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Fear is a Backseat Driver by Michelle Regan

Fear is a Backseat Driver by Michelle Regan

This guest post is written by yoga teacher and writer Michelle Regan:

What’s your favorite scary story? I grew up on the Goosebumps series and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I loved horror until adulthood when movies and books actually became scary. There’s a Goosebumps story called Say Cheese and Die in which a group of kids find a camera that predicts a morbid future for anyone whose photo is taken. They’re left in a state of dread, not knowing how or when the events in the photo will occur.

It was one of my favorite stories. I love the idea of being able to see the future, even if you don’t like what you see. And I love the larger question of how knowing the future changes the present. As an adult I can see that the story speaks to a near-universal fear of the unknown. 

It’s a fear many creatives know well. What’s scarier than a cursed camera? Putting your photos out into the world for all to see, risking criticism and utter humiliation. Or taking them in the first place, a risk you take on yourself and the quality of your ideas. Creativity is scary stuff.

In her book, Big Magic: Creative LIving Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert imagines fear as a passenger on her creative road trip. Fear is creativity’s sidekick because creativity asks us to enter into the unknown. You can’t have one without the other. So, you have a choice: you can run, plant your feet and fight it, or you can let fear come along for the ride. 

Our fight-or-flight response exists for an excellent evolutionary reason: to protect us. But I’m going to get radical and say submitting your short story to a contest isn’t equivalent to getting lost in the woods. Research shows that prolonged, extreme stress (think PTSD) can shrink the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and some creative expression. But the rest of us really have no excuse.

Gilbert argues that “if you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting.” I don’t know about you, but I’m scared all the time. I ride creativity like a roller coaster, screaming inside my heart as I go. Sometimes out of joy, sometimes because I’m pretty sure this is the end. That’s the ride we choose. 

One of my favorite mindfulness writers, Sarah Blondin, has a wonderful Transforming Fear meditation. The fear we feel manifests in our bodies. Blondin walks listeners through using our breath to relieve that tension. She guides us through confronting fear, embracing it with love, and listening to what it’s telling us. What lessons can we learn and where do we go from here?

I’m a firm believer that anything worth doing is scary. What’s important, Gilbert says, is not to give fear the wheel. You’re the driver and creativity is your ride-or-die. Acknowledging your fear allows it to loosen its grip. It makes the creative journey possible.

As Gilbert says, “A creativite life is an exemplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”   

Michelle Regan is a writer and yoga teacher who's passionate about sharing all the ways in which yoga and creativity can be transformative forces in our lives. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and petting all the dogs.

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