Move Closer, Stay Longer

I recently read a book by Dr. Stephanie Burns called Move Closer, Stay Longer. According to her biography, Stephanie Burns has devoted her life to understanding the adult learning process and helping people reach their goals. In her book Move Closer, Stay Longer she writes on the subject of fear – specifically the fear of riding (are you sensing a theme here, lately?) – and how to overcome it. The first thing I appreciated about this book is that it breaks fear down into an understandable emotion. There are things I’m afraid to do with Asterion that I simply shouldn’t be doing right now. Riding near traffic, for instance. It would be the height of stupidity for me to jump on him tomorrow and ride down our very busy road, hoping for the best. In that sense, fear is doing its job: working to keep me from injury. I’m beginning to believe that fear itself is not a problem (it’s just a feeling, remember?) The problem comes in when we decide to camp out around fear and never take the steps necessary to overcome it, especially in regards to those things that are important to us. Which leads me to the second thing I appreciated about this book: Burns gives a systematic approach for how to overcome fear in a way that’s logical and simple to achieve (“simple,” but not necessarily easy.)

Have you ever heard of the “learning circle?” It looks like this:

The basic principle of the learning circle is that there are three learning zones and as we develop new skills things move from one zone to another. Things we already know how to do and don’t need to think about (simple addition, for instance) are located in the “comfort zone.” In the “learning zone” we’ll find the things we don’t yet know that stretch our capabilities but are possible with hard work and practice. The outer circle, the “panic zone,” is the area in which things move our capabilities past stretching and into panic. They’re the things that are not (yet) possible for us to learn. For the second grader, calculus is firmly in the “panic” zone but can move into the “learning zone” after just a few years of education. You could also apply this to exercise. Taking a walk might be in the comfort zone and going for a jog might enter the learning zone but running the Boston Marathon is situated firmly inside the “panic” zone. It’s just not possible. Yet.

Because the great thing about the learning circle is that the things we do can cross categories. The student learning multiplication eventually “gets it” and multiplication enters the comfort zone as they begin working on something new located in the learning zone, which before would have been firmly within the panic zone. The trick is taking the steps necessary (and figuring out what those are) to move things from one zone into another.

Dr. Burns says that fear works the same way. Rather than circles, she encourages people to make three lists: Things we can do without fear, things we can do with SOME fear, and things we can’t do because we’re too afraid (I prefer to think of these as things we “won’t” do because we’re too afraid.)  Then, we start working to move things from one column to another by moving closer to the things we’re afraid of, and staying there longer.  Allow me to explain:

In regards to riding, here’s what my list looked like:

Right away, I saw that there were things I could easily move from the “some fear” to “no fear” column with practice, like trotting and riding without a bridle. Maybe I can’t yet trot Asterion all over the field, but I can certainly trot him for a few seconds today and a few more tomorrow, each time moving to that point when fear screams “STOP!,”, and then staying with it for just a FEW more seconds.  The next day, the point of fear ought to move just a bit further away (ie. today perhaps I can only trot for five seconds before panic sets in, but if I push past that point by just a few seconds then tomorrow I’ll be able to trot for EIGHT seconds before panic sets in, and on and on.)  In that way, as I “move closer” to my goal, and “stay there longer,” the point of fear stretches until it simply no longer exists.

But what about the others? Many of the things on that list are there for a very good reason. For instance, Asterion gets very antsy and skittish when it’s raining or windy and the last time we tried crossing the creek he panicked and I ended up on the ground.  He also won’t allow me to touch his sheath (can you really blame him?) and given that he weighs a good 1,000 pounds more than I do, he wins.  So how do I move things from one column to another if the problem can’t be solved without the cooperation of a 1200 pound flight animal? Again, the principle of “move closer, stay longer” comes in. Can I clean Asterion’s sheath tomorrow? Absolutely not. But what I can do is start getting him used to being touched near there and continue this each day until he no longer shows irritation. At that point, I can move closer and repeat the process. It strikes me as interesting that the way I would help my horse overcome his fear is the same way Burns recommends teaching myself to overcome my fear:

Move closer to the thing I’m afraid of, and stay there longer.

