Friday, September 20, 2013

Overcoming Fear to Becoming An Alpaca Farmer

When I was studying for my Master's Degree, we had to read the book, Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.  The one thing that struck me and sunk in from reading this book was that fear is really the fear of death and dying.  Fear serves an important purpose.  When we were hunters and gatherers, a healthy dose of fear of dying kept us alive and being vigilant and aware of dangers lurking, waiting ready to eat us if given the chance.  Even though most of us don't need to live in that kind of state of fear, that innate emotion and function is still there.  We use it still to protect us from danger, but we humans have evolved and fear emotion represents more than the fear of death.  Yet in the unconscious, or in Jungian depth psychology terms, in the shadow of our mind, when we feel fear, it is often that same aspect and memory trigger that says we are in survival mode.  That is what stops us from moving ahead.  We have that clang like the train crossing alarms that we need to stop and be safe.  I felt that kind of fear many times when I was hunting for property.  I would find a place that was a possible locale and I'd get this gut wrenching knot in my stomach and felt absolute and abject  terror.  It would leave me shaking and shaken.  It was so bad a few times that I questioned if this dream I had was really what I wanted.  Was it just the fantasy of having a place?  The moment it seemed to become a reality, the fear was as if I was facing something that was going to kill me.  It was that same fear state. 

I would come home dejected and depressed thinking that my desire to find acreage and my own farm was just a folly and fantasy.  But, then I'd go out and be with my alpacas where I boarded them.  I'd sit with Jamilah and sort through what it was I was so afraid of.  My left brain would kick in and I'd have those basic concerns of could I really take care of my animals all on my own?  What would happen if someone took sick or injured and I had no one to help me?  Could I make a living doing this?  Could I take care of a farm and that much property?  I've tended a small yard and lived in the comfort of a city and all its services, so what was I thinking that I could tend 5 or more acres?  Did I want to leave all my friends and this life that was comfortable, easy and known?  What I was looking to do was completely unknown.  I had my fantasy of what it would be, but what would happen if reality was totally opposite of the fantasy?  The list of questions and concerns were overwhelming.  And although those were all healthy and normal fears and concerns, they didn't fit with that gut wrenching fear I was experiencing.  There was something beyond my cognition that was driving it.

Then one day, I was meditating and got out of my left brain.  I allowed myself to feel the emotion of fear and not the dialogue and self-talk that went with it.  I knew this feeling because I had it before, so I allowed myself to bring back the memories of other times I had that kind of fear.  I started to remember many unpleasant times including the one that probably started that emotion. When I was eleven years old, I saw my father pass away suddenly.  That was raw emotion and fear.  It was true fear of death.  Not only fear for the one that I loved so dearly, but fear of what that meant for me, my mom and sisters.  I stayed with that feeling for awhile and then took another deep breath to ease the discomfort of the memory and then brought up how we survived and went on living.  We didn't stop growing and building a life for ourselves.  We moved forward even with the large hole in our hearts that was left by my dad's passing.  We moved on for ourselves and for him. 

It took nearly a year of sorting through and experiencing that deep and raw fear before I fully understood where it was coming from.  Once you can bring to the consciousness the real memory triggering that fear state, then it creates a paradox.  I became aware of what caused that dear in the headlight, frozen fear state and with it being understood, I had to choose if I wanted to stay frozen or make the move.  It became a conscious and willful choice.  After I became aware, the choice became easier.  I still felt anxiety and fear but it was more normal and manageable amounts.  It wasn't that primal fear that something was out their lurking ready to eat me up. 

I imagine we have all experienced that primal fear state.  It is what holds us back and limits us.  It can serve a purpose, but it can also keep us from living life to the fullest.  It is definitely not easy looking into those scary shadowy parts of our psyches.  However, I for one, am glad I did.  And as I look out at my pastures and alpacas, waiting for my next cria to arrive any day now, I picture my dad whom I miss as much today as I did when I was eleven.  I can smell a whiff of the tobacco pipe he used to smoke and I know he would be proud of me and love my alpaca farm.

My family: (from left to right) Ilene, my dad Julian, Sally (back), Mom Katherine, Hannah and me sitting on mom's lap

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