I’m noticing that there’s a feeling of freedom and expansiveness that comes with the choice to say yes to something big, glorious, and challenging. That exhilaration seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of fear that a calling engenders. The greater the fear, if I do say yes to it, the greater the opening into freedom.
My relationship to fear has historically been to avoid it at all costs. Yet by trying to stay safe and avoid scary situations, I wasn’t really living. Not that I have to seek danger in order to feel alive, but when I do have these longings and ignore them or go about it in a partial way that still feels safe (try to have my cake and eat it too), that’s a form of refusal.
As Joseph Campbell teaches us, refusal is the stage of the hero’s journey that comes right after receiving the call to adventure. It’s a natural reaction: life is comfortable and predictable, with unchallenging routines. Even so, the hero can’t stop there; she has to keep going or she’ll never reach her full potential, undergo the transformation that allows her to bring her gifts to the world, and do what she came here to do. Her life will have been mediocre, or, worse, for naught.
I remember having a visceral reaction in my early twenties against the protagonist of Henry James’ great, creepy story, “The Beast in the Jungle.” John Marcher spends his life waiting for a spectacular fate, only to realize at the end that nothing whatever has happened to him. In his self-obsessed waiting for the big event, he missed the beauty and love that life had offered him.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage and generosity to stride into the adventure. Much will be demanded of us, starting with making friends with the unknown and letting go of expectations. I was raised to believe that, as long as I plan meticulously and execute with diligence, I could control the unfolding of events. Wrong. It’s a continuous dance of trust and daring, more like launching a patched-together dingy into a flooded spring river, flowing fast with fallen branches and tree trunks and boulders.
We each fear different things to varying degrees, and just as we are unique, so is the call we receive. If you’re not afraid of it, it’s not big enough. When we listen for small things, we hear small things. It’s an act of will and a form of service to hear the big invitations and let them open us through fear into freedom.