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Posted in Anxiety, Fear, PERSONAL | 1 Comment

Do not worry about tomorrow…

A few months ago, I heard an interview with Jonathan Fields in which he said the following:

Fear is an anticipatory emotion. Once you’re in the moment and you have the ability to actually respond to what’s in front of you, fear becomes nearly impossible to sustain.”

This is such a simple yet profound statement. Fear is an anticipatory emotion. In other words, it’s virtually impossible to feel fear except in reference to what we think will or might happen at some future time.  The day I listened to this interview, I was sitting outside on a lovely fall evening and I found myself wondering: how many beautiful, otherwise wonderful days have I ruined by worrying about what might happen?  How often, rather than dealing with a problem the one time when it’s actually happening, have I made myself miserable for hours and days and even weeks beforehand, ruminating over a problem that’s yet to be?  How often have I spent my time miserably trying to figure out how to keep from feeling future pain, while inflicting actual pain on myself with thoughts of fear regarding the future?  Interestingly, my worry has yet to result in a problem-free existence and when the things I fear actually do come to pass they’re rarely as bad as what I anticipated them to be.  It seems there is a power that comes during a crisis that’s impossible to receive before a crisis because, as Fields mentioned, it’s only then that we have the ability to respond to what’s actually happening.  How much self-inflicted misery could I avoid, if I simply dealt with life as it is, rather than worrying about what it might be?

“Worry is a misuse of the imagination”
– Dan Zadra

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   Bad things happen and problems arise and it seems to me that dealing with the situation as it comes…  Considering that fear and worry doesn’t actually keep anything bad from happening, it seems to me it would be best to live fully each day and follow the advice of Jesus: allow tomorrow to take care of itself. 

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Feeling Fear

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A few days ago, a friend recommended a book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.  The book is essentially about overcoming the force which always seems to keep us from doing our work, living our dream or fulfilling our calling.  The author personifies this force, calling it “resistance,” and something about the idea of fighting a malevolent being working to keep me from living my life to its fullest potential really resonated with me.  Within the book were two quotes I especially loved:

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear, then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there’s no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist. What Henry Fonda does, after puking into the toilet in his dressing room, is to clean up and march out onstage. He’s still terrified but he forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

About two weeks ago, I had a nasty fall when I tried to cross my horse, Asterion, over a small creek of running water.  He was nervous but willing, and I think all would have been fine had we simply crossed over.  But just as we crossed and started up the other side, he stepped on a branch which broke and wrapped itself around his foot.  Understandably, this was just too much for him.  I don’t know exactly what happened after that, but I heard him scream and the next thing I knew I was in the air and then breathless on the ground.  It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life and since that day I haven’t had the confidence to ride him at anything faster than a walk, and even then I’ve spent the entirety of each ride in fear.  After reading The War of Art and realizing how important it was that I do the thing I was most scared of, I remembered something else I’d read in a book recently: “Fear is just a feeling.”

Just a feeling.

Like pain, fear is just something that exists in the universe, something I can learn to simply experience, rather than fight or avoid.  So today I made the decision to ride – and trot* – my horse.

When I put his bridle on, my hands were shaking.
When I picked his feet, my hands were shaking.
When I saddled him up, my hands were shaking.

I kept reminding myself to pay attention to my feelings.  I knew I couldn’t talk myself OUT of being afraid (I’d been trying!), but I could allow myself to simply experience being afraid.

Funny thing is, as soon as I got on him, the fear vanished completely.  It just didn’t exist anymore.  It was the very first time I’d experienced a fear-free ride since my fall.  We trotted around the field several times and at no point was I at all nervous or afraid.

It was wonderful.

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.”
– Steven Pressfield, the War of Art

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*It sounds silly, when I say it, that I’ve been so afraid to trot him.  But many years ago I was trotting a horse who decided she wanted to go faster and broke into a full gallop across a field and I wasn’t able to stop her.  I didn’t fall, but since then I’ve always had that lingering fear when riding in an open area.  I had trotted and cantered Asterion several times in the past, but the fall had shaken any scrap of confidence I’d gained.  Until now.

