By Suma Varughese
If fears are stopping you from living your life, get ready to start confronting them. But start small, says Suma Varughese
It was a wonderful spring day in Mumbai in early March. The Sathe family as usual had gathered for Sunday dinner but in order to make the most of the weather, they had taken their plates to the open balcony and were sitting around, enjoying the play of the cool breeze on their hair and clothes. Dinner was light – a soup and salad to offset the heavy lunch at a local eatery.
“We should have such meals more often now that summer is soon going to be here,” said Dad, taking an appreciative bite of the apple and walnut salad.
“Sure,” beamed Mom. “Much less work for me.” Nisha, meanwhile, was glowering into her plate. Avijit nudged her with her with his elbow and said, “Sup?” “My friends are all going for a picnic to Aksa beach next Sunday,” she said curtly.
“So?” said Mom. “You can go too as long as you don’t wade into water beyond knee level.” (The Aksa beach is a treacherous beach which has claimed the lives of several people).
“Mom,” yelled Nisha. “You know I can’t go. I have a thing about water!”
“Sorry, I forgot.” “I’m so tired of not being able to do this or that because of my fears,” Nisha burst out. “I don’t know why I am such a scaredy cat. I am scared of the lift, scared of flying in planes, scared of dogs, scared of the stage, scared of saying no to people, and so many other things. How am I ever going to lead my life?”
“Ssh, sweetie,” soothed Mom, “Everyone has fears. You are not the only one. And you will find that as you grow, it will be easier and easier to confront your fears. Why I was such a frightened thing at your age. You young ones are leagues ahead. I dared not speak back to my parents, I used to be such a frump because I was afraid of attracting attention, and I never ever spoke in class even though there was plenty I wanted to say.”
Nisha looked a little better. “How did it all change, Mom?” she asked.
“Well, you know, little by little I began to build on my confidence. But the definitive moment came one day when I decided, just like you, that my fears were holding me back too much and that I was not willing to put up with them. At that time, my big fear was of speaking on stage. I thought that if I could free myself of that fear I would be free of all fears but it was too difficult. I used to break into a sweat just thinking of it. Then I thought of another strategy. Why not challenge the little fears first? The ones that I could challenge without inviting a heart attack? So I began small. I was such a shy person. I began with smiling just a little bit at some people. I firmed up the courage to ask someone for the time, or for an address. It was very difficult at first. But I was determined. And slowly, the fears began to diminish in size. They were not so formidable any more. Speaking to strangers became easier and easier. And you know what, one fine day I actually found myself on stage. Of course I was shaking and could hardly get words out of my mouth, but I was standing there! Slowly, public speaking became possible too.”
“I know, you an awesome speaker. I would never have known you were so scared of it,” said Nisha.
“Doing something for the first time – whether it is travelling to a new place, or making a dish, or writing a new book, is scary even today, but the good thing is that I am no longer afraid of my fears. I just go ahead and do what I have to do.”
“That is wonderful, Abha. I didn’t know this about you. You were pretty confident and outgoing by the time I met you,” smiled Dad.
He added, “Try doing what Mom did, Nisha. It will work. And each time you vanquish one tiny fear, praise yourself generously for it. And change your self talk. Tell yourself that you are courage incarnate. Slowly over time, you will accentuate the part of yourself that is strong and courageous and the fears will fall away.”
Nisha looked puzzled, “Is there really a strong and courageous part of me, Dad? I have never seen that in me. You all know how timid I have always been.”
Ajoba’s eyes lit up. “Actually beti, the real you is nothing but courage and confidence. Never forget that deep inside we are a reflection of God and who we are is whole and perfect. Fear and timidity and so on arise because we are not in touch with that part of us. But it exists and the more you invoke it, the more it becomes a part of you.” “Oh,” said Nisha. “So, I am not really fearful? I just think I am?”
“No. Over time your experiences have led you to believe that you are fearful and that became part of your identity. But these identities can be challenged because they are not ultimately real. That is why it is possible to change ourselves. If fears and other weaknesses were what we were, it would not be possible to change,” said Ajoba. Nisha’s eyes began to shine. “So I can change this part of me. I don’t have to live like this all my life. Wow, that is such an amazing discovery!”
“Sweetie, I make a living encouraging people to change,” said Dad reproachfully. “You should have known it by now.” “I know, Dad, but it is different when you realize that that’s not who you are. Otherwise it’s like trying to paper over something you innately are.’
“So are you planning to go for that picnic?” asked Avijit. “No, that is a biggie,” said Nisha. “But I am going to go across and pat Goldie.”
Goldie was a gentle golden retriever who lived across the floor. Nisha had longed to play with her but each time she saw her size, she had shrunk back.
“Attagirl,” said Dad. “Who knows, maybe the next time your friends are going on a picnic, you will be joining them.” “That’s the hope,” grinned Nisha.
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