Fear, Risk, and Commitment

I pontificate frequently and deeply on risk and fear, but rarely in connection with what should happen on other side of risk and fear – commitment.  I’m a big fan of Mark Nepo, and the reading for today from The Book of Awakening hit me in a particularly profound way when he highlighted the connection between risk and commitment.

“We’d all like a guarantee before making a decision or taking a risk, but the irony is that taking the risk is what opens us to our fate. It’s like wanting to know what things will taste like before putting them in your mouth. It just can’t be figured out that way.

I always seem to be relearning that real commitment comes before I know where anything is going. That’s what listening to your heart is all about. Without jumping off its perch, the bird would never fly. Without jumping out of your heart’s silence, love is never possible. Without asking to be whole, the divine essence waits inside everything the way bread hardens if never bitten into.

For me, as I look back, being a poet came after committing to speak though I had no idea what I needed to say, and the grace of being loved has come into my life after admitting freely that I wanted to love though I wasn’t sure how.

If we devote ourselves to the effort to be real, the Universe in all its forms will find us, the way that wind finds leaves and waves find shore.”

-Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, November 20, pg 382

I’m a big fan of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Fear has now become a trusted partner in my life – when I feel it, I pay attention. I sit with it and listen to it. If I determine that its cause is perceived risk, rather than real risk, then I take a deep breath and move through the fear. This helps me take risks that sometimes other people label “crazy,” but in the same breath they’ll state they wish they had the courage to do it to.

However, my approach has been to take the risk and open myself to my fate, as Nepo says. Commitment is an entire new level.

I’ve been writing a book…for several years now. I knew I wanted to write a book summarizing and expanding upon the points and stories in my keynote speech about lessons for life and business from the mountains. Last year, I took the time to hire a writing coach to draft a book outline and get some early stage tips (Linden Gross is awesome by the way).

The outline flowed easily. More than three-quarters of the content has been already written in blog form or articles or I have told the stories time and time again. I find writing pretty enjoyable so I thought it would be EASY to sit down and write/re-write on all my long-haul flights.

Here I am a year later with just a few half-assed chapters written. Yes, time is a problem. I don’t have much time to spare to get in a real book-writing frame of mind, but I made the time to write this blog, didn’t I? Yes, I have fear about writing – the more you put yourself out there in the public, the more you open yourself to judgment. I get tons of positive feedback, but of course, as a human being I tend to obsess on negative personal criticism. However, that hasn’t stopped me from writing or speaking or dancing on the summit of high mountains – all things that can draw attention to oneself.

The answer lies in commitment. I have not committed to being an author. I have not, as Nepo says, “committed to speak though I had no idea what I needed to say.” And to boot, I DO know what I want to say.

If we feel the fear, take the risk, and are simply open to what lies on the other side, we may still find ourselves in the same position. We must not only be comfortable with failure, but equally committed to being successful.

If you feel the fear of telling someone you love them, take the risk and tell them, but then run away from the commitment of exploring that with the other person, then taking the risk was utterly worthless. Commit to standing firm and embrace what rewards the risk can bring you.

At the end of each of Nepo’s daily readings, he has a meditation exercise. The one for today is, after a short sitting meditation to center yourself, “Walk slowly about the room, and with each step, feel commitment in the landing and risk in each lifting.”

I actually did this exercise this morning and worked hard at visualizing the risk with each lifting. I could feel the wavering and wobbling as my foot was in the air, floating in empty space, unsure of exactly how it would land on the ground. And I became acutely aware of the landing of my feet, feeling the contact with the ground…softly at first and then more firmly and grounded as each foot took the weight of my body. I could feel the commitment of moving forward without being completely certain of my direction.

I had my eyes closed and felt like I was moving in slow motion…until I literally hit a wall! If only someone had been there to witness that! I couldn’t believe the distance I had moved when I was focused so intently. I lost sense of space and time and did not feel like I had gone very far.

Hmmmm, perhaps there’s a lesson in that. How far can we go if we are intently aware of every step and every move? This is our lives…every day. We take risks and have faith that we will land, committed to be ready for what’s on the other side.

Stay tuned for updates on the book progress.  🙂

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