Last night I had nightmares.
Really terrifying, horrific ones, where the most primal of fears rose up from the depths my brain and delivered what felt like hours of horror movies straight to my amygdala. Except I was in the movies, and I’ve never seen a film this scary.
It started out in a post-apocalyptic ‘Walking Dead’ kind of world, but progressed into a terrifying scene where my grandmother was the caretaker of a house full of ghosts. A silvery hand appeared out of nowhere to drag me into the icy blue netherworld and things spiralled from there. I only woke up once Madonna arrived, dancing ‘Thriller-style’ down a corpse-strewn street. Even I was annoyed with my brain by then.
But when I woke, with all intentions to get up and write for a couple of hours, the memory of my nightmare came rushing back and I found myself paralysed by fear. Literally. I couldn’t will myself to get out of bed because I was terrified.
It’s been so many years since I’ve felt this kind of gut-quivering fear, I had no idea what to do. So I lay in bed desperately trying not to focus on the eerie visions still moving through my head, and instead checked my email, looked at Twitter – did anything not to think about the fear.
30 minutes later I was still there. Still paralysed. I understood it was just a dream, but I kept having to fight off the feeling. The fear was still there, hovering over me.
Then I remembered something Leo Babauta once wrote:
“Let it be. Stay present with your uncomfortable feelings instead of running or hiding from them. Try to really feel those difficult emotions. Observe them. Don’t fear them or seek to run from them. Instead endeavor to live with them and learn from them, knowing that the time you spend doing this will help to heal you. When you do this with serenity, as much as you can muster, you will discover your strength and over time you will notice the bad feelings start to soften and melt.”
I decided to let myself really feel the fear. I let it settle over me like a blanket. My chest relaxed, my head cleared and I just let the fear be. I observed it. I didn’t run from it and I didn’t try to drown it out with Twitter.
And do you know what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as fighting the fear.
I allowed myself to feel afraid, to experience whatever emotions I had tied to the nightmares, and I was able to move on.
I still felt afraid as I was getting out of bed. I still used my iPhone as a torch as I moved through the dark house. I still double checked the office for any sign of paranormal life before I sat down to write.
But I sat down to write anyway.
I felt the fear, but I didn’t let it stop me from moving forward.
Feeling and Doing
And not to get too woo-woo on you, but I think this is something that can be applied to so many areas of our lives. We can allow ourselves to really feel and absorb the feeling – be it fear, anxiety, cravings or something else – but stop it from moving us off our intended path. We can still:
- Feel the emotional pull of decluttering sentimental stuff, but don’t let it stop you from simplifying.
- Feel the desire to stay in bed, but don’t let it stop you from getting up and going for a run.
- Feel the need to buy clothes to keep up with fashion, but don’t let it stop you from living a more mindful, less materialistic life.
- Feel the hankering to watch another hour of TV, but don’t let it stop you from getting 7 hours sleep.
- Feel the cravings for junk food, but don’t let it stop you from eating well.
- Feel the anxiety of trying something new, but don’t let it stop you from moving forward.
Have you allowed yourself to really feel something uncomfortable? How did you react? Did you try to run away, or ignore the feelings, like I did? Or did you meet them head-on?