Centered in the Storm

“I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”

~Frank Herbert (‘Litany of Fear,’ from the novel, Dune)

Fear takes many forms. Personally, as I sit here, writing with a toothache, I am reminded that I am terrified of dentistry. I have also been reminded recently that I fear making “wrong” choices sometimes. They say that fear is a trigger for fight or flight syndrome. I think that is really stage 2 of the fear response. My first reaction is actually to freeze. My ability to make decisions gets hung like a bad application on the computer. I can’t get out of my own way, even when it is in my best interest to do something. If I let the fear escalate, that’s when stage 2 kicks in. Maybe, my lizard brain is trying to decide which way to go, but the reaction is not based on any intellectual evaluation. It is emotions, pure and simple.

On the other hand, if I can somehow grasp my center, the home of my place of balance and the source of the still small voice … then, I can ride out the fear, let it flow through me and take what I need from it without being overwhelmed by it. Then, I don’t run. I don’t fight. I think. Depending on the situation, I may think hard and fast, but not in a panic-struck way. I hit the “zone,” and manage to go into a space in my head that isn’t always easily accessible to me. This place is where things click and relationships between events seem obvious and in technicolor. It is a healthy space. I might even call it a holy space.

Learning to stay centered is a process. Being centered when life is flowing by smoothly is not so hard. When I get emotional, though, it can be challenging to remain centered. It isn’t just fear. Sorrow, joy, any strong emotion can knock me for a loop. Sometimes, I forget that “centered” does not mean “without emotion.” It means that I allow myself to feel the emotion deeply without letting it control me. I detach myself from it. That is what I got from Frank Herbert’s Litany of Fear. I learn that my emotions, my fears — they might be powerful, but they are not me.

It has taken me a while to learn that it is important to detach from all emotions, not just the “bad” ones like fear or sorrow. We are just as likely to make poor, or less-well-thought-out, decisions when we are joyful. I don’t think I am alone in remembering my daughter asking for something unusual when I was in a good mood. She knew I was much more likely to not think it through and just say “yes,” making it easier for me to hold on to that good feeling.

Being centered isn’t just for rough times, but for awesome times, as well. If I am honest, I would have to say that centering comes easiest when the times are mediocre! As a side benefit to my learning to let the emotions be without holding on to them, I find it clears space inside. The emotional torrent resembles a high power hose, washing away the leaves from the path in front of me. When I succeed at experiencing without holding or owning these emotions, I can see clearer. Their source in my life is more visible and I find understanding of my own motivations. This is an amazing gift!

Like in Frank Herbert’s Litany, I turn my inner eye to see the path cleared by the emotional storm, and where it has been, there is nothing. Only I remain.

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