I loved all of these challenges. They help me feel fearless, alive. Resilient and well-rounded.
So I thought my mindful acceptance of challenge and inspiration would kick Fear to the curb this year. I am feeling confident, more comfortable in the newer, less co-dependent version of myself. Until last night, that is. When fear came a-knocking late at night and kicked me down quite a few notches. I am not against being humbled through failure, not like I used to be. It keeps me learning, helps me stay young. But the ferocity of this emotion surprised me.
Being a sensitive, deep-feeling, emotional person is a pain in the ass. Acting like a compass for other people's emotions can overshadow my own inner compass, leaving me unsure about myself. Empathy can be exhausting. But so also can feeling every emotion that assails you at any given moment. My goal always is to recognize, feel, and move on, without letting the emotion derail me.
This time, because it tapped into something old and buried, it spectacularly unhinged me.
I've written before about my how I stumbled into yoga, petrified of teaching. How the confidence slowly developed as I found my groove, saw real results in people, felt that fire for teaching in my own core. I am slowly refining that part of myself, teaching a few times a month at a friend's studio, taking classes as much as humanly possible, practicing on my own, subbing when I can.
But today, I had the opportunity to audition for a new studio, after taking a class from a former colleague a few weeks ago. Three teachers I admire, who broadened and strengthened my own practice, teach there. After the usual post-class glow, I casually mentioned that I am trying to get back into teaching, that I love helping students discover new ways to connect breath to movement. I threw myself out there.
I felt slightly intimidated, rusty as I am, but in the spirit of my "new year, f- fear" mentality, I put all my energy and goal-embracing enthusiasm into the opportunity. First Thursday of March, pencilled in and then firmly scheduled. Today.
But a strange thing happened. I became unhinged just thinking about today. Isn't this what I want? Isn't this part of the new me, to pick up the mantle of fearlessness and challenge? Find comfort in discomfort?
The week started with my sister and brother-in-law, visiting from Seattle, leaving after an epic, fun few days in the rainy desert. Wednesday morning I woke up off-kilter, jumpy, unsure. Insecure. And...oh no, not that again. Fearful. You Bitch.
"What is wrong with you?" I kept asking myself. Over and over in my head, I would replay my old fear of failure. I have been teaching for 10 years, give or take those few years of drowning in kid trenches. I lead a good, solid class, people always respond well with expressions of peace afterwards. Even when I feel like a class is disjointed, when I'm not on my A-game, someone somewhere feels some benefit from spending an hour on the mat with me. At least, no one has even said otherwise. Why then did I feel like a brand-newbie, afraid of my own shadow?
On and on the self-talk went, driving down Pecos Road to and from my house, going about the daily routine of errand running and kid-taxiing. I couldn't shake it though. "Stop it," I chastised myself. Just do what you always do, don't restructure your own teaching style due to insecurity. You have an A game. Bring it, be mindful, don't stress. Stressing about teaching is the kiss of death for a successful yoga class.
I fell asleep early, focused and resigned. That night, twice, my subconscious took me for a ride. I could blame it on the homemade moonshine my friend Doug brought over, hanging out with Brendan in his new bar. They offered and I accepted one delicious drink, to take the edge off, be social before sleep. Never though has alcohol affected my dreams in such an obvious, deliberate way. I instead blame my inner dialogue, a deep-seated subconscious fear that needed to come up for air.
In my dream, I vividly felt myself standing in the middle of a crowd, raised above everyone, giving a speech. I used to irrationally fear speaking in class, until I overcame that during my college teaching years. But there I was again, all eyes on me. My throat felt closed up, my heart squeezed in panic. I didn't hear my voice at all, but know that I spoke at length.
Then I moved around the platform in a yoga sequence, to absolute silence. I finished with my hands in prayer at heart center, eyes closed, the wind picking up behind me. When I opened them up, I was 10 years old in a classroom. The classmates behind well-worn desks had scuffed-up knees and tangled little kid hair. Their expressions ranged from humor to disgust to shock to pity.
When the girl in front spoke, her voice carried the pitch and resonance of an adult, with the unfiltered openness of a bratty kid.
"What was that?" the voice hurled at me.
"You call yourself a teacher?" A male voice to the left of me yelled. A teacher.
"We will never hire you! You are terrible."
Eyes boring into me, jaws gum-smacking in derision.
"What a joke."
"Never come back here again."
The voices kept rising, louder and bolder, until they lifted me up off the platform, through the ceiling and out into the sky. When I traveled as high as I could go, right as I felt a weightlessness that I imagine happens the split second before falling, I unclenched my fists and screamed.
I woke up with tears streaming down my cheeks. Do you ever cry lying down, feeling salty tears drip into your ears? That, along with my racing heart, were the first things I noticed when I opened my eyes in my own dark bedroom. I felt absolutely weighted down, yet hollow inside. I hiccuped to a seated position, in that hazy world in-between sleep and wakefulness, when you wonder what was real. I reached over to feel Brendan's shoulder rising and falling, centering myself. I hoped his dreams were calmer than mine.
"What was that?" I whispered as I walked downstairs for water. Where did that come from? I never experienced a traumatic public speaking memory like that to haunt me. It must have been something feared and never actualized, the embodiment of my years of not speaking up, being a chameleon to other people. My fear of failure, or of disappointing people, right there in subconscious technicolor. Spectacular and blinding, irrational and overwhelming.
I dreamt once more last night, waking up panicked and devastated, again sobbing my eyes out. The second dream is hazy, but tapped again into an irrational fear of betrayal and failure. None of it made sense, but I paid attention, slightly pissed this time. "WHAT?" I whispered, a little louder, my heartbeat once again thick, fluid. "What am I so afraid of?" I sat there for ten minutes in my bed, raw and exposed, with a big ? hitting my vision every time I closed my eyes.
I woke up to the alarm sad and jumpy. Feeling disgusted with myself, but also tuned into that internal compass like a lifeline. I couldn't shake that feeling of dropping off a cliff or falling into an abyss.
But I accepted it. I drowned myself in these feelings, rather than let them drown me. I went to work pensive, needy. Quiet. I left early for the studio, resolved to confront my dream head on.
And I taught a class. Nothing fancy, nothing mystical about it. My new playlist skipped and stayed on the same few tracks. I didn't go crazy with some complicated new sequence, nor did I impress anyone. But I ended strong, I sequenced well, and I opened my eyes to content faces. No one yelled at me from a desk; no one glared at me with contempt. I didn't fail, I didn't fall. I didn't feel like flying away in victory, but I didn't want to drop away in defeat either.
I'm realizing that come what may, if I teach at this studio or not, if I stay where I am (and it is quite a good place to be), at least I didn't fold. Not today, fear. Today you didn't take me for a ride. You unnerved me, but you failed to grab me. I paid attention, but you didn't win.
I will scream away, silently into my subconscious, or at the top of my lungs over a mountaintop. I will be emotionally confused, drifting and temporarily fragile, but stubborn still. In my dreams or outside of them, I won't let fear have the last dance.