I began the practice of making pilgrimages to overcome something which has been holding me back in life.
‘Fear is the mind killer’.
Fear can rule over your being. It can lead us to reject ourselves. Now, you and I, we were born to be whole, to stand upright, to be free. Happiness is found by meeting life’s challenges in a spirit of vigor and courage.
In my own personal history, I had years of moving between the homes of my friends’ families. Being the son of two alcoholics, often the house was a violent place to be. The first time I was often kicked out on the street I was 11. After that, it happened many more times. Sometimes I left on my own initiative, rather than risk a thumping, a TV smashed, or just the noise and the crying. I was expelled from and started a few different schools. I found myself in picking fights with the hardest or those with the big brother, or the gang that waited close by after school. And I was never tough, I never had a crew. Sometimes, I was stupid enough to pick a fight. But more often I was mostly a loner, lapsing between victim, bully and occasionally, champion. In Ireland, and in England, I faced racism and isolation. I count it a privilege now, those slurs and beatings. Because I understand through lived experience that I am strong. And that behaviors like racism is not an inherently white or religious phenomenon. It’s part of the human experience, part of our struggle with fear of the other.
Perhaps, I would have thought, that having faces rejection and humiliation countless times as a young man and teen, I’d be hardened to it.
Why then, did it manage to overcome me?
After just beginning, I stopped performing poetry live, stopped despite early signs of promise. A few words and some laughs amongst my circle of friends was enough to shoot me down at that time. I remember the fury and humiliation I felt way back from a gig. Florence and the Machine had stepped on to the stage after me at an open mic night in Camberwell Green. How tender a human heart can be. I mean, I still am tender – from experience I’ve found it’s impossible for me to harden my heart and enjoy the depth and breadth of life at the same time. And though, even now, it’s hard not to judge myself at times as having being weak or cowardly, over the years I’ve learned compassion is an important requisite for true courage. Far enough down the line, the two become one.
It is a hard truth to face. Harder still to realise that if you do not face fears, you do not grow. And if you do not grow, you slowly wither and fade. You die inside.
We all wrestle with fear of rejection and humiliation. It’s part of the territory of being human. Sometimes this impulse wins out. And we close up.
We can look to history if we need proof of this. Those people who contribute the most, are those that express themselves fully, without apology or holding parts of themselves back. Those who face down all criticism and shame, all threats and violence. Take the life of Christ, Buddha, Joan of Arc, Ghandi, Rosa Parks, King, are just a handful of examples.
After all, it’s our natural impulse to express ourselves as we are truly. Look at children. And if not, then what other purpose is there to being here at all, other than to be fully alive and resonate with your talents and values?
Now this might sound tough talk. But never forget. The work can be begun at any time.
And for those of us in the depths of despair – take courage – I hear it from people far stronger and wiser than myself that depression is the opposite of expression. Begin to share who you are, whatever it is that you which is good. And good things flow in it’s wake. I know this from experience to be true
Death is coming. Always. Make no mistake. Death lies beyond each moment. Hidden just out of sight. And it is our task to say, ‘Not today!’ as we step into his arms. It’s the only way our soul ever truly thrives. It’s the only way to live without feeling somehow empty inside.
Because somewhere a voice is telling me, born from all physical and mental training, climbing, meditating, reading, experimenting and listening: in all my action and reflection, I’ve been led to believe that fear is given to us so that we can overcome it. Fear is presented to us so that we can thrive and grow. It is us that must kill fear, and not the other way around. For fear kills that which inside us leads to true happiness: growth and contribution.
We can have all the material success that we want. We can have connection, friends, lovers, wives and children. We can jump out of planes and climb mountains. Or be masterful at what we do. We can be as different and special as we want. But without growth and the giving that comes with it, we know it will never quite do. And that growth requires we master our fear. We transcend it. So then the real intelligence of our lives can take it’s full and rightful place as our guiding light and principle in life.
While I wrote I was in Canterbury, in the library. I heard a voice inside. That voice in me which often calls me forward to take action on something I am afraid of. And just then commanded me to step out into the street and perform for the people passing by. To read Chaucer’s opening to The Canterbury Tales. It’s an act that speaks to the depth of history, the place and spirit locked in the stones of that City, and to one of my deepest passions. And it is an act that frightens me terribly.
I did it. And I make a commitment now to keep on heeding that voice within which drives me towards all my fears and hesitations.
Allow yourself to join me. Do something every day which scares you. Just see how people resonate with what you have to give, just by the very effort. And in that, with practice, you will realise that you and this world are one in the same. One and the same. There is no division.
You are infinite.