Discovering the Magic of Fear
Art by Meera Lee Patel
Become allies with your fears.
Fear exists for everyone. For some, it derails, making what they most want seem impossible. For others, it’s a beacon, a light on the path towards your heart’s true desire. Finding your way to move forward with fear involves a certain kind of magic.
The fears that surround us are innumerable. We have close-up fears: of being seen, of not being seen, of being vulnerable, of failing, and of succeeding. We also have bigger fears: our place in the world, the state of the world, forces that whirl beyond our control. Fear can be a paralyzing force, it ignites our primal instinct to freeze, or to fight. It can also, when understood, become a force for good, a sign post that will lead you to what you want most in life.
Meera Lee Patel is an artist and an author. Her primary medium is watercolor, and her work is expressive and bold. She has developed a close kinship with fear. In her book, My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown she explores, both visually and verbally how we can become allies with our fears, and rather than letting them stop us in our tracks, use them to move towards our dreams.
Patel recognizes the many birth places of fear. Our culture dictates a certain kind of unrealistic conformity. We are passed down fears from our parents and we develop fears through our own differences. Patel underwent operations as a child that left significant scars on her legs. She remembers the shift from being blissfully floating the in ocean, to being ashamed of her scars, afraid of being different from the other kids at the beach. She is also the child of immigrants, so her differences showed up culturally, linguistically, and in the color of her skin.
She has also followed her heart’s call to be an artist, though being a self-taught artist called up a fear of not being recognized as a ‘real’ artist. She shares her journey of becoming friendly with fear rather than letting it stop her. The result is a path to freedom from being at the mercy of fear. Patel writes, “Fear is someone who knows me well, who knows each dream and longing and what prevents me from going after them. Fear knows who I want to be and what keeps me from being that person. Fear is my closest friend. I have said the words aloud to myself many times.” Step onto the path of becoming friends with your fear with the following practices:
Sit with your fears. Patel suggests greeting your fears and getting to know them. Recognize which fears are based in reality, and which are simply fear of the unknown. Draw them, paint them, journal about them. Explore them until they become familiar.
Walk with your fears. Do little things that let you move with your fear. Build on those until you are taking bigger steps. If you’re afraid of being criticized for your art, create art that you won’t show anyone, and gradually let people begin to see what you’ve made.
Kindly question your fears. When fear shows up, which it will, Patel suggests asking the following questions, “Am I afraid? Why am I afraid? So what if I’m afraid?” Uncovering the answers to these questions can let you get closer to fear, to understand it rather than cover it up.
Patel spent years being afraid of failing, of being exposed as a fraud, and of being rejected for creating her art. She found that “the trick to becoming who you really are is to let your fear guide you. Instead of hiding from rejection, hug is closely; put your arms around it and see what it has to offer you. Sit in the darkness, feel lost.”
We are each the creative directors of our own lives. When we lean into our fear, recognize what it wants to tell us, and use what we learn from it to step into our dreams, we become the creative souls that we are meant to be, no matter what form of ‘art’ we choose to create. Patel encourages, “shaping a life, like creating art, is a process. I takes time to peel back the fear that layers itself between your heart and head. I am the artist. You are the artist too. What great dreams will you bring to life?”