Blog – Fear Factor – The Fear in My Life

The Fear Factor

Dancers look fearless but that does not mean we do not have fear. We fear not being good enough. We know our own limitations better than anyone and we long for moments when we can hit a high that is so powerful that we (for a brief moment) become more than this body knows how to express.

Fear is a feeling that anyone faces when we stretch beyond the familiar.

I felt fear constantly as a child and part of that was because of my own mother’s inability to cope with any forms of change.

She had her issues on many levels and I also believe that being inside her body and feeling all her constant fear of the unknown imprinted onto me as a fetus and became a primary lesson that I came in … to overcome.

It helped that I was a very energetic and excitable child. And a bouncy, positive, bubbly Leo.

The spark of life inside me was exuberant and I was in a state of constant wonder.

But then there was this other side. The part that could feel my mother’s worry and concern and had a hard time shaking the impregnated patterns of anxiety that she constantly lived with and that spewed out of her body and impacted everyone in our family on a daily basis.

She was unconscious of this behavior, and I realized early on that she did not have much control over her anxiety that was constantly looking for release from her body and would manifest as fears about things in the external world, in our home, and worries about doing things right and trying to appear to be perfect.

She and my father were both perfectionists in their own way and I remember an iridologist in Idaho saying to me in my mid-twenties, “Oh, I am so sorry, but you have perfectionism in both of your eyes.”
Meaning that I had two perfectionistic parents. That is a hard household to be raised in. The goals that they set for us were designed to be unattainable and it would at times feel like we were set up to fail.

And she was right! That was how it felt.
But it did not feel intentionally cruel. It felt as if our personal goals should be to reach beyond what we believe we were capable of. And strive to be always better than we were before.

While my sister hated this seemingly unfair and unrealistic set of standards, I seemed to be determined to continue to try.
Just as a side note, my sister is a highly accomplished Pediatrician and is fastidious and extremely meticulous in all ways even though she did not like the pressure.

I remember an angel saying to me when I was in parochial school, “Your issue in this life will be to understand, learn, and integrate the lessons of fear. Your fear is so strong that if we can get you to unravel the dysfunction of toxic fear … then we can get anyone through it.”
So many people look at me and say, “Suzanne, you don’t ever seem to be afraid of anything!”

But appearances can be deceiving!

I learned early on, that everything I wanted was on the other side of all my fears.

From a small child, I watched my mother be afraid of anything that was new or unfamiliar. Change was a nightmare for her to confront or encounter.
Her fear of change was so profound that she would make everyone in the household miserable from what she would be going through it.

She would be afraid of camping. She would incessantly complain that she was not going to do it. While she put everything together in a very organized and logical way.

A week before she would insist that she was not going! Cry, melt down, have a version of a temper-tantrum (that let me know that we were dealing with one of her wounded child parts.
But then she would go on the trip. But she was miserable the whole drive, and angry that my father made her go.
Only to get the campsite set up, and then she would become happy and in bliss to be there. She loved the flowers, the majesty of the mountains, and being in nature.
But her first answer to all things was, “No!”

Once she experienced something, the fear would begin to dissipate. But her fears would never cease to plague her throughout her life. They were like a constant itch in her brain that caused turmoil and enormous amounts of suffering.
Every year camping was the same pattern, the same statements, the same drama, and the eventual same outcome.

That taught me a lot about fear.

It became clear to me at a young age that fear was not really real!

It lived and fed off the uncertainty of the mind. The chaos of new experiences. And the unknown that lurked in some shadowy place that eternally had to exist.
Learning to face fear would be the single, most important thing that I could ever learn in this life.
As a child, I had to learn how to separate her fears from my own personal fears.

Quickly I recognized that I had enough of my own without carrying the burden of hers as well.

When one lives in a household that is strained with constantly underlying fear, it is exhausting.

Her emotional states could be so strong at times that they would undermine the ability of others in the house to express their own emotions.

By the time I was six years old, I recognized that if I needed to share and express my feelings, within a minute, she would turn the conversation off of my feelings and onto hers.
It was as if me needing to express emotionally was an open invitation for her to unload her own.

I have to say here that my mother did this in a very unconscious way. She was not being mean about it. It was just that she lived in such a constant state of tension … that any excuse to release was grabbed.

This drove my sister crazy.

