I have heard that we are born with only two primary fears, the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds. All other fears are apparently acquired along the trajectory of our life experiences.
I can relate to the fear of falling most readily…heights frighten me. I have shared with you how I went zip lining in Costa Rica, not because I thought it would be fun, but because I thought it would force me to confront this somewhat irrational and sometimes debilitating phobia with the hope that by facing it I could overcome it. I was mildly successful in that adventure of faith but I will not be booking that high wire act again anytime soon, thank you.
There is another kind of fear of falling that does not involve risk for the body. It is the fear of falling into uncertainty. We cling to the known believing it to be our “safe haven,” avoiding the ledge at the chasm of the unknown. This fear in its most demanding manifestation can keep us in unpleasant and sometimes downright awful circumstances. Fears eclipse rationality and can become a prison with invisible bars that hold us back from the life that is waiting beyond the edge of certainty.
There have been times in my life when I've made odd, incongruous choices in deference to this fear. There have been times when I've thwarted my own progress by putting my faith in the visible realm and denied the onward impulse that would take me to new possibilities of living. Yet isn’t this the demand of our spiritual journey; the heroic call to leave familiar terrain and cross the perimeter of the known life into the promised land of the spirit-filled realm? This can feel like a death, and it is. It is death to a belief that we are only a body-mind. And we fear death, and we push it away and deny its value in the cycle of our life. Yet Jesus, who was a master of life, reminded us that, a seed must die and fall to earth in order to yield new life. Like Jesus, we must have a view of a resurrected life in order to embrace the loss of the tangible life at hand. St. Francis was just as plain in extolling "dying to self" as a precursor to the birth of our eternal nature.
As we begin to realize that our next growth step lies beyond the land of certainty, a certain resolve, a deeper vein of courage surfaces to help us navigate our way to the edge. So equipped we summon the mettle to take the risk that we might fall upward – which is to be the hero in our own life journey, who by risking the end of a known reality, we realize the unbounded life that holds peril and promise.
It is the laying down of ephemeral notions of self and life that makes it possible to see what is real and lasting. Otherwise, we face a devastating form of identity theft, in which we are complicit by allowing our sense of self to be given over to our career roles, social status, or other people. While career, relationships, and our physical bodies are all aspects of who we are in the world, there is a steep price to pay when these facets become major support beams in our life. When a job or a relationship or level of health becomes a pillar of our self-image, our whole world can come crashing down when one of these is damaged, diminished, or lost. Perhaps you have experienced this sobering reality firsthand.
Having stood at the edge of the known and fallen into uncertainty on multiple occasions I have come to know there is something more profound at play in these wild descents. I have come to see that the hidden purpose and power in all great change or loss is transformation. Clearly, the great compensation in a loss of identity is that it drives us deeper to where we can discover the true self beneath the roles and labels that masquerade as us. This is spiritual gold, the boon of letting go of who we thought we were to find the true essence of our Being in God.
Peace and blessings,