What Am I So Afraid Of?

Between Two Waves

Each of us live daily somewhere between two waves. Between the waves of fear and calm, joy and sorrow, love and hate, sin and virtue, lightness and darkness, ego and spirit. Between the ego waves of comparison, competition, conflict, criticism, condemnation, crucifixion and the soul waves of caring, compassion, cooperation, consolation, and constructiveness. It hurts to live in the disconnect between what we know to be true and what we end up doing, between who we know we are and some ideal we wish we were. We can be so paralyzed in these waves, large and small, that we end up not breathing, not connecting. This becomes a space where our ego demands that we get what we want. We live with each other, each of us at various points between these two waves, with a critical mind that ends up in tension rather than in freedom. When we lose our breath as we ‘see’ a wave coming, we lose our peace, we lose connection to God whispering ‘I love you and I am listening.’

Oh so many decades ago in the 1970s, sans sunscreen, I spent my youth in the Pacific ocean. My thoughts as that little girl among those waves went something like this:

“Uh oh, that looks like a really big one!”

“Kick, kick, kick your feet little girl!”

“You can’t possibly manage that huge one!”

“Wow, that was a scary one! And yet you made it to shore.”

“Okay, just go with it, trust it to teach you.”

Which of these thoughts are critical? Can you identify which ones promoted tension within me? Which did not? Which ones reflect fear versus faith? With each thought that I had, which would allow me to enter in quickly and connect with another in the ocean with me?

(And quietly in the background “Why are you so afraid?

Do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks.)

Our purpose is love. Our mission is peace. Our way is through togetherness. So how come our daily struggles with love, peace, and togetherness? Fear and the critical mind. When we are overly critical of ourselves, we end up being overly critical of our partners. Our children. Our co-workers. Our family members. Those others around us. We are significantly more when connected together than we will ever be alone. Yet over time our inner fear-based, critical thinking promotes a separation of self from other, self from love, and self from peace. When we continue to be critical of ourselves, driven by a quiet fear that plagues us, we end up being critical of others too. These these thoughts of self and other are all connected like waves in an ocean. One following the other.

Waves are fundamentally the same whether large or small, moving fast or slow, originating in a lake, a sea or an ocean. A wave builds: it comes in and grows in size, comes to a peak, crashes and dissipates. One after another. As a little girl growing up ocean-side I learned that I have a choice in how I respond to the wave. When I made critical judgments about the wave, my ability to manage it, and what the outcome would be, I tended to respond to the wave with tension and more fear. When I accepted that the wave will build, move, and dissipate and that I can in essence just ‘ride the wave’ I became a much stronger, more confident swimmer and surfer among those waves. That I could see it coming, accept its strength and magnitude, but not be ‘critical’ of it, is when I had peace out there in the big, salty, cold ocean. But how do we apply this analogy to our daily lives and critical minds, and how do we bring in love, peace and togetherness?

Riding the Waves

Let’s start with the sounds of each wave crashing, coming in one after the other. This rhythm is akin to the in and out of our slow breathing; long slow inhale in, pause, long slow exhale, pause. As the inhale goes in, you move up as the wave builds, and as the exhale goes out, you move down as the wave dissipates. Most of us love the sound of ocean waves. We are soothed by the beauty of the sounds that are sweetly repetitive in nature. But it is our very nature that can also disconnect us quickly from each other, from the sacred and the divine within and around us. How come? Because we lose our breath, and when that happens very quickly the critical mind and fear can take over. Fear. False Evidence Appearing Real. “Fear is the parent of cruelty” James Frounde. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks. How many among us consistently practice daily breath control? How much more love, peace and togetherness do you think there would be if we attach that breath to nature and to God?

Click on image to enlarge

It is absolutely true that we don’t all react in the same way. We have different thoughts and beliefs, various histories and self-concepts that impact how, when, why we react the way we do. We are formed and shaped by different families, cultures, schools of thinking. Some of us react quickly, some of us slowly: some of us intensely, some of us mildly. These are part of the differences that make us us, but when we focus on our differences we fail to connect on our similarities. We can all learn to respond with greater equanimity to each other and within ourselves by appreciating just how ‘cruel’ we can be, inwardly and outwardly, when we do not recognize that fear is a major factor in much of our human life. Paradox and mystery are the ability to hold opposites together. To have fear and yet not fear that fear. To be afraid of the huge wave and to trust your body to hold space for that wave.

