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The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself

brown bearI’ve been thinking lately about these words by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He spoke them in 1933, during the Great Depression.

“This great Nation,” he said, “will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”

Fear can be paralyzing. It can also be catalyzing. It’s always important to take care in what we focus on. And it’s always important to take care in how we respond to what we see.

The other day, a friend of mine and I were talking about fear and how to manage it so it doesn’t get out of control.

My thoughts landed on a vision quest I did, and an odd experience I’d had. It was nearly eleven years ago under the supervision of spiritual teacher David La Chapelle. I was out on Mt. Rainier by myself in the woods for four days and three nights.

I’d never spent four consecutive days by myself anywhere. And I’d never spent even one night alone in the woods.

I was terrified.

My quest was defined by a circle of boulders by a mountain stream; all around was dense forest. There was no one within walking distance who I could run to. David was in a camping area down a long trail, then down a road by car. I had no cell phone. I said fervent prayers to my angels all day that first day. I also told the creatures, very firmly, that none of them were invited to come into my circle.

That night, I cried myself to sleep. I was sure I’d be devoured by morning.

In the middle of the night, I dreamt that a whole family of bears tore down my tent and were coming to attack me. I woke up with adrenaline racing through me, all of my senses zinging. I had instinctively sat up, ready to bolt if needed. I listened but there was no sound in the forest around me. Not a peep. Not even a rustle.

It took me a long time to return to sleep. But the most strange thing happened the next day. I had no fear. I could hardly believe it. I kept waiting for fear to come marching back, but it never did. Every once in a while, I glanced at the dense woods, wondering why I felt okay. It felt strange, like I was missing something.

By day three, I was dancing around my circle, carefree as a bird.

Which told me three things.

  1. When you face your fear, it can get mighty uncomfortable. You may lose a little sleep at first.
  2. Fear can be catalyzing. Some hearty demands made to the Powers that Be are probably a good thing when you feel you need them. And adrenaline is not a bad thing if you need to run from an actual predator.
  3. Fear is a temporary state and often unnecessary.

I’m not fearless. The dense forest I wake up to today doesn’t have cougars in it. But there is worrisome political rhetoric, changing environmental climate, plus a few personal concerns. It’s enough. But when I find myself becoming afraid, I remember those bears who woke me up that night.

We have a great nation; we will endure, as Roosevelt said. Whatever we face, personally or as a nation, we will revive and prosper.

To believe otherwise is to be caught in a dream. Let’s all — together — choose to be awake.