Being female in this world, I’ve always held certain unexamined assumptions about How Things Are. I believed the story that I’m weak and vulnerable. I believed my gender made me an automatic target for crime, and therefore I must be constantly on my guard against theft or bodily attack.
And so, like many women, I developed behavioral responses to my environment:
Never walk down alleyways at night.
Always check the back seat before getting in my car.
Listen for footsteps. Be aware of any cars that might be following mine.
Paranoia, in this case, seemed the smart and rational response to a dangerous world. And this hyper-vigilance gave me some illusory sense of control over my environment.
Despite ongoing enquiry into the nature (and trustworthiness) of my own beliefs, I had never seen fit to question this particularly far-ranging and pernicious set of fears.
I’d spent decades feathering my nest and arranging my life into the reassuring picture of comfort and control, you see. So my fears rarely had the chance to parade themselves in full.
Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Uh…no. They festered ever-present just below the surface of my consciousness, oozing low-level anxiety into every corner of my life instead.
• • •
So it’s been an interesting several months.
After 21 years as a comfortably married lady, I moved out of the house June 1st and gratefully spent the summer at my dear friend Kathy’s place. While there, my primary hobbies including staying awake nights and obsessing about lack of safety, potential loss of steady income, and fears of destitution and/or homelessness.
The theme was survival – was I capable of taking care of myself? And that age-old unconscious question at the base of all things: Did I really have any right to thrive in this world?
I discovered all my buried fears now had ample opportunity to come out and play: How would I live? Where would I go? Could I run my business without Kurt (I.T. Guy Extraordinaire in the next room), ready to bail me out of any technological jam?
There was more: Without a home base to call my own I’d be traveling around with all my worldly goods in tow, having no permanent place to stash my valuables. How would I protect myself from the constant threat of theft? I felt utterly vulnerable and unsupported in the world.
(Interestingly, I was surrounded by beautiful people on all sides who were offering huge quantities of loving support. But this frightening and pervasive lack of support was an inside job. And it welled up in me unceasingly, no matter what anyone around me said or did.)
• • •
At summer’s end, I packed up my little car and drove it across the desert to Sedona. I had no idea why Sedona, or what I might do there. But I had eventually gotten so bored with torturing myself over questions of where to go and what to do, that I surrendered the whole scary bag of worms to Spirit.
And Sedona it appeared to be, so now I was just uneasily following the prompts that seemed to point me toward red rock country.
One of these Spirit-inspired prompts was a Sedona house-share rental that I had taken sight unseen from Craigslist. It was a massive three-story log cabin in the woods, with broad balconies on all sides. It had spectacular views of Thunder Mountain.
So far so good.
This place was quite a bit more expensive than other house-shares I’d seen, but sounded a hundred times better than any private apartment I was likely to find for a similar price. So I took it.
I would have the whole second floor to myself — a huge bedroom with office area; balcony; sitting room; a closet big enough to park my Mini inside (if only I could’ve gotten it up the stairs) and a large separate bath. And there was a very spacious loft area at the other end of the second floor that was also mine – except for Wednesdays, when that space would be used for New Age chiropractic sessions of some sort.
All of that sounded fine, and the pictures looked good. But then I arrived, and saw what the photos hadn’t shown: There were no doors on my room…just a bunch of curtains across an open expanse. No window coverings in most of the house, either, including my bathroom.
And when I asked for a key, I was told they didn’t use them. None of the locks worked on the house’s several exterior doors, apparently. Which didn’t seem to trouble my roommate Maurice (or any of his friends) because he never locked the doors anyway.
And then three days after I arrived, Maurice left town for two weeks and I was all alone in this giant, exposed, unlockable cabin in the woods. All alone, that is, except for the fifteen or twenty strangers who converged on the place every Wednesday to have their chakras tuned up and spines realigned.
Not only did this place push every safety fear button I had, it seemed to invent a half-dozen new ones.
I was especially terrified of coming home alone after dark to an empty, unlocked house. As I entered, I would turn on every light, methodically checking every room, every closet, under the beds and behind the shower curtains – investigating every potential hiding place to assure myself no unseen attackers were lurking.
I was also afraid that some of those chiropractic patients would surely recognize this house for the easy mark it was; over and over in my mind I’d picture them casing the joint and coming back after dark to steal the aforementioned worldly goods.
Every night in bed my mind ran obsessively through all the horrifying scenarios of What Might Happen. And I couldn’t seem to stop it. The heart-pounding, sick-making terror of it.
Oh yes. I knew these were all just ego stories I had invented.
I knew these fears weren’t real.
I knew I was One with all these horrifying “others” who populated my feverish imagination. And I certainly knew they were innocent in Truth.
But knowing all this didn’t make it a damn bit better. Not when it felt like my very survival was at stake.
• • •
But here’s the thing: These days I’m in a period of consciously examining all my deeply buried unconscious pain, fear and general gunk, together with Spirit. Just the action of witnessing all this hidden crap – just agreeing to bring my awareness to it and be with it unconditionally – this is powerful stuff, and it causes huge leaps in healing.
