We say we want to change the world but we are afraid. At least I am afraid. Because I’ve learnt how valuable it is not to side with one or other aspect of myself, I can also say that I am courageous. Afraid and courageous. As are we all. We want to change our world, and also we don’t want to change it. We are afraid and courageous. So far so good. (And bad!)
The fear of leaping into something new
I think many of us can recognise this. We look at the world, at the issues we care about. We also look closer to home, in our communities, our streets and our domestic situation. Things there may not be working so well, and we would like to do something about it. That genuine wish to do something comes from the deepest part of our hearts. From a Buddhist perspective this is the essence of compassion – a heartfelt wish to act, to respond, to create in ways that are helpful.
But often something holds us back. We don’t start the warm conversation with the homeless person. We don’t speak out at work when issues trouble or inspire us. We don’t shift our life habits or put energy into what brings us alive. We just don’t. This happens when we side with our fear, and believe in our lack of courage.
Through studying fear, the longing to act and the possibility of transformation, over many years, I see a basic pattern. I’ve summarised this below. Perhaps it can help you move beyond a boundary and take a leap in your own life and work right now. (NB – this simple 3 part model draws heavily on my Web of Life principles. You can read more about that here).
There is always a boundary
The boundary evokes fear. In Buddhist teachings, every situation, every system, every way of being has a boundary. Beyond the boundary is something new, something different, something other. That’s just the way things are. The point is that moving across a boundary inevitably evokes some apprehension – some ‘e-motion’. Moving beyond what we know, and into something new is always a little scary.
In Process Work, boundaries are called ‘edges’. Much inner development comes from noticing our personal edges and finding ways to both respect and move beyond them. Often what lies across your personal edge – a new way of being or behaving, is experienced first as something that troubles, disturbs or upsets your usual identity. Whatever really pisses you off right now is telling you something about a current edge!
We can also think of edges and boundaries as related to psychodynamic questions of separation. By letting go of what keeps us secure in our current way of being and moving further into true individuation – toward who and what we truly are, it can feel like we might die, or are dying. Indeed in some ways this is true!
Overall it is useful to acknowledge the ever present reality of boundaries. Boundaries are neutral – neither for us or against us. Paying attention to boundaries and the response they evoke in us is a first step towards making a leap.
There is always a gap
The gap is a not knowing, a black hole of nothingness, and this is what we fear. To move beyond what we know – a way of being, a habit, a role, a fixed routine, what we notice first is the absence. We don’t quite know where or who we are yet, or what we are doing. We just know what we are not, what we are no longer doing or being. I leave my job and I feel the absence, the loss of title and identity. I leave a relationship and before I can embrace new possibilities, I experience the loss of what I have been. Our culture sees old authorities and old certainties collapsing everywhere, and we do not yet know who we are becoming. We are neither one thing nor another.
Tibetans call this Bardo – an intermediate state. It is not actually nothingness – but our minds see it that way, certainly before we have leapt. Who wants to leap into a void of nothingness? Not me! But that is the point. As soon as I leap, truly leap, I am no longer the same me who was thinking of leaping. I am something or someone else. And I don’t yet know who. And that is scary. But it is also immensely creative and full of potential. Being able to stay with the gap and not freak out, being in the space of not knowing, staying aware in the Bardo. This also seems necessary for real change.
Leaping and not leaping is paradoxical
Before we take a leap into something new, we fear not being me, a loss of self and security.
But there is a paradox here. If we keep holding on – to old orthodoxies, to what we already know, to who we think we are, quite quickly our life becomes devoid of vitality, creativity and truth. We become rather dead. So by holding on to life we create a feeling of being dead.
By leaping we fear that we might die. In some ways we do die. But something new can then emerge which is more alive. The creative possibility and opportunity for renewal is much more in the black void of (apparent) nothingness than it is in the security of the current situation. This is a paradox.
So how does all this help?
Inner and outer change are two sides of the same thing. The story of the great leap into the unknown is very relevant for many of us personally right now, and also for us collectively, as society and culture goes through a tremendous and turbulent transition. Maybe it is encouraging to consider that each individual leap, each personal letting go beyond the boundary of fear and into the mysterious creativity of what lies beyond, is also a radical act toward collective liberation and global re-creation. Each time we leap beyond what we know, we demonstrate a profound trust in life itself. We acknowledge fear as a neutral and inevitable part of moving beyond a boundary. We learn that something survives the Bardo, the nothingness in between one thing and another. This is so much what our world needs right now.
As Arnie Mindell says
“people believe that if they go over their edges they will go crazy, be deserted, or become violent. But … the world does not stop, in fact it begins anew. It creates itself, reorganising in an unimaginable way.”
3, 2, 1 jump …
PS – if any of these themes around change, fear, crossing thresholds and opening to the creative potential of new ways of being speak to you, your team or organisation right now get in touch. It would be great to see if I can help you leap according to your heart’s desire!