I was reminded of this recently when I saw my son perform in Iphigenie auf Tauris, a beautiful ballet choreographed by Pina Bausch. In the second act, the dancers perform around a dauntingly large, 10-foot deep square hole in the stage.
While some of the ballerinas sat around the edge of what looked like a ritual bath and later stood up and walked away, my son and another male dancer moved around it. My son’s role as Pylades also required that he run around the hole. Plus, he danced in a narrow strip of the stage with the void between himself and the audience. Once or twice, the choreography even required him to step backward toward the hole, unable to see his proximity to the edge.
Confront Your Fear
Here’s the interesting part: My son has a fear of falling. So, dancing around this deep chasm was not an easy task for him. Each step close to the edge required that he confront that fear—that he dance with it.
He didn’t dance in a wide berth around his fear either. He got as close to it as he could and embraced it with bold action.
While rehearsing for the show, my son spent time walking and running around the hole. One foot in front of the other, he traversed it, each time getting closer and closer to the rim. Sometimes he would get close enough that his toes curled over the edge.
Before the curtain would rise on the second act, he rehearsed his solo and then returned to the hole to begin his journey around all four sides. Around and around…facing his fear and asking it to be his partner in the dance.
My son refused to allow his fear to control him or his ability to perform. He faced it—looked right into its depth—and then did what he needed and was required to do. He danced with that fear.
The ballet was impressive, as was my son’s performance. However, what remained with me for weeks afterward was the memory of the preparation that allowed him to dance around that hole and how he danced with his fear.
Dancing Around Your Fear
You could say that, symbolically, my son danced around his fear—the hole. That’s what so many of us do. We dance around our fear rather than confronting it—rather than dancing with it. We don’t get close to it but, instead, avoid it at all costs.
We don’t want to look our fear in the face. We don’t want to stare into the chasm. We don’t want to see or know our fear. We don’t want to bring it close or embrace it. So we dance around the periphery hoping never to encounter it directly.
To defeat fear, however, you have to confront it. You may never totally overcome your fear, but you can lessen it or learn to live with it by getting to know it.
You can learn to dance with your fear. To “feel the fear, and do it anyway,” as author Susan Jeffers said.
But that requires courage.
How to Develop Courage
If you don’t take bold action, you’ll never develop courage. Courage is the result of bold action. You have to do something bold. That’s when you demonstrate courage.
My son walking along the edges of the hole—that was bold action. His dance around the hole exhibited courage.
What fear stops you from performing the choreography of your life or keeps you from showing up in the spotlight? Are you familiar with your “hole,” and have you looked into its depths?
You may have more than one fear. (Most of us do.) Until you look at each fear, develop a relationship with it, understand it, and accept it, it will continue to control you. You’ll struggle to dance with it.
By accepting it, I don’t mean you should assume that it will always cause you trepidation and prevent you from moving forward in some way. I mean, accept that you have the fear. When you accept that fact, you can decide to dance with it and act courageously.
Take Back Your Power
Fear can exert power over you. When you are afraid of something, you don’t take action. The fear controls you.
But bold action is a way of taking back that power. When you courageously face your fear, you are in control—not the fear.
While you do have to take action to be courageous, your first bold action involves facing yourself. Specifically, you have to face your fearful thoughts.
Unless you are in physical danger, your fear starts with a thought. That thought is of an adverse future potentiality—one that likely will never become more than a possibility.
When you begin to manage your thoughts, you control your fear. You realize that what you fear will likely never come to pass. It’s an improbable future potentiality. It’s just a thought, and you can choose to think about something much more pleasant.
Improbably Future Potentialities
Your fears of not having enough money, being rejected by the woman you want to ask out, becoming homeless, getting cancer, or getting hit by a bus while crossing the street are just thoughts of improbable future potentialities. They are stories you make up about a future that maybe could become your present reality.
Right now, however, they are not your reality. What is real is your focus on a scary thought.
That’s quite different than having a mountain lion jump into your path while walking in the woods. It’s also different than dancing backward toward a 10-foot-deep hole.
Walk the Edges
If you want to live with less fear, identify your “hole.” What causes you fear? Then walk around its edges. Maybe get a ladder and climb down into the darkness and sit there for a while. Experience the hole. Then climb back out and sit with your feet dangling in space. Finally, get up and dance with the hole.
Make fear your partner. Dance with it. And eventually, you’ll find comfort in its arms.
What’s your biggest fear, and how could you stop dancing around it? How could you start dancing with it? Tell me in a comment below. And if you know someone who would benefit from this post, please share it with them.
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Photo courtesy of Sergey Nivens