Fear and the Habit of Momentum


May 30, 2012

I’m lying in bed in Villa Franca listening to Spiritualized’s Soul on Fire on repeat.  Great song.

I was just hit by a memory flash. It’s the summer 2009 and I am sitting on a small plane rising slowly up into the air. A Croatian stranger is attached to my back – we are set up for a tandem jump. The plane’s small frame is lined with benches and Colin is across the way as is the door. The door is clear and I can see the landscape of New Jersey fade from life size to miniature to abstract. As we rise I feel the blood drain from my face. I notice my stomach tighten. I worry about not yet having my goggles on, though no one has said it’s time. At 13,000 feet the door opens and our small vessel is flooded with cool air. It is time now, I am warned. I’m cognizant the approach towards the exit is different than what I learned on the ground. But this is how it is happening now. And then comes the terrifying moment: I jump.

There is an American gentleman who has been in our albergue rooms for the past couple of nights. He seems burdened with a heavy dose of anger. It was maybe 4pm yesterday and an older Korean man began to snore. The American burst into loud explicative and he raised his trembling fists toward this man’s bed saying loudly, “There is always one in every room.” It was a strange reaction – disproportionate to the scene I observed. After a group dinner that night, I overheard him listing his complaints to another pilgrim. His negative attitude was a stark contrast to the rest of this community that seemed to leave expectations behind the further into this journey that we shared.

Aimee noted, “He can leave anytime he wants, so why does he stay?” Good question.

I am reminded that even when we make choices – we board the plane, we show up with a backpack in St. Jean Pied de Port – we are often still carried by our natural thought habits and the momentum they build.  We jump when our bodies tell us no.  We complain about the circumstances we went to great lengths to experience.

On our short walk (7.5 miles) from Belorado to Villa Franca today I thought about fear.  How do we lean into it when it rears its paralyzing head?  Can it be removed through intention?  What prompts its invitation into a given circumstance?


Oh man. Fear. It’s always there inviting us to shrink away from something we really want. Sometimes it lurks in the shadows. Other times it’s screaming in our face. But it’s always there.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared than in those moments right before I jumped out of that plane. I have a video of that crazy adventure and when I look at myself in those seconds right before I jump, I can’t help but think, “this is what pure terror looks like.” Even just rereading this journal entry, I can physically feel my body tense up.

Entering into the unknown can be a scary thing indeed. Change pushes us beyond the comfort of what-has-always-been and fear is usually right there in those moments celebrating and inviting us back to the status quo. I find that the hardest thing when fear gets the better of us is that it keeps us from taking mindful actions. Typically we either find ourselves unable to act at all or we act out of habit. The “habit actions” become a way to calm our fear – but they don’t change our circumstances. It’s as if taking these mindless actions serve as a numbing mechanism to ease our fear.

So what to do instead? My vote: Lean into your fear.

I find when I’m truly afraid, it helps to get really up close and personal with your sense of fear. Literally cozy up to your fear as if it’s your best friend. Invite it over for a glass or wine or a cup of cocoa and dig in. I try to get to the heart of what’s scaring me.

I also ask myself what emotion would be a good counter balance to my fear. Sometimes it’s courage, sometimes it’s peace or grace or sassiness. (I like some good ole fashioned sassiness, what can I say?) Cultivating the emotion that will serve me – and not letting fear run rampant on it’s own – stewards my ability to get back in control of my actions. I also find that the more times I get comfortable stepping into the unknown, the easier it gets. My logical, fear-friendly head still screams loudly, “Stop! No! Turn Back!” But my body and my heart have been building muscle memory about what wonderful possibility awaits the other side of those scary moments.

There isn’t a time in my life that I leapt in the face of fear that I haven’t been richly rewarded. Whether career moves (leaving a great job to launch my own business) or life decisions (getting married even though I felt so young, having a baby even when the timing didn’t feel “perfect”), leaping while holding hands with fear has always been a powerful catalyst for some of the very best adventures in my life.

Sometimes I can look back on those pivotal moments and think, if I just leap then everything will fall into place. But when I really look carefully at the leaps in my life, they have always required a lot of practice and preparation (except for maybe jumping out of that plane…they only trained us for like 20 minutes!). Take for example leaving my job to start my own business. It was really hard to quit a job I loved, even if I had a feeling that it wasn’t what I was meant to be doing anymore. I had financial security, positive affirmation about my performance, colleagues I loved and a nice work routine. I was afraid to rock the boat even though something deep down told me it was time for a change. But to do it, I really had to prepare myself. I worked with an executive coach, I journaled, I made pro and con lists, I talked with my husband. But even more importantly, I prepared myself emotionally for this change. I recognized that to make this particular change I was going to need courage and a feeling of self-sufficiency. So I started taking steps to activate those feelings. I went hiking, read stories of badass founders, talked with others who had made the leap. These kinds of actions didn’t eliminate my fear. But they did give me the strength to jump and made it that much easier to catch my footing after I landed.

Sometimes I find myself wishing away fear. Begging it to stop showing up in my life. But here’s the thing. Fear usually means that something big and wonderful is afoot. So when you find fear popping up in your own life, embrace it. Ask yourself: What wonderful opportunity might be sitting behind this fear? What could I do today that will allow me to cozy up to my fear a little closer? And finally: What am I waiting for? Let’s jump!