When I left for work yesterday, I was feeling the need for some soul soothing, so I decided to listen to another episode of the STORY Podcast, which never fails to provide positive nourishment for my mind, creativity, and spirit. Before they launched into the pre-recorded interview with writer, artist, and speaker Amber Rae, podcast host Harris III made the following statement to his cohostess, Sammi Harvey:
“While the business community screams, ‘Punch your fears in the face!’ for the creative you don’t punch your fear in the face; you dance with it.”
As soon as he finished, my jaw dropped in stunned amazement at the profundity of that imagery, and my imagination instantly went full throttle digging into the idea of dancing with our fear—what that looks like, how it works, and why it really is absolutely necessary.
The first question that came to mind in that exploration was what the ingredients are for a successful dance partnership—you know, the kind that creates magic and beauty and mesmerizes the audience as they watch. I don’t dance, so I don’t actually know the answer—not the complete answer, anyway. However, I do know that trust is an essential ingredient, and I imagine that another might be intuitive familiarity with your partner. Again, since I’ve never danced with a partner in my life, I can’t say for certain, but I imagine that the only way to establish those two things is to spend time getting to know each other, but most especially while dancing.
Of course, that is true in any relationship, right? You learn to trust someone by walking into moments—usually self-revelatory ones, offering them pieces of your true self—in which they have the opportunity to either prove your trust or disappoint it, and you get to know someone intuitively by walking eyes-wide-open into moments in which they offer revelations of themselves to you and you are truly paying attention to those self-revelations—moments when you prove or disappoint their trust in you.
The dance is called “relationship.”
But who in their right mind seeks out a relationship with their fears??? Isn’t that the polar opposite of how we are trained by both nature and nurture to respond to the things that scare us?? Isn’t fear just a sign indicating danger ahead, and shouldn’t we heed that inner voice and run in the opposite direction of danger??
And also no.
During the podcast’s intro discussion between Harris and Sammi, Harris brought up the idea of monsters and how they can be scary but can also be magical, and during their closing conversation, they shared the following dialog:
Sammi: “Fears—the monsters in my head—aren’t always bad. They are pointing me in the direction of what I care about the most.”
Harris: “Not that you’re supposed to listen to every single word that they tell you, but they do play a magical role.”
And the dance of two partners who have taken the time to know each other intuitively and have therefore grown to trust themselves to each other is an incredibly magical experience, isn’t it?
So, I find myself wondering how to create that magic with my fears. Of course there are fears that are the creation of that little voice inside us divining true danger ahead, and we should absolutely heed that voice when it is truthful! The problem is that perceived danger is not always true danger, and we have to learn to judge between them.
That means spending time getting to know a fear when it rears its ugly head and starts shouting urgent warnings at us, resisting the gut urge to simply stop, drop, and roll far, far away. Instead we must choose to stand and truly see the fear, explore what makes it tick, pay attention to what activates its shouting or silences it, listen to it (notice I didn’t say obey it) trusting that it knows something about us we might not, decide for ourselves if it should be heeded or disarmed, and perhaps even embrace it and start leading it through the dance steps that comprise the only path to get where we need to go.
During the interview Harris related something that author Elizabeth Gilbert once said:
“Some people in the corporate world say, ‘Punch fear in the face.’ For a creator or artist to punch fear in the face means to literally punch yourself in the face, because you are your fear.”
The fears that hold us back are tangled up—often deeply so—with questions about who we are and the value we bring to the world around us. To stare those fears in the face, to identify them and validate them, to listen to them, to make empowered decisions about the space they will inhabit in our lives and landscapes, to embrace them and allow them to keep us present in our becoming and in our doing is to see ourselves and give ourselves permission to be revealed, to be heard, to inhabit space, and to make a mark in our own lives first and then in the world. To do that is to bring ourselves out of the dark, isolated corners where we’ve been hiding and into the expansive light.
We were created to know and be known; I believe that is why the first response Adam and Eve had to their initial sin was to hide, both from each other (through makeshift coverings) and from God (by hiding in the bushes). But God pursued them, called to them, found them, and brought them out of hiding and into His light. And He continues to do the same for us, not just spiritually (through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross) but also in our daily and practical moments of hiding—the hiding we do from ourselves and from each other that we haven’t even recognized yet.
I have a lot of fears. Part of the work I’ve been doing in therapy over the last couple of years has been recognizing that fact and learning to see them and know them. I don’t think I can say that I’ve begun trying to dance with them yet, but maybe that time is approaching because, if I’m honest with myself, I’m allowing the presence of fear to hinder me from doing the things my soul is loudly directing me to do.
I’ve always thought fears were like road signs and that I’m the one driving the car and making decisions about which signs I follow.
But what if I’m wrong?
Actually, who am I kidding? I am wrong! Not just in the sense that I’m not the one driving the car (“Jesus take the wheel,” anyone?), but in the sense that we were never in a car to begin with. What if this life is just an intricate series of partnered dances—like ballroom dancing—where one partner leads (God) and the other follows (me)? If that’s the case, then maybe the places in my life where I allow fear to hinder me are the dances for which I have yet to take the hand of invitation and initiation that God has extended to me. Maybe fear is simply pointing me to the dances I have yet to enter.
And maybe dancing with fear looks simply like taking the chance, taking His hand, and once again trusting my partner to lead me well, remembering that He knows me and I know Him. The hardest step is not saying yes; it’s taking the first step, and as author Susan Gale once said,
“The first step is always the hardest, but it’s the only way to reach the second step.”
Maybe the first step looks more like deciding to take a hand rather than where to place a foot.