And it was extremely trying at times.
Because of this intense training, when anyone goes into drama, I step back and just watch. I let them have their reality knowing full well that it is not real. But waiting for the moment that perhaps they could see past their own patterns and self-imposed loops.  

That was when I realized that I needed an escape from this pressure cooker of my mother’s reactive, fear-based emotionality.
I needed a place to be me. I needed a place to feel all that I felt without being interrupted, negated, compared too, or minimized.
After all, to her, her emotions and trauma were always more important than anyone else’s.

What I understood quickly was that she was right.
Her state of agitation was beyond anything that I thought I could live with.
So, my own emotions did feel … less than. But I did also recognize that I needed to find a healthy and safe way to express them … regardless.
My father was gone a lot at this time. He was designing the Laser Guided Missiles and had a lot of big and important things to deal with.
Now, I did not know that at the time because he could not share what was going on and so kept everything inside.
He appeared as controlled, mature, and in command of his senses.

I decided to model myself in more of his fashion. But that clearly did not work as I had so many deep, artistic, sensibilities. It became clear that holding it all in … made me feel as if I was going to die … or explode.

This is where ballet was the savior in my life.
Ballet was both … control and expression.
It was the best of both my parents without the worst of either.

Ballet teaches self-discipline, self-awareness, emotional expression, and allows for an artistic temperament.

It was a place where meticulous attention to the movements of the body were paramount but the ability to also express emotions in a way that could reach the back of the theater were also allowed.
Ballet was my therapist. She was a tough task master but one that spoke the language that I intrinsically understood.
In a ballet studio I felt at home. These were my people. Dancers are my tribe. It matters not what form they express, ballet, modern, hip-hop, etc. Dancers understand other dancers on a deep soul level.
And we also understand musicians because without them we are dancing in the empty spaces of our mind. But the inspiration of music shapes our movements, makes us leap into the void, and allows us to spin in the wonder and magic that is life.

Dancers are a crazy bunch. But devoted to an art that each of us understands and have a passion for.
While the games of competition are strong in such a demanding field. They are mostly within the individual.
We strive to be better. We look for a way to improve. We live for those moments of pure abandon in front of an audience when we can bare our deepest self across the stage … past the protective emptiness of the orchestra pit and into the hearts of those watching.

When we suffered in a performance, the audience suffered with us. That audience is riveted to what we are doing. They are not distracted or trying to tell us their personal issues.
We are taking them on a ride into the story of the ballet, the characters wins and losses, and the magic that can happen when we allow our skill and talent to transcend the body, move (without fear) through our emotions, to become something … divine. Something timeless and eternal. Something that is more than who we are in that moment.
We learn how to surrender into the music, the moment, the connection with others, and together we fly.

Dancers are the breath that is essential and allows us to want to be on this earth.

Dancers are a profound silence, that is so loud that it becomes one with the eternal heartbeat of life itself.
Dancers are the song of longing and loss, love and power.

Dancers are the grace and movement of the soul when it is honed and sharpened into a tool for transcendence.
Dancers never stop dancing…..

Dancers cannot help but seek magic because they know it lurks in hidden places that only the devoted will find.
We notice beauty in many forms.

We see with eyes that read subtlety and the flow of movement within a person.

We listen with an open heart and do not understand those that keep their most precious selves so protected that they never get to breathe.
All dancers will attempt to find other forms of dance.

Some will go into sports, yoga, meditation, painting, sculpture, medicine, and they will do it with the same profound focus and attention to detail that they did dance.

And it is never quite the same. It is never quite as powerful as dancing in front of a riveted audience.

There is something about knowing that one has captivated an audience. From the stage we know that we are all breathing as one. We are all together in this most human of conditions. We are not separate because we know that in that moment we all feel the same feelings, we all beat with one heart. And we will understand that together we can make a better world.

For a brief moment, all the chaos of the modern world falls away and we can see that from open and vulnerable hearts, extreme attention to personal care, and tremendous self-discipline, that all of the vagrancies of life could become unnecessary.
We need a world with such artists to remind us of the mystery that is within the human condition. We need to witness, see, and feel the freedom that flies across a stage to give us hope to try again.

We need artists that inspire us to become more of our hidden potential.

And that is how we will learn how to move beyond fear and into the truth that already is asking … to dance.

~Suzanne Wagner~

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