Won't you look down upon me, Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way
James Taylor, Fire and Rain
One of my biggest fears when I was younger was public speaking. The very thought of standing up in front of a group of people made my heart jump into my throat and my stomach fills with flutters. Pretty common fear, but it was one I was determined to conquer. I wanted to feel comfortable leading and facilitating. For some inexplicable reason this was important to me, even when I was 18 years old.
Deliberately, I decided to assume the role of leading the Sunday chapels at the camp I worked at for several summers. I figured it was a safe first step towards finding a comfort zone, because Camp Kawabi as a whole was where felt the strongest sense of belonging outside of my family and Chapel services had always held such meaning for me.
It also offered me an venue to share poetry and stories I had collected as well as some of my own adolescent writing (you can imagine!). Songs played a key role....the weekly choices tied in with the theme, which most often was a variation of one....friendship. In fact, it continues to be a running joke that the only chapel theme was friendship. It makes me wonder if all spiritual roads lead to the topic of relationships and heart connections.
For three summers, I assumed the helm of this time of the week......... really the only time a sense of hush and quiet communion in a week of boisterous activity. I loved both the challenge and the sense of accomplishment. Yes, I was nervous.... shaky nervous at first, but some of my friends would stand at the back of lodge and send me their smiling energy o boost my confidence. I remember this as vivid as it happened yesterday. I was also held up by an unwavering sense of magical reverence that prevailed over our little chapel moments and I know I wasn't the only one. My confidence grew as I found my leadership voice in a place surrounded by nature's strength and the glow of the beautiful faces staring up at me.
It's hard for me now to believe I was ever afraid of standing up in front of a group facilitating or delivering anything. Sure, I get the jitters every once in a while, but they quickly flee as fast as they arrived as soon as I start talking and get into the flow. It seems to come natural to me and I'm always left afterwards with an exuberant amount of pumped up energy. So much so, that I can picture myself doing this much more and for bigger groups in my future.
I like to revisit the time when my first steps were taken to overcome this fear and have done so a lot lately because I seem to be standing right in the middle of many new fears and I need to learn how to deal with them. They overwhelm me at times. They leave me feeling frantically scrambling to get away from them. Sometimes, these new fears leave me bewildered beyond my usually reliable common sense, in a place of self doubt. I want to yell out for help. I want to hide. I wish someone could take control of them and shoo them off! What helps to slow down the panic is the knowledge that I have a history of facing my fears........ of being a strong person and learning how to rise above them.
Our feelings are guided by our thinking. How we think and what we think about fuels our feelings. They are intertwined alone with how we choose to act. Its impossible to disconnect them. Its possible to alter one by altering the other however. When I begin to feel the fear of being alone, or the fear that I am destined to live out the rest of my life without a partner, or that I stumble thinking about the myriad of responsibilities I have as a parent to try to help my kids face their grief .... to mourn how much their lives have changed, to help them with their fears, I tremble with a slew of mind bashing tangled feelings..... fear is a stew of them. It can weigh you down so quickly that even a bathtub of water feels like the deep end.
The way I see it, the best way to overcome them is to reach back into the treasure chest of previous learning for a revisit. I picture myself standing up in front of a group of kids and peers leading them in a moment of meaningful community and I can feel my strength rebuild inside me. All of a sudden, the negative voice in my head begins to fade as it is replaced by a much nicer voice that says..........
"You can do this........."
It helps.... the inside strength of previous successes through lessons.......... it helps. So does knowing you have people in your life who care. Really care.
The very last chapel I organized at camp included introducing and teaching the song "You've Got a Friend." Initially, I had taught it to my campers...... a group of 15 year old girls whom I had the good fortune to have many of them under my wing for a couple of summers. We were very close. We practised the song throughout the week, and prepared to sing it together for the rest of the camp.
Just before it was our turn to do just that, an ex-staffer who was visiting camp for a couple of days, and who had been in charge of chapel when I was a young camper got up and talked about what it was like to be back at Kawabi. She shared her observations, her feelings, and left everyone with a message about the importance of the friendships made. My group and I sat behind her on a bench listening to her heartfelt words and as "Trick" continued with her story, I was flooded with the reality that it was my turn to say goodbye to a place I loved with all my heart for the very last time..... that one day, I would follow "Trick," returning as an old staffer.... that my 12 summers were about to be a memory. WELL, you can guess what a mess I was.
Somehow I managed to contain all of the feelings churning inside me......... until after thanked Trick for sharing her beautiful thoughts ..... until after I introduced the song .... BUT only until AFTER I uttered the first line.........
"When you're down and troubled................................"
Then, I melted. Surrounded by my group of girls, I simply lost my voice. I lost my legs. I lost my ability to lead. Every thing that I had originally feared happened. But, you know what happened? They circled me. They kept singing. They put me back on the bench and carried on. They looked after their leader by caring and understanding where I was and why I was feeling so overwhelmed.
It was alright....... their reaction told me I had nothing to fear. If I wasn't able, it didn't matter because they would help me.
I am not alone now. As much as I am afraid of many things right now, I know deep deep in my heart and soul that I am not alone. I have a growing faith that surprises me with its intensity. I also have so many beautiful friends and family who are one moment away..... one blink away. I see it, feel it, lean on them as they do me. The help me relearn the steps of overcoming fears, of facing them right between the eyes. When the very worst feelings come calling?
You just call out my name,
and you'll know wherever I am,
I'll come running.
Winter Spring Summer or Fall
All you have to do is call.
And I'll be there............
You've got a friend.
Overcoming fears? It's all about digging deep within. It's all about reaching out and asking for help. Its all about taking it on one breath at at time, knowing you have the capacity and resiliency to conquer them.
tranquility through reflective moments.