Lesson 15: Fearlessness vs. Recklessness, The Difference?
Astronauts in Space
A fiction novel I read as a kid had an introduction that’s stuck with me all these years. The scene featured an older woman sharing a story with the young protagonist about an astronaut in space.
This particular astronaut was on a solo voyage that would span multiple years before his return to Earth. As the ship lifted off, one could imagine the rumbling rocket blasts shaking the cabin while the shuttle tore through the layers of the atmosphere.
Minutes later, while settling into the vacuum of space, a sound was heard, a tck… tck… tck…, every minute or so. It was the sound of a screw come loose somewhere on the ship.
The astronaut groaned to himself, wondering not whether this noise would drive him crazy but when. And as the sound pestered on through the hours, he found it doing just that. What could the astronaut do? He was millions of miles away from anyone, floating alone in the ether.
This very wise spaceman decided he would learn to love the sound, like it was the most beautiful and cherished sound in the world! Delighting in its ringing and its companionship, he would treasure this sound and look forward to its presence.
Falling in Love with Fear
The simple story struck a chord in me and I never forgot the lesson to embrace totally what makes me uncomfortable and fall in love with it. Several years later, when I was an over-sheltered kid going off to college, everything kind of terrified me. My mind had it that I had some catching up to do with my peers so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I knew if I wanted to live the life I wanted, it required that I become well acquainted with fear and discomfort. My Modus Operandi was getting out of my comfort zone- I was out to conquer my fear and I wanted it yesterday.
If something scared the shit out of me or was out of my element, I would barrel into it with little concern over finesse or qualms, I had too many to keep track anyway. Sometimes I was nervous, other times awkward as fuck, and of course there was down right terrified, but I did it all.
This recklessness resulted in numerous scraped knees and elbows of the literal and figurative sense. Near misses and utter faceplants, sticky situations and shady places, and tumbling into and out of my element; surviving by the skin of my teeth at times.
In retrospect, I was about as graceful as a moose on skates but it bred the grit I was seeking to balance out my learned timidity and fear of the world.
What I identify as being a quality of grace is that which is done with consciousness versus unconsciousness. In the past, as a young and dumb 20 something year old, I just dove in, eyes closed without acknowledging my feelings of fear or anxiety. Operating under the belief that if my feelings were suppressed enough, eventually they would disappear. Fake it till you make it, baby!
So blindly I strove ever forward, doing the thing that scared me, but doing it unconsciously. This method still brought heaps of learning, but as the end of my decade approaches, what I’ve found to be even more effective is to take actions with consciousness. Meaning do it while feeling all the feels, all the sensations! Do it with presence.
Drawing from Pema Chodron’s book, The Places that Scare You, I’m learning to drop the story and lean into the emotion. Feel it, touch it, get to know it, familiarize myself with its unique flavor, where does it emanate from and where does it go?
This conscious act of being comfortable with the uncomfortable introduces a new element. It integrates the learning while it is occurring, and in a penetrative way, straight to the soul.
This lesson was initially going to be about getting out of my comfort zone and learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, but now I see it really is about doing things with presence, otherwise the depth and meaning can be obscured. So here’s to dirty thirty – eyes, heart, and mind wide open!