believes that he lacks courage and ashamed that, as King of the Beasts, he is inadequate. He decides to join Dorothy on her journey to Emerald City to ask the Wizard of Oz for courage.
The second phase of the hero’s journey is where we are initiated and that’s where we usually meet FEAR face-to-face. How do we, the hero, muster courage to go inside the cave to tame our fears?
7 Extra-Ordinary Ways to Delete Your Fear
The world has come up with many answers that we can adopt to confront FEAR: Just do it!, you’re not alone, no guts – no glory, crisis means opportunity, etc.
My own approach to it is as follows; do it in the sequence described below:
- Acknowledge the fear. Breathe and say the word “Afraid.” Acknowledging the fear is the first step. It’s like going through a problem-solving process – first acknowledge the presence of the problem and proceed from there. Remember to breathe; breathing with awareness will relax you and give you more permission to go through the process.
- Where do you feel the fear in your body? Is it in the chest, in your stomach, in your legs? Feel the fear in that part of the body. Say a big “Hello” to the feeling of fear in that part of your body. This is another way of acknowledging the fear. Many times after doing this, you get more clarity about your experience and the fear subsides. Breathe and flow.
- Ask yourself: “Is this fear mine, or is it someone else’s?” We can pick up these sensations of fear from other people and we unknowingly think they are our own. We also pick these up from media sources, such as TV, computer, or radio, especially during a crisis or shocking event. If the fear is not yours, imagine the fear going back to where it came from. Just postulate that the fear is leaving your body; after all, it’s not yours. Thoughts are powerful and when you shift how you think, the fear goes away. Breathe.
- If the fear is yours, own it! Saying “this fear is in my space” makes a lot of difference.
- Then declare: “I am bigger than my fear” – this brings you to a new level of personal power. When you own it, you’re reclaiming your power over the fear. You are bigger than the fear. Then create a picture of the fear disintegrating before you. Remember to breathe.
- After visualizing the fear disintegrate, wash your hands. This signals your body to switch to a neutral level and detaches you from the experience. It’s physically and symbolically washing away the energy of the fear.
- Breathe and relax. You can now move around freely and look at your experience from a fresh perspective. Continue to breathe and flow.
We Are Hero and Are Meant to Shine
On the way to Emerald City where the Wizard of Oz resides, the Cowardly Lion unconsciously displays many acts of bravery. For example, he carries his companions on his back, one at a time, and leaps across a chasm on the yellow brick road to bring them over to the other side. On another part of the journey, he holds off two Kalidahs (monsters with the head of a tiger and a body of a bear) so that the Tin Woodman has time to cut a tall tree that would enable them to pass through another chasm.
The Cowardly Lion is thus not a coward, as he perceived himself to be. The Lion realizes he is brave after all, remembering who he really is.
Our hero’s journey seeks to remind us who we are. Through the journey, we seek to remember who we really are inside, and shine.
I leave you with Marianne Williamson’s beautiful words from her book, A Return to Love. This passage has been quoted very often everywhere on the internet and has been erroneously attributed to Nelson Mandela, who used it, and very appropriately so, in his inaugural address.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Marianne Williamson, from A Rerturn to Love
How do you address the fear in you? Try the approach above and see what happens. Let’s continue the conversation.
* For a summary of the phases in the hero’s journey, go to: http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/smc/journey/ref/summary.html