So whenever dark, difficult emotions crop up, I see it as a gift, and I welcome the emotional turbulence as a prime opportunity for transformation. And back at Kathy’s place, I had prayed to be able to witness my deepest fears and surrender them to Spirit once and for all, for total healing.
Hey, prayer answered.
Or the first half of it, anyway.
So I knew it was no accident I had come to stay in this funhouse of the damned. Besides, even while it made me sick with terror, funnily enough there was something about the house itself that felt like a big, warm hug. On some level I knew this cabin was a loving, gentle laboratory for working out my fears.
A safe place to feel howlingly unsafe in.
But. The obsessive scenarios of violent crime still played out in my head every night and refused to go away. Upon deep examination, I realized my pain stemmed from being helpless to control the situation. (Had the doors been lockable, I could’ve maintained the illusion of control. But in this wide-open vulnerability, I had no choice but to rely on those terrifying “others” – hoping they’d choose not to target this house. But clearly I would never have control over that.)
The truth, of course, is that none of us has control over such things, ever. But we whistle past the graveyard, and we buy alarm systems or firearms or life insurance policies; we build up savings and retirement accounts so that we can stop being afraid. So that we can sleep at night. So that we can give ourselves the illusion of control. But outside forces are outside forces, at least here in the 3-D world of illusion. And outside forces simply aren’t controllable.
The only way to be free of fear once and for all is to meet it where it actually lives:
After awhile, I found the pain of trying to control the uncontrollable was even more unbearable than the fear itself. So it became comparatively easy to surrender the whole awful situation to Spirit. And that’s saying a lot, because when push comes to shove, we all unconsciously believe surrender to God leaves us completely unprotected and vulnerable to attack.
In that ass-backwards, upside down logic of the ego mind, hanging onto the fear seems to offer some measure of protective armor. Some scrap of control. So if I was going to hand over my last scraps of protection and control, it meant I had to get to a place where I felt willing to die. Where surrender actually seemed a better solution than hanging onto the agony of “control.”
Like: I might as well agree to possibly be murdered in my bed, because living with this kind of mental pain – the endless imaginary future enactment of that murder – is worse than that.
So I surrendered and I trusted, mainly because I saw no other viable options.
Relief was not immediate.
It took days or weeks. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but one day I turned around and realized the fear had gone away completely.
The house was still the same.
The people, God love ‘em, continued to come and go, treating the cabin like a benevolent frat house.
It’s me that’s changed. I’m totally comfortable now.
• • •
Here’s a related subject: The other day in the late afternoon, Fran and I hiked Cathedral Rock. It had been years since I’d done it. Cathedral combines elevation hiking with a substantial amount of rock climbing, so it’s not a hike that can be rushed through. It takes some time.
I wasn’t thinking. It was sunny when we started out, so I wore my prescription sunglasses.
The sun had dipped below the horizon by the time we reached the top. By halfway down it was getting quite dark, so I had to choose between two less-than-ideal options: Make the rapidly deepening dusk even darker by wearing my shades? Or take them off and be as blind as…some kind of blind thing with its eyes closed?
The dilemma made me recall my first “midnight hike” in Sedona. (If you’ve read Long Time No See, you know about that hike.) How terribly anxious I’d been. And how astonished I was to emerge from that pitch-black wilderness experience entirely unscathed.
The lesson that night had been about trusting in Spirit, which was something I was unable to do back then. Then some time later, in another nature setting surrounded by towering Sequoias, I found myself once again worrying about dangerous predators and other safety hazards. And a lesson from Spirit emerged, which referenced that previous midnight hike:
“…The truth is that the bears and the ice are One with your holy Self. In perfect gentleness they support you and keep you safe within this dream world – just as the cactus and coyotes functioned to keep you safe during your pitch-black Sedona hike. Your One Self (which includes all bears, coyotes and prickly desert plants) supports you in your lesson plan as it lovingly awaits your awakening.”
At the time, it was too much to take in. Oh sure, I understood it intellectually. But it wasn’t until the other night, as I shimmied down a mountain in near total darkness, that I got it. I was entirely calm, without a shred of fear or anxiety, filled instead with a sense of total safety and trust in Spirit.
And, just as Spirit had described it back then, I could really feel the rocks and cactus and crickets and sky as my One holy Self, lovingly supporting my progress every step of the way. I felt our mutual gratitude. And our mutual joy.
In fact I felt like the richest, luckiest, giftiest person alive. And pretty much every minute since then has felt like Christmas morning.
• • •
The most extraordinary thing of all: So much more seems to have been healed than just the particular set of fears I thought I was handing over. These days I find myself striding through life in wholly unaccustomed ease and safety for the first time ever.
I have no concern for my personal security or the safety of my stuff. Yes, I remain mindful. I don’t leave my things unattended, or take foolish risks. But fear is gone. I am truly comfortable wherever I find myself.
And even more miraculous than that: For the first time in my life, I now know I have a right to be here. I mean, really know it.
I am safe in My own embrace. And I am Loved. Very, very Loved.
And it’s all an inside job.
I leave this crazy log cabin in a week or two, headed for my next adventure. I will be forever grateful for the things I left behind here. And for the new riches I carry with me, wherever I go.