Dancing With The Coat of Fear

I’ve noticed myself being a right miserable sod sometimes, of late. In small interactions I’ve been bemoaning others’ success, questioning positive actions, doubting intent. I’ve not been kind, at times. And it’s not a state that is nourishing me.

Along with this has been an urge to withdraw. I peer at Twitter or Instagram and have this sense of woeful inadequacy: look at all the things I don’t know how to do, or comment on or change or contribute to. Everyone’s wiser, better, more. There is so much nastiness out there. I have no power.

I want to run and hide. I want to bicker at the world as it shows itself to be: unfair, imbalanced, unjust.  When I’m in this place, I slowly, slowly lose my sense of hope and purpose; my optimism and willingness to be in the world well. So I get miserable and small and I moan. 

And as I do this, My sense of my own smallness increases and….oh hello to a joyless cycle.

It’s an old thing. A coat I wore for ages and know well. The coat is bit manky and not very appealing to see or be around, but in it, I’m safe. Wrapped up in fear and inadequacy, I can look a bit rough and mutter hexes or malicious incantations and keep the world away. It has some power. Splendidly miserable isolation. Fabulous life choice. 

But it’s a heavy coat, it takes effort to lug the damn thing around. It’s a bit stinky and leaves me feeling I need a refresh. Sometimes, I don’t notice myself wearing it– then I realise I’m all tensed up and snarky. Sometimes I’m so wrapped up in it, I can’t figure out how to get out, wrestling with the damn thing like a kid in a cagoule with a broken zip. By the time I get to that point (probably before I got to that point, to be honest, but I’m a slow learner, at times) I know I need help.

Help comes in various guises and last week, it came in the guise of Playing at the Edge: Dancing with your Inner Critic, run powerfully and compassionately by Steve Chapman and Simon Cavicchia. When I signed up for it, a large part of me was rolling my eyes at myself – why must I always pick the mad stuff?  Proper people with proper concerns don’t choose to do stuff like this. I am the wrong type of consultant and coach. No one will ever take me seriously. The foolishness of me. The folly and self indulgence. Etc etc…

Yeh, well… that’s as maybe… and I don’t want to keep wearing this damn coat. I’ll never be free of the judgement and fear it’s made of, but if I must carry something of it on my person, I’d rather it was pocket hankie sized and not quite so all encompassing. I don’t want to be swathed in stink and smallness. No-one – neither myself nor my clients – does well when I’m there.

So how about I step out of the coat, dance with it a bit, see if I can’t get it a little cleaner, or chop it up a little – make it less huge or more appealing or something.

So I did. We did. I have been running scared of human contact for the majority of this year, so showing up without my ugly coat to protect me and then getting it out in public did feel…somewhat counter-intuitive. OK.. so actually it felt terrifying and stupid and exposing… It is, therefore, a testament to the skill, the warmth and the care of Steve and Simon that I (and others) felt able to look at, work with and start to re-configure our versions of an ugly coat.

Theirs is a masterclass in navigating emotional landscapes with compassion and wisdom. Every time I felt off-map, I could look up and there were two guides, with compasses going: yeh, you’re alright. You are roughly here someplace… want the compass? It meant I was able, willing, to keep going.

It was a profound two days. I left with a sense of knowing how I react and respond when I’m critical or when I feeling under threat.. and a sense of how to shift that, so I’m not so in the grip of the fear. I left with a different sense of my ugly coat – it’s a little prettier, a little less stinky than I think – it and I still have some work to do.

Turns out when I’m not coating myself in judgement and fear, life is more free, richer and I have a sense of ease in the world. Like I belong more. I can be warmer, bigger, more trusting, happier. I can challenge with less fear. I can stand in the heat of clients protecting their status quo and hold for a few beats more, keep the opportunity for difference open for a longer stretch. I’m more compassionate to myself and that bubbles out to others, which generates trust and shift….

What’s not to love?

So as I brush the lapels of the stinky old coat and whisper to it that I’m going to be wearing something with a bit more colour and freedom and joy, more often, for a wee while, but that I know it well and I know how well it can protect me; I’m thankful for being able to see the stinky coat and for places to take it to dance.

The photograph is entitled “Fur Coat on the Run, Tunisia, 1983” by Richard Young and can be purchased here