“Revelation comes to those who are radically hospitable to what they do not know. The choice to take the next step is an act of holy curiosity. It could also be called an act of faith. To those who act on faith, to those who move in the midst of mystery and silence, even when trembling and afraid, the face of God sometimes appears. New ways of speaking of God arise from the luminous dark. Revelation is not sealed. In the course of our struggles for justice, one of the strange others we may meet is a tender shoot of green, in response to which some of us will breathe the word God.”
I am the owner-operator of an anxiety disorder. Over the years, I’ve been in and out of counseling for it. I have explored different lifestyle and mindfulness practices. I’ve worked techniques designed to use the neuroplastic properties of my brain to reprogram some of my most destructive thought patterns. And you know what?
Sometimes it still kicks my ass.
One of my dearest friends refers to this internal battle with the fear voice, or voices, as fighting or arguing with sock puppets. It’s an apt description. When the screaming voice of terror you hear inside your head sounds just like your voice, it’s difficult to maintain equilibrium. Those sock puppets are stealthy, and can take many forms.
Some of my posts here are made because there’s information I think you should know, ideas that I think will be helpful to you. Some are triggered by reflections on events in my own life, or observation of natural cycles. Some of them are in response to themes that repeatedly crop up in my counseling sessions and readings for others. This is one of the latter kinds of posts. Over the last two weeks, my friends and clients have been bringing me their fear. And I have been sitting with them in the dark, holding the cold wind in warm hands.
There is some relearning to be done around fear and anxiety. This emotion is not useless, nor is it something to be punished. Fear is not a failing – it’s your early-warning system. It exists for a reason. Your sock puppets are not actively trying to hurt you; they’re trying to save you. The problem, of course, is that the triggers they evolved for are no longer a reality for most of us. The rustle of leaves no longer holds a potential for a saber toothed tiger who’s feeling a bit peckish.
In the absence of mortal threats, that early warning system has tangled itself around stimuli that shouldn’t trigger such a dramatic response. We scramble to control ourselves, our environment and sometimes others because of the voice saying that if we don’t, Bad Things will happen. And then, when we realize our fears have grabbed the wheel and are causing trouble, we self-punish. It can be a real mess of a cycle.
These days, when the fear voice starts, one of the things I do is say ‘thank you.’
Seriously. I thank my sock puppets. I tell them that I’m grateful for their help, grateful that they’re trying to protect me. And then I tell them that I’ve got this – whatever the situation happens to be. And sometimes that calms those voices down. Acknowledgment, gratitude, moving forward.
But some fears are not just anxiety. They’re not an overenthusiastic survival instinct. They’re based on real trauma, real darkness. Those fears can set up camp deep in your heart. They can force us to build walls around our authentic selves, to push the very people who love us most away from that tender, bruised center. And that icy citadel can come to rule far too much territory.
These deeper structures and patterns have also made their way to my cottage, carried in the hearts of so many weary wanderers. Perhaps you are fighting that battle as well, struggling to connect despite high walls and sharp stones.
So here is where we begin that journey into the luminous darkness. Where we move, trembling and afraid, in the midst of mystery and silence.
Like the sock puppets, the citadel is not a separate entity from you. It’s part of you, just as much as your hair and skin, your humor and kindness. But it’s a part that has been isolated. We leave the places that frighten us to the darkness of the psyche. We pretend that the cold flowing from the shadows does not touch us. We slam the door on the path leading into the gloom.
That center of fear, that icy citadel, holds both light and shadow. Until and unless those gifts and wounds are integrated and explored, they’ll continue to act as a barrier. Your fear is exactly where the good shit is hiding. It’s where your deepest truth, your fullest authenticity, is waiting for you.
Just as your fears did not form and crystallize in a single day, they will not resolve in a single day. But, over time, those castle walls can warm under sunlight. Doors and windows can appear, and can open. The gifts, truth and love hidden inside can be retrieved. We can take the edges off.
