That moment when there is nothing to hang on to is the moment when we are most present, most alive, most vulnerable, most human. Let go of the monkey bars. Cross the threshold. Be a connoisseur of fear. - Patti Digh
The quote is excerpted from Week 1 – “The Threshold: From Reflection to Possibility” of A Year With Myself.
Connoisseur of fear
Poetic. And wise. My most extraordinary moments—the ones that fill me with joyful radiance and help me become the best version of myself—come from skating along the edges of my fear.
Fear can be a warning or a beacon. It’s important to heed the warnings and follow the beacons.
Connoisseurs feel the difference. Warnings cause freezing, fighting and fleeing. Beacons titillate.
A few nights after Christmas as I crossed a busy four lane street near my house, a car roared up the hill in the middle lane closest to me. I froze on the dotted white line, sucking in what I feared might be my last breath. The car screeched to a stop. Holding my breath, heart pounding, I screamed, “F**k you!” out of anger. I suppose I hoped it might also shock him into driving more safely.
What if I hadn’t stopped?
Worst case, my husband might’ve planned a funeral instead of New Year’s celebrations. Or I might be recuperating in a hospital with a long road of rehab instead of beginning my first step on this adventure of ‘A Year With Myself (AYWM)’ and spinning around my pole.
The worst-case scenario in this instance was realistic. My fear was a warning that I’m grateful I listened to. But often fear and anxiety can stop us from opportunities for amazing growth, fun and joy.
The key is learning to differentiate between the two. Here’s how I do it.
Feel the fear. In my body.
I’ve discovered that the physical experience between them is usually different.
Warnings tighten my chest, as if a huge hand is crushing my heart. My throat constricts and it becomes hard to breathe as if another hand is blocking most of my airway.
Beacons tend to be lower. A flutter in my tummy. Sometimes a wrenching in my gut. Accompanied by sweaty palms. And even shallow breathing. If I have a really bad case of anxiety, my muscles might seize—hunched shoulders, tight jaw.
When the anxiety takes over it can begin to feel like full-blown panic. This can be difficult to differentiate from a warning.
What if I canceled when the excitement turned to anxiety?
When I first signed up for the Fall 2010 S Factor retreat I felt thrilled. But as it approached, I felt off my game in class. After being able to dance to almost any kind of music for over a year, nothing felt right. Nothing made my hips swing. I wanted to hide from harder, darker music like A Perfect Circle or Breaking Benjamin that just a few months before had energized and inspired me. The low point occurred when a former teacher subbed in my new class. I chose a song I adored that I couldn’t stop listening to—When You Say Nothing At All by Alison Krauss. Normally emotional resonance was a sure sign for a great dance. But I felt awkward and exposed. Typically this teacher found something authentically positive in every dance. All I heard was, “You moved too fast for you.” I left class feeling lower than I’d come. I wished I’d stayed home. That never happened.
I wanted to back out of the retreat but it was too late to get a refund. Thinking about going made my palms sweat and my insides groan. I suspected I’d be in class with Mama Gena—the Goddess of pleasure and desire. I was sure her erotic creature (what we called our sexy sides that came out to play during our dances) would be as evolved and powerful as she was. This intimidated me.
On the way to San Diego my anxiety worsened. I’d been craving carbs all week for their calming effect. Picking at my cuticles. Feeling tense, especially in my neck and shoulders from hunching them up to my ears. Breathing shallow. Restless and fidgety, I bounced my left foot.
What was I so afraid of?
Dive deep into the pool of fear.
I took big slow breaths while my wiser self asked: What’s the worst thing that can happen? And what if it does?
What if I didn’t learn anything?
Unlikely, I learn something from everything I do, read, discuss. That’s who I am and how I process the world because I’m curious and love to learn.
What’s under that fear?
What if I don’t think it’s worth the expense? Or starve because there are no fruits and veggies without salt, sugar, butter?
I’d find a way to nourish my body, even if I had to order room service. I might regret coming. It might be a waste of money. But the workshop I’d taken before had improved my class experience immensely, so this likely would too. How could 40 hours of movement not.
What if I couldn’t keep up? Or got injured? I’d get sore. I could pace myself. Everyone would be in the same boat. And I’d done nearly 20 hours in a few days before. I could handle this.
What’s under that?
What if I couldn’t sleep? What if my roommate and I didn’t get along? It was just a few nights. I tended to see the good in people. Worst case, I could try to switch to a single if it didn’t work out.
Dive deeper to the bottom of the pool.
What if I had another shitty dance, especially in front of Sheila Kelley? It would look like I hadn’t grown at all. Worse, what if other attendees see me dance and think, “She’s been taking class for five years; it sure doesn’t look like it.”
Ouch. That was it. I worried my dancing wouldn’t show how much I’d grown and evolved. I wanted them to witness the chills inducing dances my classmates and teachers had seen. Not the recent flops.
I’d already had ‘stuck’ happen the first time I worked with Sheila. I had survived, learned, grown. No big deal if it happened again. And from what I’d seen, Sheila would understand what was happening and could guide me through this ‘off’ period and lack of musical inspiration.
Most of my fears weren’t realistic. Those that were, were worth the risk. The potential upside seemed worth it. My panic subsided to ‘stage fright.’ That I could handle.
What did I expect of myself? Be authentic. To be in the moment and go with the flow. To feel and be.
What about all my fears? What happened?
Did I learn?
Of course! I learned that the emotional core of my erotic creature (EC) is a playful tiger cub (This was HUGE! Discovering the EC emotional core is the holy grail of the S factor journey).
I also learned that rejection is more about them than me because when someone rejects me it means they are meeting their needs. (This from a scary & teary moment during the retreat). I cannot tell you how much gaining this in my body has helped me soar in my life. It doesn’t mean rejection doesn’t hurt, it still does, but I risk it more and recover easily.
Yummy and healthy. Fruit, salads, veggies, vegan options at all the meals. I even got a recipe for a favorite soup: Kobocha squash with cinnamon and ginger from our ‘feminine feast.’
Sleep & Roommate?
I did have a sleepless night from soreness but it didn’t matter I was on such a grounded high. An oxymoron I know. But it’s true. And my roommate and I quickly felt like soul sisters and have become dear friends.
The first time I danced for Sheila she complimented me on my fluidity and river of movement. My last dance of the weekend during the EC Ball, where we all danced for each other after spending time in smaller classes, was a little bit of heaven. Oh and Mama Gena, I loved being in class with her. After one of my dances she said, “Goddess, I love your JBF hair after that incredible dance.”
Was it valuable?
Yes. Worth every penny. After the retreat I felt more vibrant and connected than ever in my life. I felt magnetic. My husband couldn’t keep his hands off me. I felt whole and integrated.
Where the Magic Happens
Recently, I was telling my roomie from the retreat about an extraordinary S Factor class I’d had. The warm-up was wild ride of bliss that plugged me into my feminine fire. I felt rested, strong and flexible. Our dances at the end of class felt like a mini-EC ball. It was pure magic from start to finish.
She showed me this drawing.
Then she said, “I think these two have merged for you! And I celebrate with you!”
I move my comfort zone into the place where magic happens by being a connoisseur of fear. I believe the more you are a connoisseur of fear the more you fill your life with magic.
And while it can be during a life changing retreat or vacation. It doesn’t have to be. The retreats help me to leap. But it is applying the lessons to my daily life that lead to the real change.
Be a connoisseur of fear and merge your comfort zone into the place where magic happens.