by Liz David
In 1988, I wrote a thesis entitled “A Narrow Bridge” in partial fulfillment of the requirements for my Masters Degree in Expressive Therapies from Lesley College. The major purpose of the thesis was to explore fears and how they get in the way of healing and then to conceptualize ways to deal with fear.
“Life is but a narrow bridge with no beginning and no end, and the main thing, the main thing, is not to be afraid,” said Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav.
The following is a piece I discovered as I was researching the thesis. I offer it as an inspiration and a challenge.
The old woman who was wicked in her honesty asked questions of her mirror. When she was small she asked, “Why am I afraid of the dark? Why do I feel I will be devoured?” And her mirror answered, “Because you have reason to fear. You are small, and you might be devoured. Because you are nothing but a shadow, a wisp, a seed, and you might be lost in the dark.”
And so she became large. Too large for devouring. From that tiny seed of a self, a mighty form grew, and now it was she who cast shadows. But after a while, she came to the mirror again and asked, “Why am I afraid of my bigness?” And the mirror answered, “Because you are big. There is no disputing who you are. And it is not easy for you to hide.”
And so she began to stop hiding. She announced her presence. She even took joy in it. But still, when she looked in her mirror she saw herself and was frightened, and she asked the mirror why. “Because,” the mirror said, “no one else sees what you see, no one else can tell you if what you see is true.” So, after that, she decided to believe her own eyes.
Once, when she felt herself growing older, she said to the mirror, “Why am I afraid of birthdays?” “Because,” the mirror said, “there is something you have always wanted to do, and you know time is running out.” And she ran from the mirror as quickly as she could because she knew, in that moment, that she was not afraid, and she wanted to seize the time.
Over time, she and her mirror became friends, and the mirror would weep for her in compassion when her fears were real. Finally, her reflection asked her, “ What do you still fear?” And the old woman answered, “I still fear death. I still fear change.” And her mirror agreed. “Yes, they are frightening. Death is a closed door,” the mirror flourished, “and change is a door hanging open.”
“Yes, but fear is a key,” laughed the wicked old woman, “and we still have our fears, “ she smiled.
So, “life is but a narrow bridge with no beginning and no end and the main thing, the main thing is not to be afraid.”
If we can teach ourselves to approach life as a bridge with no beginning and no end, as if life were an endless bridge onto which we are placed on a section labeled “present,” then we have the potential for healing our wounds rather than remaining stuck in our pining for past desires or future hopes, both of which are fantasies that do not serve us because they remove us from the present.
There are no magic formulas for overcoming fear but developing the skills it takes “not to be afraid” is possible.
It takes courage!
- Develop understanding and knowledge of our fears
- Develop awareness and sensitivity to the times when we are afraid, in the moments of fear itself.
- You may think it is not possible, but try making a decision not to be afraid, or, at least, to put fear on the back burner.
- Imagine making a choice whether or not to be fearful, scared, or worried about the future.
- Imagine making a choice not to be afraid of change, loss, death
- Imagine, as the old woman in the piece above did, choosing to make fear the key to moving beyond fear into living a fearless life!
- It takes courage!
Courage may not be the absence of fear but, rather, courage enables us to move ahead in spite of fear.
Rollo May once said that “To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.”
Courage seems to be connected with knowing that there are choices and the ability to make them in the face of fear. Returning to the metaphor of life as a bridge, imagine this life-bridge as filled with choices. We do not choose to be born. Most of us do not choose to die. We choose on the life-bridge between. Rabbi Nachman’s life-bridge is the dwelling place of the things we have the most control over–our choices.
May also said that “A man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day. These decisions require courage.”
Courage gives us the ability to make choices knowing that mistakes are possible and making them anyway. Our choices further our quest to live life without being afraid. This requires knowledge of the self, being self-centered in a way that has nothing to do with being selfish but has a lot to do with authenticity.
May talks about courage as well. “Courage is not a personal virtue or value among other personal values like love or fidelity,” he says. “It is the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values. He also points out that courage comes from the same stem as the French word Coeur, meaning heart.
LET ME INTRODUCE MYSELF
My name is Courage
I live in the place of the heart
My door is always open to friends
And strangers alike—welcoming all
I can be very helpful when danger or fear develop
But like it most when I can just hang out
My favorite color is white, which allows me to be quite visible
But not alarming
What is puzzling is that people seem to forget about me living in their hearts
They behave as if they don’t know I exist
Or, worse yet, they know I am there and are afraid to make friends with me
Sometimes I feel crowded in my residence
Because the owner of the heart sublets to fear
And fear thinks it owns the owner
But I am honest, confident and valiant
And the main thing, the main thing is…
I am not afraid
My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging. So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”