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moving in the direction of fear

With this more tangible framework around fear, the fluttering in my gut stops being something I run away from. Fear becomes a directional beacon rather than a hazard sign.

The Framework

Since the beginning of this trip, I knew that if I were to observe others embracing ‘other ways of being’ while also embodying this philosophy myself, I would have to choose some powerful frameworks through which to make decisions. I would have to observe what was ‘normal’ in myself, and put those normalities to the test. One central framework I decided upon centered on my relationship with fear.

To put this framework simply: I decided to observe my fear and then move intentionally in its direction.

I sometimes experience a type of cognitive dissonance even in this first observation stage of my framework. As someone who can come across as brave to many people, I have an external perception that influences my internal dialogue: clearly I would do this [brave thing]; this is who people think I am, and this is how I want to present myself. I am going to do this thing quickly and without emotion. My past actions have shown a fair amount of bravery, and one would only assume that my future actions would continue to do so.

Yet I experience dissonance when I let in the more honest dialogue inside me: I feel f**ing fear. Strong and loud, oftentimes. All fear calls to me in different volumes and with different voices, and each mesmerizing song shapes my actions, conscious or subconscious. I feel fear when I board the plane alone, heading off to a new country. I feel fear wandering alone around a city with a language I don’t speak. I feel fear at the infinite possible outcomes of any given problem that may arise as I trek around foreign lands as a solo female traveler, even with my phone and plastic money and white skin. I feel fear leaving everything familiar for a year to engage in a solo quest.

// I suppose here is the important clarifying statement I feel obliged to make: I am not talking about the fear that the gut sends the mind that I am in true danger. It is wildly important to listen to one’s intuition about dangerous emotional or physical situations, and I encourage this wholeheartedly. I use that type of fear in a very different way. Henceforth, please rest assured that I am never talking about that type of fear when I talk about embracing and moving in the direction of this mind/body sensation. //

Before this more conscious decision to dialogue with fear, I was engaging in this practice as more an act of defiance against everyone who told me they wouldn’t/couldn’t do the things I did. I did things as an act of defiance to what others told me they were comfortable with. I noticed in others the limits of their own imaginations, their fear of failure, and the belief that their lives couldn’t be any more transcendent or meaningful than the hyper-rational, hyper-material models around them. I didn’t want to see myself reflected in these observations, and I acted in willful defiance.

But as I have begun the practice of observing, sitting with, and then moving towards my fear, everything takes on a different feeling.

I move towards fear less as an act of defiance, and more as an act of self love. I see it less as a way to distort my reflection in opposition to the comfortable, complacent lives around me, and more as a way to sculpt my own essence with intentionality, hope, and imagination. I see the project of life as an exercise in imagining the most exciting, purposeful, and justice-based possibilities and then attempting to grow into those visions.

With this more tangible framework around fear, the fluttering in my gut stops being something I run away from. Fear becomes a directional beacon rather than a hazard sign. I feel the fear, thank it, and nurture its pain by acting out the future it feels so much worry about.

The Example

Most recently, I noticed I felt fear around hitchhiking. I felt stifled by the exorbitant bus and train prices around me, by watching my funds drain out of my account as I transported myself from one place to another. I knew so many others who had used hitchhiking as a free, transformative way to liberate themselves from the bondage of capital and move extensively around the globe.

My heart raced and my pulse pounded in my throat when I thought of doing this. As a solo female traveler, I feel an ever-present fear of unknown men. Pretty much all men have the capacity to be terrifying to me. Both from the messages I am told and the reality of the experiences of women around me, I have internalized the idea that I am deeply unsafe at all times.

However, if I used this message to determine my actions, I would pretty much never do any of what I’m doing. I wouldn’t travel alone, or stay in hostels, or get in cabs, or ever talk to a stranger. Part of living, even as a woman on this planet, is trusting the gut to tell you when you are in real danger, and making sure to get out. As I read blogs and talked to people about hitchhiking as a woman, the main advice was to gauge how you feel about the driver before getting in; you can always say no. To take a picture of the license plate before getting in and texting the photo to a nearby friend. This resonated with me as the advice given to women for everyday living in a violent patriarchy. Do things. But always check in with your gut about the people you are around.

So! I created a sign on a piece of cardboard that read “Wien” (Vienna), had my friend from the first Austrian farm drop me off on the side of the road, and I made my way from there.

The first person to pick me up was a man who took me over to the next town and dropped me at the gas station. The second man to pick me up was a person going all the way to Vienna in a shiny new car.

Both times, the waiting period before someone pulled over to pick me up was scary. I felt the way my body reacted to the fear that I might have to stand on the side of the road for the rest of my life, holding my thumb out and smiling as car after car passed me by. My heart raced and my neck grew hot as I thought about how I would handle a creepy man, or how I could walk for some miles to the closest bus station and wait for some hours for the next bus.

I was surprised by how average and kind the people were who picked me up. They weren’t funky hippies who had a progressive, people-loving philosophy about hitchhikers. They were very typical Austrians with kids or desk jobs who wanted to help me out and maybe talk a bit about their lives, to hear some cool stories from a traveler.

In all, I probably waited a combined total of 20 minutes before these incredibly unremarkable, gentle people picked me up and helped transport me through a foreign space. Besides my glee and adrenaline high around a novel and fear-driven experience, it was an otherwise very uneventful time.

When I reached Vienna, I had the pleasure of couch surfing with a wildly intelligent, punky Austrian who had hitchhiked all over the world for decades. They shared many gems from their hitchhiking experience, including how life-changing it can be to engage, through conversation, in the expansive range of human perspectives while noticing the commonalities in our shared humanity: we all have similar needs and wants, at the core of things.

The Lessons

For me, hitchhiking gave me a delicious taste of freedom. I felt freed from the contract of money in getting from one place to another and freed from a small piece of my shackles to fear. It gave me more confidence that I can figure out the way forward, and not depend on circumstances, like schedules and money, that are often quite confining.

Hitchhiking was a decentralized, community-building, cost effective, environmental form of interdependence with elements of serendipity and connection. It was a way of being that balked at a culture of isolating car-pods, shut out from each other, guzzling and burning a maximum quantity of fuel. We yell and curse at each other from these individual pods of comfort, disconnected, individual, and helpless in the face of growing traffic jams as our muscles atrophy and spines stiffen, every king in his castle. If this other way of being - hitchhiking - were a cultural norm, we could be making connections, keeping carbon in the ground, and decreasing traffic.

Moving in the direction of fear not only widened my understanding of possibilities outside of cultural norms, but also gave me freedom to move through decision-making with intention.

Moving towards fear, for me, means gaining a body-understanding that a higher level of consciousness can direct my path. It means I don’t have to rely on others to soothe me and push me forward when fear tries to hold me back.

The truth is fear is powerful beyond measure, both in our conscious and subconscious minds. Just a whisper of fear, in all its concentrated power, is enough to direct our actions. Fear keeps us immobile, and fear keeps us running. What we need to find is a relationship with fear that lets us walk, calmly and consistently, forward -- whatever direction that may be.

How is fear limiting your experience? How does it affect your job, your relationships, your environment, your home, your passions, your sense of possibility, your bounds of imagination? In what ways does this fear serve you (if any), and what could it give you to move in its direction instead?


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