You might be thinking, ‘but I am not critical! I don’t feel so afraid!’ and that might very well be true, but I will guess that without a tremendous amount of work on garnering self-awareness and prayer for circumcision of heart, it is there and covered up with various defense mechanisms and ways of being. Shame makes us critical. Pride makes us critical. Vanity makes us critical. Greed makes us critical. Unforgiveness makes us critical. Constant expectations make us critical. Righteousness makes us critical.

We often feel isolated and lonely rather than significantly together because of fear, which itself underlies most, if not all, of our negative states of being. We often do not feel safe with each other and so do not share authentically what is going on within. We feel we are not living up to our own expectations and that gets projected on to how we think others perceive us. Whether we are conscious of the fear or not, it is a major driver of our human experience. So what are we so afraid of? Well, outside of the obvious instances of immediate threat (such as a pack of wild dogs, lightening striking down nearby, a car barreling forth) what we usually fear is rooted in some battle over a resource that threatens or bolsters our ego, the false self, and what will happen if we lose or win that battle. The other person might win, they might get more Instagram likes, they might hurt us with their words, they might judge us in a way we don’t want, we might lose our job or placement, we won’t get the house we so desperately dream of, we won’t lose the weight, we will get a cancer diagnosis, our politician might lose and the other one might win, our kids won’t succeed. The list goes on and on. Until we understand that fear is the parent of cruelty, that it underlies virtually all of our negative human experiences, we will not really be able to understand why it is mentioned 365 times in Scripture.

We are to help each other feel safe despite the fact that we do not have the same fears, we are not ever really in the same point between two waves as anyone else. So the question becomes: can I acknowledge my critical mind, the absolutes that plague me and thus the wave of fear and ick incoming? Can I sense my ego, pride, vanity getting involved and rather than react like I so often do, hold space for the fear and ick and ride it through? Rather than reacting might I be able to respond with equanimity so that I do not keep repeating the same pattern over and over again accepting that that pattern separates me from the sacred, from togetherness, from love? When we desire for the grace to hold space for ourselves, for those whom are different from us, whom have differing beliefs rooted in a different fear than our own, God and His Love in all that mystery comes in and helps us in the up and down waves of feelings, sensations, and ick that are a constant part of being human. When we surrender to the waves, we come to feel more safe, not less so, and when we are assured of our safety we are able to give space for others and they feel safe with us.

So perhaps the next time you sense some discomfort, upset, tension, frustration, anger, anxiety, worry coming in, as best you can take a pause, soften your body, face and voice, and breathe slow and deep. Tension is the way we resist the moment. Breath comes in, breath goes out. Go up the wave of ick, go down the wave of ick. Pray and hear on the inhale Jesus say “I love you” and on the exhale hear Jesus say “and I am listening.” Do this for a few moments when you would normally just react, hit the send button, be snarky, glare, slam a door, yell, whatever love-less, peace-less, disconnecting way you normally express your ick. Breath comes in, breath goes out. Go up the wave of ick, go down the wave of ick. Pray and hear on the inhale Jesus say “I love you” and on the exhale hear Jesus say “and I am listening.”

Pause. Soften. Breathe. Pray. Surrender.

Moment after moment there is God whispering to you “Dear One, do not be so afraid, I love you and I am listening. I am with you in these waves so keep your eye on Me, freedom from the ick is incoming.”

Copyright 2020 Heidi Lepper Barrett

Heidi Lepper Barrett

Heidi Lepper Barrett is a native born Californian (Santa Barbara to be exact!) who made her way to Iowa after earning a Ph.D. in Social/Personality Psychology from the University of California in 1996. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Iowa, Heidi began teaching at Drake University in 2000. That was also the year, at age 30, she was baptized Catholic alongside her first newly born son. Heidi is married to Joe and they have two sons.