Today’s guest contributor is writer, coach and personal growth teacher, Tara Sophia Mohr. She writes Wise Living, where she also offers her Goals Guide, “Turning Your Goals Upside Down and Inside Out (To Get What You Really Want).
In the personal-growth world, we’ve adopted this paradigm: “It’s scary to be your real self. It’s scary to take the leap and follow your passion.”
I used to think that too, but now I see it differently.
Often, when I’m working with a coaching client, we’ll uncover something core to who they are: a dream from the heart, a resonant vision for their future, or words that give language to a longing they’ve been afraid to admit, even to themselves.
A moment or two later, they usually say something like: “Oh God. It feels really scary to say that. I’m terrified!”
I used to agree, saying something like, “Yes, it’s perfectly normal to feel fear when you tap into your authentic self. Living an authentic life and going for your dreams requires leaving your comfort zone, risking failure, and being vulnerable. The risk-averse, primitive lizard brain activates, and fear comes up.”
These ideas about fear have become very popular. I’m sure you are familiar with them, too.
A few months ago, I started to see “fear” differently. I was reading a beautiful book by the late spiritual teacher Rabbi Alan Lew.
Rabbi Lew writes about the awe and fear that Moses experienced when he encountered the burning bush. He describes Moses’ state as the unique mixture of awe and fear that we feel in the presence of the divine, whether in the form of a burning bush or in the form of the still, small voice within ourselves.
Rabbi Lew explains that in biblical Hebrew, there are several different words for fear. Pachad, is “projected or imagined fear,” the “fear whose objects are imagined.” That, in contemporary terms, is what we might think of as lizard brain fear: the fear of horrible rejection that will destroy us or the fear that we will simply combust if we step out of our comfort zones.
But there is a second Hebrew word for fear, yirah. Rabbi Lew describes yirah as “the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting.
If you’ve felt a calling in your heart, or uncovered an authentic dream for your life, or felt a mysterious sense of inner inspiration around a project or idea, you recognize this description.
Yirah is the fear that shows up in those moments when we uncover a dream, access our real feelings about an important situation, or contemplate taking a big leap toward a more authentic life. We feel sacred awe, which has a kind of trembling in it.
Often, pachad comes up in those moments, too – a deep and panicked fear of failure, criticism, loss of security.
In our culture, we often conflate both strands, and simply call what we are experiencing “fear.” But we can discern them more closely, and in doing so, more effectively manage fear so it doesn’t get in our way.
Next time you are in a moment that brings fear:
1. Engage your resourceful, rational self to counter the instincts of the lizard brain. Ask yourself: what part of this fear is pachad? Write down the imagined outcomes you fear, the lizard brain fears. Remember they are just imagined, and that pachad-type fears are irrational. Then use all your good tools for working with fear to quiet the pachad. For example, assess the probability of each outcome occurring. Brainstorm what you would do to course correct if any of those outcomes came to pass.
2. Savor yirah. Ask yourself: what part of this fear is yirah? You’ll know yirah because it feels different. It has a tinge of exhilaration and awe –while pachad has a sense of threat and panic. Rest in the yirah. It can actually be a tender and beautiful feeling – once you know what it is. You can savor it, knowing it’s just a signal that tells you are touching sacred ground within. You can keep leaning into – even looking for – the callings and leaps that bring yirah.
Tara Sophia Mohr writes Wise Living, where she also offers her Goals Guide, “Turning Your Goals Upside Down and Inside Out (To Get What You Really Want).
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