Originally posted at HeArt for Brains
Over the past year, I have experienced more major life changes than during any other single year of my life. Some of these changes are so new and raw, I am not yet ready to share them with any but my most intimate circle. These changes are tender new shoots, barely peeking out of the soil, so delicate and fragile that it’s hard not to hover over them, monitoring them constantly. Are they still there? Are they okay? Did they get bigger? Change color or shape? Do they need more water, or sunlight, or better soil for their roots to grow? Are they going to survive this tenuous time, so vulnerable and small? The fear that change brings up has been a barrier in the past, a reason not to reach toward my dreams quite so fervently. Perhaps if I keep one foot, or even half my body in the old reality, it won’t hurt so much if these new buds don’t flower. Then, if a deer eats them when they’re only a few inches tall, or an unexpected late frost kills their roots, I won’t have to be so sad, because I can just go back to the way things were before they ever existed. Although this deadening of the spirit may create some degree of distance from my pain, the cost is alienation from all emotions. In this way, my joy is also diminished, my hopes mitigated and small, my dreams tiny “safe” fragments of their true selves. And, it turns out, these “safe” pieces aren’t really all that safe after all. Losing the fragments hurts too, in a different way. Then I feel the ache of never having given my true dream a chance to live, while simultaneously mourning the loss of the fragment into which I’d half-heartedly invested myself. And so I decided to be all in, unleashing a whole new level of fear and anxiety.
Through the highs and lows of being fully committed to my dreams, I am acutely aware of the unpredictable, uncontrollable, uncertain nature of life. This year I have traced the trajectory of change through its many seasons – dreams and fantasies, births and new life, periods of growth and development, and transitions and deaths. As a person who craves control, and has spent many years harboring fantasies of a superhuman ability to actually achieve that control, this has been a roller coaster ride. Accepting these facts – that life is change, and change is inherently unknowable – means confronting the deep feeling of fear and lack of safety at the center of my being. In reality, this fear isn’t about any particular change. It’s about feeling inadequate, doubting my ability to protect myself, unsure if I’m strong enough to survive the vulnerability of the unknown.
As I’ve become more familiar with the anatomy of change, and its accompanying anxieties, the only antidote I have found is to witness and accept it. When I am in this state of fear, which is often a daily occurrence at the moment, I visualize my anxiety as a wet, shaking Chihuahua, barking incessantly, hair standing on end. This tiny creature is scared and vulnerable, and in attack mode. Ze is so mixed up that sometimes ze doesn’t even know that ze is scared, because ze only feels anger and defensiveness. But underneath that high-pitched bark is a deep fear, and a real vulnerability. Being the tiniest of dogs in a world of giants, lacking the usual doggy defenses, ze is understandably afraid. So I imagine scooping zem up in my arms and holding that trembling body, feeling the rapid heartbeat pounding against my chest. Just holding zem with sturdy arms, breathing deeply to slow zir heart rate, and speaking to zem gently and compassionately.
I, too, am tiny and fragile. I’m in new territory, wholeheartedly pursuing my dreams, all in. I, too, need to be held and seen, and spoken to with calm understanding. This simple act of picking up my shivering, defensive self and offering comfort and support is a powerful salve for sometimes overwhelming anxiety. And learning these skills is crucial, because this is where I plan to spend my life – in a state of transformation, re-evaluation, challenge, and change. Because this is where I grow the most, learn the most, and the place from which I can taste true liberation. Because freedom is not feeling safe, but rather feeling capable. It is not to be problem-free but to be a problem solver. Freedom means accepting that life is change, change is constant, I am never in control, and trying to be only limits my potential. Freedom means journeying to the edges of my capacity and stretching out over the chasm, learning from my mistakes and successes in turn. It means celebrating the process rather than the results, and shining my light on these new shoots with humble affection, feeling the fear and joy, marveling at the potential power of these baby plants, and being fully committed to the ups and downs of following my deepest yearnings wherever they lead.
Kalil Cohen writes personal narratives and poetry to heal and beautify the wounds of personal and ancestral trauma. Kalil’s award-winning political comedy Queerer Than Thou has screened at film festivals from Minneapolis to Mumbai to Melbourne. As a gender rights advocate, Kalil has appeared on Democracy Now! and Current TV, and written for online and print magazines.