We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look so clearly and so honestly at ourselves—at our emotions, at our thoughts, at who we really are—we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others. Somehow all of these walls, these ways of feeling separate from everything else and everyone else, are made up of opinions. They are made up of dogma; they are made of prejudice. These walls come from our fear of knowing parts of ourselves. – Pema Chodron
A couple of days before leaving for ALIA, I had a “dark night of the soul”. I had just facilitated a full day visioning/strategic planning exercise with my local staff and I walked away feeling completely depleted. I had put together what I thought was a great day of connecting, creating, and visioning, that included a nice mix of body, mind, and soul. We did some body movement stuff, played with clay and scissors and paper, had a great lunch together, and did some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming.
It went relatively well, but some time in the mid afternoon, this enormous sense of failure washed over me. It wasn’t anything specific that happened, or anything anyone said, it was just this really heavy, dark presence in the room – my own gremlins, I suppose – telling me “This isn’t working. You’re losing people. You’re not accomplishing anything with all your creative ideas and gobbledy gook. They want to see RESULTS. GOALS. ACTIONS PLANS. You should have stuck with a neat and tidy strategic plan in square boxes on a spreadsheet.”
That night, I was feeling wounded and depleted, but I didn’t do the wise thing and just spend time in soulcare. I started out that way, and thought I was doing okay, but I wasn’t really listening to the signs well enough. Against my better judgement, I did some reading I shouldn’t have – reading about how to dream big, bust out, and be a firestarter. Oh what foolish timing. It resulted in an all-out panic attack. “I can’t do this. I’m not a leader. I’m a fraud. I don’t have enough focus. My creativity is pointless. My ideas are shitty. I should just stick to the easy stuff where the risk of failure is so much less.”
And then it moved from there to “What the hell am I doing flying halfway across the country to spend a week at an Authentic Leadership institute? I’m not a good leader and I don’t deserve it and I’m wasting my organization’s money and I won’t fit in there and nobody will want to have me as part of their group because I won’t have any wisdom to share. I should give up on this leadership thing, because almost all of the people I lead would happily tell you I suck at leadership and should have become a mechanic instead. Except that I wouldn’t make a good mechanic either, ’cause I’m pretty pathetic at everything I try.” You know where these things go, right? You’ve been there too, right? PLEASE tell me you have… just humour me and play along so I won’t feel so much like a neurotic weakling.
Because I knew she would hold my fear gently, I sent a panicy pain-filled email to my dear friend Christine, and she did exactly what I expected her to do – exactly what I would have done if I’d received the same kind of email. She said, (I paraphrase) “take a deep breath. You KNOW that you are in the right place, doing the right thing and ALIA is EXACTLY where you need to be. And remember… it is no big surprise that you’re going through all kinds of whacked out emotions and fears, given the fact that you are still healing from the river of pain you’ve waded through this Spring.”
And, of course, even before I got her response, I started feeling better. Just putting those fears in writing and trusting them to a friend shrunk them into a manageable size. She was right, and when I took a deep breath, I knew that all was well with the world.
It didn’t take long after arriving at ALIA that I found myself in tears – but this time for a different reason. This time it was because my whole body knew that I was in the right place. Not only that, but all of the things I had been learning, all of the things I’d been writing about, all of the things I had been leading my team through on that visioning session were the RIGHT THINGS. Here I was surrrounded by people who were trying and tripping and dreaming and creating and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing at the very same things I was trying to do as a leader.
A few days into ALIA, I was in my module on Leader as Shambhala Warrior and we were talking about fear. Meg Wheatley led us through an exercise in which we sat facing another person, and for 5 minutes, one person would ask the other person “what are you afraid of?” When the other person answered, the first person would say “Thank you. What are you afraid of?” In doing this, we dug deeper and deeper into our real fears.
At first, I said the expected things. I was scared of failing, scared of hurting people, scared of not being a good enough mother. But then some surprising things started to come up. “I am afraid that I will never again get the chance to feel the freedom I felt when I jumped out of an airplane.” “Thank you. What are you afraid of?” “I am afraid that I won’t be able to teach people what it feels like to have that kind of freedom.” And then, just before the five minutes was up, “I am afraid of my own power.”
And there it is, the bottom line. I am afraid to be powerful. I am afraid to step into the power that the Creator has available to me. I am afraid to serve goodness and justice and beauty and wisdom in the bold and powerful way that I might be called toward. As Pema Chodron so wisely says, I am afraid of knowing parts of myself. Because then more will be required of me.
“Thank you. What are YOU afraid of?”