The first step to any relationship is contact and conversation, and I have a starting point for you. Take a Journey, a meditation and visualization, to that citadel. Start the conversation.
Choose a time when you will undisturbed for a while. Set up an energetic space of protection. For some of us, that means casting a circle, or calling on our Guides to watch over us while we travel. If it helps you Journey, put on a recording of a drumbeat, or use your own drum/rattle to accompany yourself.
The Journey to the Citadel
Settle your physical body, then close your eyes. Visualize your ‘safe space’ forming around you – a place you know that you can return to at any point during the journey. In that safe space, call out to a guide or guardian to accompany you. This might be a beloved ancestor, a Spirit Guide or Spirit Animal, a God or Goddess you serve. Ask them to join you, to help protect and stabilize you, as you journey to the center of your fear.
In the company of your guardian, locate the path that leads to your fear. It could be made of dark stones, that are cool to the touch. It could simply be a dirt path into the forest. Begin to follow that path into the woods.
Notice as you travel that although the woods are dark, the space around you is light. You travel protected and loved.
You might see some buildings, or figures moving in the shadows off to the sides of the path. You might see some memories replaying. Times when your fear stopped you. Times when your fear broke a connection, or caused you to be hard on those who love you. Receive these visions without judgment, as much as you can. Greet them with love, with acceptance. Allow the scenes to simply play out. Hold on to your guardian if you encounter anything that feels overwhelming. Remember, you are protected here. You can return to your safe space at any point in time.
As you travel, the path will wind toward a ravine, the ground sloping downward. You might see boulders and cliffs around you. Follow the path down the hill. As you near the bottom, see the form your fear has chosen to take. It might be a tower, tall and sharp. A citadel or castle. It might be a dragon, black scales glistening. It might be a child surrounded by a wall of flame, or ice. Take a moment to observe the form your fear has chosen. Remember it for unpacking later. There is meaning in what you see.
Breathe deeply here. Remember that you are protected. Hold on to your guardian if you need to.
Tell your fear that you have come to peacefully talk to it. Ask it to sit with you for a few moments. Offer your fear a token of peace. You can visualize a white rose here, a drop of pure light, a coin formed out of love and hope.
Your fear approaches to sit with you. Notice the form it takes. It might look like you. It might look entirely different. Welcome that figure. Hand it your token. Sit down with that being and your guardian for a chat.
Ask your fear: ‘What can I do to help us communicate better?’
When your fear has finished answering you, express gratitude for the answer. Next, ask ‘What simple first step can I take to help you feel more at ease?’
Again, when you have your answer, say ‘thank you.’ Your last question for this journey is, ‘Is there anything else you want to tell me right now?’
When your fear has finished speaking, express gratitude. Tell it you will work on the suggestions it has made, and that you will return to talk more in the future. Bid your fear a kind farewell.
Follow the path away from the ravine, up the ridgeline, into the forest, walking with your guardian. Travel through the woods, again noting without censure or judgment any scenes that unfold near the path.
See your safe space forming up ahead of you. Return to your starting point. Bid your guardian a kind and loving farewell. Remember to offer gratitude for their help.
Become aware of your body once more. Take a deep breath, wiggle your fingers and toes. When you feel fully returned, and are ready, open your eyes.
After the Journey
Before doing anything else, write down your experiences on your journey. Things that happen outside normal consciousness tend to fade quickly. Write down everything you remember, and all the information you were given.
Ground and center. Sprinkle a little salt on the top of your head and rub a few grains between your hands. You might eat a bit of dark chocolate, or something spicy, to help you reconnect with your body. Release whatever form of protection you chose to hold space while you journeyed.
Then, for the rest of the day or night, take it easy. Let your experience settle.
When you are ready, begin to explore what you learned on your journey.
This is the first step in a larger conversation. Remember to go slowly and deliberately here. Start the Work with love and patience.
I look forward to hearing how your path unfolds. If you need company, or a friend to talk things out with, remember that I’m here.
Good journey to you, and may your Work be blessed with healing.