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Kaitlin

It’s hard to believe this beautiful girl will be graduating this year and then off to college and the beginning of a new adventure!  I always love photographing seniors, and Kaitlin is especially wonderful to work with.  Her sweet spirit and love for her family shows through in everything she does and it’s always a blessing to see.  Thank you, Kaitlin, for choosing me as your senior photographer!  I’m glad we were able to get some special photographs in a unique location!

Posted in - PHOTOGRAPHY -, Portfolio, Teens/Seniors | Leave a comment

The Minotaur

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Several weeks ago, I had a dream in which a man in shadows forced his hand over my mouth, slammed shut the door through which I was trying to exit and shouted in a booming, terrifying voice: “You’re WRONG!” I woke up screaming, shaking and on the verge of tears. Then I heard, almost audibly: “It’s because of the books you’re reading.”

That night, before I’d fallen asleep, I’d been reading a book by Sue Monk Kid called The Dance of the Dissonant Daughter. In the book, she talks about the story of the labyrinth and has this to say about the Minotaur at the center of the labyrinth:

“In the female psyche the Minotaur represents negative, uncivilized, masculine power… The Minotaur is the bullish, bullying, bulldozing force of patriarchy internalized in the cellar of a woman’s psyche. It is a presence that works invisibly, hampering, limiting, driving, even destroying a woman’s inner and outer life. Sylvia Plath’s diary describes graphic battles with the Minotaur whom she described as an ‘inner voice,’ a ‘demon of negation.’ He would seize her, saying, ‘Oh, you can’t teach, can’t do anything. Can’t write. Can’t think.’ He robbed her of confidence, froze her into a ‘quivering jelly,’ pressured her to run away from tasks where she would be fallible and flawed.”

Not too hard to interpret the meaning of that particular dream!  I love how Plath describes how she mobilized herself to battle the Minotaur, the inner critic:

“I cannot ignore this murderous self: it is there. I smell it and feel it… When it says: you shall not sleep, you cannot teach, I shall go on anyway, knocking its nose in. Its biggest weapon is and has been the image of myself as a perfect success: in writing, teaching and living…. My demon of negation will tempt me day by day, and I’ll fight it, as something other than my essential self, which I am fighting to save.”

Anne Lamott says that all we really have to offer the world are our stories, our visions, our memories, our songs, and our truths.  She says that sharing ourselves – our true selves – with each other is the reason we were born.

“When the story of earth is told, all that will be remembered is the truth we exchanged. The vulnerable moments. The terrifying risk of love and the care we took to cultivate it. And all the rest, the distracting noises of insecurity and the flattery and the flashbulbs will flicker out like a turned-off television.”

– Don Miller, Scary Close

 

Posted in Criticism, Friendship, Perfectionism, PERSONAL, Victory Journal | 1 Comment

Watson Family

Before I posted these pictures, I took a little trip down memory lane and was so shocked to realize that the first time I photographed this family together was FIVE years ago!  So much has happened since then… back then the baby was just a few months old and the oldest was on the cusp of starting high school.  Now the baby has two younger siblings of her own and the oldest is about to graduate!  And remember Christian, who was the best 7 year old I’ve ever photographed?  He’s now quite the football star!  Several years ago, a few life changes made it necessary for me to take fewer photography sessions each month, but it’s families like these who ensure I’ll never close my doors completely.  Thank you, Watson family, for making my work so special, and allowing me to see your wonderful children growing into amazing adults!

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Responding to “false doctrine”

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Recently, one of my favorite Christian authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, announced that she had divorced her husband of 14 years and is now in a relationship with a woman. This, just a few months after another of my favorite authors made a similar confession after 10 years of marriage, and a few weeks after a prominent and respected Christian couple publicly affirmed their support of gay marriage. My feelings about this have been mixed and Glennon’s news, in particular, hit me hard. Much harder than I would have expected it to and I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out why I feel so devastated by the choices and beliefs of those I don’t know personally but have looked up to so sincerely.

