“The light comes at the same time as the Voice…I would that every one could hear the Voice as I hear it.”
Every actor has at least one dream role they must play before they die. For me, that role was Saint Joan. I still consider her the most profound and invigorating acting challenge of my life and I am deeply grateful I got to play her before I was too old. I do, of course, wish that I could go back and take another crack at it, knowing what I do now, with all of the experience I’ve gleaned since then. Joan is notorious, though, for being a tough nut to crack and I know that I did the best I could for her at the time. I’m sure the timing was right, anyway, because spending countless hours in her skin gave me the courage I needed in other areas of my life back then.
Any time I write about Joan, I mention that she won’t leave me alone, and that she still crosses my path even 12 years later. I was looking through a box in my closet the other day and came across this photo that I hadn’t seen in forever, that I had completely forgotten about. Sure enough, it was coming up on an important date. Jeanne D’Arc died on this day, nearly 600 years ago. It’s obvious to me that her spirit lives on.
When I was a child, I was afraid of everything, all the time. My Top Five Fears were:
- Nuclear war with Russia
- My parents getting divorced or something happening to my sisters
- Getting an incurable disease
- Auditioning for the plays I loved to do
To cope with these fears, I:
- Cultivated a life-long battle with insomnia by staying awake all night, kneeling beneath my bedroom window, watching the sky for signs of a missile attack.
- Obsessed over every word, fight, emotion and unspoken dynamic in my family. I bossed around my sisters, which they LOVED (sarcasm).
- Went into hysterics every time there was a thunderstorm. I lived in Indiana, so this was an every-other-day occurrence.
- Compulsively watched every Made-for-TV, Disease-of-the-Week movie about kids dying from illness.
- Forced myself to audition through uncontrollable nerves that prevented me from landing the roles I wanted.
On the slightly healthier side, I had a mantra I repeated whenever I was terrified to go through an experience. I would imagine myself as an adult and say to myself: When I’m 23, I won’t be afraid of this. When I’m 35, I won’t be afraid of this. For some reason, knowing that I would someday outgrow the fear helped me to move through it in the present.
My entire life has been an exercise in overcoming fear. Nearly every relationship I’ve formed, trip I’ve taken, audition I’ve shown up for, conversation I’ve had, and new experience I’ve tried, has been dearly fought for through a fog of fear. I’ve been pleased to discover that, indeed, as an adult I haven’t been so afraid of the things I feared as a child. I’ve also learned that repetition and practice is my best ally and the foundation of confidence.
For the past year, I’ve walked through much of what many people are starting to experience now: health challenges, job loss, housing loss, no regular income for a year (and still none), fear, uncertainty, and social isolation—all while navigating crippling grief and heartbreak. None of my financial, housing or social challenges have resolved yet, although I’m deeply grateful for the return of my health. I was hoping to turn a corner soon but may have to exercise patience even longer than I was expecting, as jobs continue to fall through and social opportunities decline. It has been surreal to witness the current climate with a feeling of familiarity instead of novelty. To that end, I’d like to share some of the things that have been helpful to me, with the hope that they will be helpful to others as well.
I believe that learning to face and manage fear is our hardest but most important task:
- Feel fear whenever it arises, without resisting or ignoring it.
- Acknowledge it and allow it to move through and out of your body.
- Become an Observer. Step outside of the paradigm of fear, realizing that it is not you, and that it can be experienced without it having to mean anything.
- Get present. Feel your breath moving in and out of your body. Get in touch with your senses. Recognize that, in this moment, you are almost certainly okay. This is true even within difficult moments, if you take them one at a time.
- Connect your Mind and Body. Our feeling of separation from the Whole is what causes most of our suffering and this is true when our bodies feel disconnected as well. When we walk around with racing brains and numb bodies, it’s a recipe for fear to take charge.
My Favorite Ways to Ground & Connect:
Meditation. If you do nothing else for yourself, even 10 minutes of meditation per day will change your life. When we become still, we discover that we are not our bodies, our relationships, our jobs, our finances, our successes, our failures, our environment, or our politics. We simply are…something much greater and deeper than any of those things. We step outside of identification with the personality. Connecting with the Source of who we really are is the beginning of the end of fear. Here’s a meditation practice for Inner Peace.
Nature. Getting outside is truly the best medicine. In a world that moves fast and revolves around technology, nature has a different rhythm. It is slow, cyclical, seasonal. Things come and go, rise and fall. Connecting to nature’s rhythms can provide immediate relief from fear, anxiety and depression, and give us the fortitude to move ahead.
Yoga / Walking / Dancing. Any exercise that connects the two halves of the brain, drops you into your body and releases endorphins is a fantastic way to combat fear. When I couldn’t do any exercise at all, I missed it terribly, but the benefits were still there when I remembered to align with my breath and inner spaciousness. My favorite at-home classes are Yoga with Adriene.
Breathwork. Most people are breathing shallowly, from their chest, or unconsciously holding their breath. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing and pranayama techniques strengthens and settles the nervous system, boosts immunity, processes old trauma, releases stuck emotion, and helps us to stay mindful of the present moment. I’ve even used this on an airplane during bad turbulence and it worked. Here’s a great series to learn some basic breathing techniques.
Tapping. EFT Tapping provides almost instant relief from anxiety, spinning thoughts, fear, and physical pain. It’s been proven to be as effective as acupuncture and can be done safely and easily by anyone, anywhere, of any age. My favorite Tapping coach is Nick Ortner.
Chanting. Chanting a Sanskrit mantra along with music is a powerful way to focus one’s mind and energy. In Kundalini Yoga, one aims to chant for at least 11 minutes; I can promise that you will feel differently when you end than when you began. I had chants playing on repeat during my hospital stay, through the late hours when I couldn’t sleep, and it was incredibly comforting. My favorite music for chanting is White Sun.
Journaling. Many years ago, I began doing Morning Pages, which is at least three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning. This practice has brought me more clarity than almost anything else I do. It’s a great place to dump the fear so that it leaves your head and doesn’t dump onto other people instead. Here’s the explanation of Morning Pages from Julia Cameron.
I can honestly affirm that walking through fear builds strength, resilience, confidence and compassion. There are many gifts to be found within this tumultuous time. We humans have been and will continue to be challenged for as long as we inhabit the earth. The only difference now is that we are much more connected through technology and so everything can appear to be worse or more overwhelming (which, objectively, it is not). I make a habit of limiting my news and social media intake and try to observe the fear, non-judgmentally, instead of participating in it. This is a choice that each of us has the power to exercise and it’s a choice that uplifts the collective instead of taking us all down in a toilet-paper frenzy.
My almost-three-year-old niece has an adventurous spirit and often says to me, “Don’t worry, Aw Daw (Aunt Dawn), I save the day!” And then she’ll repeat her own mantra: I Am Brave and Strong. I love to witness how she has already outgrown so many of her early fears and I hope that her spirit stays wild and free as she walks through this world. We are all brave and strong; let’s keep reminding each other of that.