Since March, I’ve only slept through the night a few times.
The reason I’m up at 2 or 3 am is the election. Which is to say, the reason I’m up is: I’m afraid.
I feel sheepish telling you that, like it’s risky. “Aren’t I supposed to be brave and strong?” the thought goes. Or, “Wouldn’t it better serve people to only show the strong part, not the afraid part?” another thought says.
But there’s another part of me that knows the first thing to tell you, as I start to write to you more about this upcoming election, is this: I’m scared.
I’m the daughter of a refugee and Holocaust survivor. I grew up surrounded by the stories of how fast a civilized society unraveled. I’m not naive about the possibilities.
Sure, my fear has lessened a bit in the past few weeks, as more people speak out and the polls move in a direction that comforts me. But I know that a lot can happen in 90 days, and a lot can happen on a single election day, especially regarding turnout. I’m not sleeping through the night yet.
I’ve somehow absorbed the very American idea that heroic equals hopeful and that expressing fear is weak and morally questionable – that’s not what good, strong people do.
I’m not alone in this. No one I know has mentioned to me that they’re also awake in the middle of the night. But when I tell them I’m up, and why, a number of my friends have said right away, “Me, too. Can’t sleep. I’m so scared about what’s happening.”
And did you notice how at the Democratic convention, it was acceptable for the leaders at the podium to talk about the grave danger of an uninformed, vindictive, emotionally out of control candidate? But nobody talked about feeling afraid of that danger.
Look in the Op-Ed pages of most of the major newspapers and you’ll find the same – impassioned, articulate pieces about the risks of a Trump presidency. But nobody talks about being afraid of it. That’s crossing an American taboo.
We don’t want to show fear, perhaps because we still see leadership as a patriarchal act – in the most literal way – and just like a family patriarch would likely hide his fear from his young children, our leaders think they should hide theirs.
I can’t help but feel how it also has something to do with the stereotypes: the brave male hero showing no fear, the frightened female waiting to be rescued. Most of our cultural stories tell us that to express fear is to be womanly, and to be womanly is not leader-ly.
I feel just the opposite – that right now, in the context of this election, feeling afraid and talking about it is for the good. I am afraid because I am awake to what I’m seeing. I’m afraid because the mother spirit in me is fierce, and she is always alert to the dangers on the horizon that threaten those she loves. So I’m going to do something very taboo: I’m going to be proudly afraid.
Fear Takes Us To What We Love
In the weeks before the [Iraq] invasion, I read the newspapers with an increasing sense of agitation… So I decided to start a newspaper meditation… Almost every day, as I’d open to anger and feel its full force, it would unfold into fear—for our world. As I stayed in direct contact with the fear, it would unfold into grief—for all the suffering and loss. And the grief would unfold into caring about all those beings who were bound to suffer from our warlike actions….
Sitting with the feelings that arose in my newspaper meditation left me raw and tender. It reminded me that under my anger and fear was caring about life. And it motivated me to act, not from an anger that focused on an enemy, but from caring.”
Like Tara Brach, I know I can’t feel my fear for long before I start talking, tenderly, about what I hold dear: Peace and safety for all human beings. Leaders who know how to de-escalate. People who believe we are all children of the divine, worthy of kindness, compassion and opportunity.
We can only use fear in this positive way if we understand how to make an important shift from living in our fear response – usually fight or flight – to pausing and feeling what comes before that response, and what lies underneath it: the fear itself. Our fear response will often take us into defensiveness, attack, denial, or avoidance. Leaning into the fear itself – feeling it, speaking about it, investigating it – is something very different.
Let’s Start Here
If we paused right now and felt our fear, looking right into one another’s eyes as we did, that would take us all to the place of caring. It would get us talking about, and feeling, what we collectively cherish. It would give rise to a deeper motivation and passion to protect what we love.
So let’s start with a damn good fear party. I don’t know exactly what a damn good fear party is because I’ve never held or been to one before, but I have an inkling that it has to do with pausing to feel our fear – together – long enough for it to take us to a tearful conversation about what we love and want to protect. Then that leads to passion, creative solutions, and the opportunity for a wise – not kneejerk – response.
Can’t our fear – healthy, conscious, fierce mother spirit fear – lead us into fiery passion for what we cherish? Can’t it give us energy and commitment to take wise action?
I think it can.