It’s not because I’m afraid to change my own beliefs. I’ve spent all my life as a Christian re-evaluating my beliefs on everything from the clothing I wear to the observance of Old Testament commandments. Much of my Christian faith has been built on the pursuit of correct doctrine and I’m not afraid to go against the grain of the mainstream church. It’s also not because I’m afraid of being proven wrong. I don’t think I’m a terribly prideful person… or, at least, my particular struggles with pride don’t usually include a resistance to admitting that I’m wrong (my husband would beg to differ.)

No, I think the problem for me is that I believe they are wrong*, these beautiful, witty, wonderful women who have ministered so strongly to me recently. And the question I ultimately found myself struggling with was: What now?  What am I supposed to do as the church moves, ever more rapidly, to embrace a doctrine I feel is incorrect?  How am I supposed to respond when those I love, respect and admire, are teaching these things?  And why is this particular issue such a divisive one?  As I look into the heart of my reaction to Glennon’s news, it seems that there are two things that have made this issue, and those like it, unreasonably difficult for me.

First, I think it’s because I’ve seen it as my job as a Christian to fight the “culture wars.” I feel an urgency to determine the “right” stance on issues such as abortion and gay marriage so that I can vote and champion laws correctly and change the opinions of others.  But I’m beginning to understand that it’s not my job to convince anyone of what’s “right.”  Certainly, I believe we’re called to share our views, correct and encourage one another, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t support worthy causes, but when I look at the life of Jesus I can’t help but notice that He didn’t spend a lot of time debating theology or proposing new laws.  Instead, Jesus sought out those who were mistreated, oppressed, persecuted, condemned and forgotten, loving and serving “the least of these” everywhere He went.  In many cases, the very reason those around Him were hurting and broken was due to the work of the religious leaders of the time and He had some revolutionary things to say about that.  Things like: “woe to you” and “how dare you” and “you hypocrite.”  True change on the heart-level is the work of the Holy Spirit and the rest of us do the job badly.

Second, I’ve been taught since my baby-Christian years that I must do all I can to protect myself from “ungodly” influence. My Christian life, until relatively recently, has been built on the premise that I must avoid anything “secular,” “pagan” or “new age,” lest these things influence me in “ungodly” ways (Google “Should Christians do Yoga” for some interesting views on this subject.) I’ve needed to be sure of everyone’s stance on “important” issues so that I could identify the “false teachers”and keep away from those who don’t believe “correctly.”  All this in an attempt to avoid what may be the very deepest of all christian-culture fears: being deceived. American Christianity has turned the act of following Jesus into the work of believing, saying and doing all the right things. In this view, “incorrect doctrine,” and those who teach it, must be avoided at all costs. In the 15 years I’ve been a Christian, I think I’ve been taught more on the subject of “avoid false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1-3) than “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31.)

Well, I won’t do it anymore. I refuse to oppress others in an attempt to make them believe as I do, and I refuse to live in fear. I’ve survived false teachers before and I’ll survive them again, not because I’m smart enough to recognize deception, but because the Holy Spirit is my redeemer, my teacher, my guardian and my friend.  How am I supposed to respond to those who believe differently?  With love.  Unconditional, unrestricted, unlimited, unmistakable love.  Sometimes love calls for correction, “fighting the good fight” and even intolerance, such as Jesus with the Pharisees.  At other times, it begs us to sit and simply hold the hands of our neighbors.

Jesus’s final prayer on earth was not that His followers live sinlessly, or that their doctrine be theologically sound.  He prayed that we would be united as one (John 17:20-23.)  I think unity begins when we stop being afraid so that we can begin the work of loving each other as God loves us.

“I think that prejudice and dislike are usually misunderstandings based upon ignorance of each other’s hearts. I really think that to truly know someone — to truly truly know someone — is to love her. Fear can’t survive proximity. Hate can’t survive a real conversation between two vulnerable, humble, honest human beings.”
– Glennon Doyle Melton

 

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*It’s important to note here that I have not delved into the subject of homosexuality the way that many others have. So I recognize that these authors may not be wrong about this issue. The point here is that my struggle was regarding how to proceed if they are wrong – about anything.  I could have written this about any issue American Christianity deems “important.”

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