Posted on Saturday, July 17, 2010 in Leadership
Is fear snapping you awake in the middle of the night?
Do you find yourself paralyzed by panic or terror?
Maybe you think you should always sleep like a baby. Maybe you’ve been told “that’s how things should be.”
But if you’re taking risks, pushing your life forward and not sitting on your hands, you’ll encounter fear. It’ll cause anxiety and keep you up.
Whatever your sleep habits, most people, when faced with fear, will choose one of two lousy options: fight or flee. And most of the time, you’ll either lose the fight or won’t be able to run fast enough to flee it.
Which brings us to a third option: embracing it.
And one of the most powerful ways I’ve found to embrace it, is through poetry.
Poetry is one of the last bastions of bold speech in our culture. Courage can be found in poetry that you are hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Poetry is the clearest journalism that we have. While some people say poetry is obscure and difficult to understand, others say they liked poetry when they were younger until it was knocked out of them through tedious analysis in high school English.
In fact, both conditions can be reconciled. Poetry that is allusive and remote is only a fraction of what is available.
I would contend that a love of language is innate in humans. Think of how little kids rhyme and play with words. There are so many good poems that speak to the human heart and to our common life.
Poetry that is clear, honest, direct, and address the beauty and challenges of everyday living can be the wake-up call needed to counter the big fear interrupting your sleep. This clarity can lead to bold and transformative action.
Which brings us back to that third option, found in a poem. Think of your fear in the middle of the night as a wolf. Get as close to your fear as possible. It’s time to embrace your fear. Go ahead–lick the snout of the wolf.
The Wolf At Two A.M.
again, hail him with a smile and a slap
on his frizzled back.
He has come to remind–
anxiety is a favorite cousin
of being alive. Breathe his hot breath
till it blends your own.
Ask permission to lick his snout.
Will he cower you into terror?
Will he tear you to shreds?
Escort him to your kitchen.
Whip up a meal,
whatever he wants. When you can look
unflinching in his piercing eyes, when so close
you see his jagged teeth are
your edge, you are close.
Open a bottle of wine.
Toast, clink glasses, laugh.
Belly laugh until dawn’s breaking light.
If not this dark night then another.