I had never heard of psychic brakes until I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In it, she talks about how we get a bit frightened when things begin to fall into place, move smoothly toward our chosen destination. It feels a bit out-of-control, so we apply the brakes to regain our own sense of being in control of our destinies. To slow down the process because we might make a mistake, mess up the whole ball of wax, screw it up somehow. And, of all imaginable horrors, possibly wreck the dream we have aimed ourselves at fulfilling. We also do that when we don’t believe we deserve to have that dream fulfilled, we aren’t adequate to the plan, can’t see ourselves actually standing triumphant in that place we have only harbored in our imaginations. What we do is sabotage ourselves, our dreams, our desires. We resist those things we want most to see happen, and we already know what resistance looks like (an underlined poor, fragile old woman).
Another definition for resistance is fear. Imagine, if you will, that you are driving along a curving country road, lined with huge oak trees. Its night, only your headlights to see where you are going, when suddenly you can no longer hear the swish of your tires against the pavement, all is silent. You are traveling on ice. You know that, you stiffen up every muscle, and the only desire you have is to slam on the brakes and stop the forward motion. You might start talking to yourself, telling yourself to relax, breathe, you do know what to do, you can pump the brakes gently to slow yourself down in increments, but the desire is strong to apply all those stiffened muscles to the task.
In this scenario, you know that if you slam on the brakes, you will more than likely put your vehicle and yourself into a deadly skid, sending yourself in an even more out of control trajectory, spinning helplessly, until something in your path (like one of those oak trees) stops the motion permanently. But even though we might know all of that in detail, the strongest urge is to slam on the brakes to gain control, to put a stop to the forward motion, but also to put a stop to that feeling of fear.
Gavin De Becker is the author of a very interesting book titled, The Gift of Fear. We don’t often think of fear as a gift, its an uncomfortable feeling, one that we’d rather not experience if we can avoid it. And we do avoid it. We do that by sticking with the familiar, the known of our world and experience. That is our comfort zone, the place that allows us to not experience those uncomfortable feelings like fear. Inside our comfort zone, we can move with some amount of ease because we know what to expect, and more importantly, we pretty much can be sure that what we encounter is something we can actually deal with, something that won’t challenge us to do, or be, what we are not, and don’t know how to do. That means we don’t have to worry about appearing inadequate, unknowing, silly, or foolish. We can relax, just be ourselves. But, what exactly is that?
Someone who doesn’t go anywhere, do much of anything, and certainly doesn’t challenge self to be anything more than a lump of inertia? A physical or mental couch potato? That is the danger of remaining too long within the confines of our well-established comfort zones. Inside of them, we can’t afford to grow or we risk no longer fitting right there in our comfortable little niche. And we also begin to fear anything that might move us outside of that niche. We become overtly limited, as well as limiting. Eventually, we not only stop growing, we literally stop living and begin to do no more than exist. Life becomes the same old, same old, mostly grey, because colors would call for a response and a response means an output of energy. What a deadly, life defying circle we create. All for the sake of feeling comfortable, all for the purpose of avoiding that uncomfortable feeling of fear.
What does any of this have to do with keeping a journal? Everything. Keeping a journal is picking up a pen, or sitting at a computer and making words. Making words is a difficult task because one must first think of the word one wants to write, and then follow it with another one, and so on and so on. And that is precisely what we are avoiding isn’t it, that challenge that will move us outside of our comfort zone? “Easy for you to say,” you think, “you are so full of words…” But, if you have been reading this blog, you know that even I can run away from the challenge.
Does that mean I fear making the words. No, I’m not afraid of the words, they are only random letters of the alphabet, put together in a certain order. Their order is what I fear, because I can hear them, understand what they are speaking of, and it is that which I fear. Remember, words have an uncanny magical power. That’s because they have both the ability of being spoken, but also of being heard. And they often change while in the air between those two different, but distinct, locations. Words can be changlings and they can transform both the speaker and the listener, even when those two individuals are the one and same person.
Just because I have some amount of ease with the making of words, doesn’t mean I don’t own and love my own comfort zone. I do, and am very territorial about said niche. But, I also want to grow, to continue to become the best human being it’s possible for me to be. I need the words, and have learned to live with the fear that making them entails. And because I do, I unwrapped that gift, and now know why I ran the other day, know exactly what prompted me to do so. Have asked myself the questions and found some surprising answers. Answers that allow me to not slam on the psychic brakes, put myself in a tail spin, and harm all those lovely old oak trees. What’s more, I did all of that while sitting right here in my only little niche, allowing my comfort zone to expand and accomadate this newer version of me.
Wow, Elizabeth. I needed to read this…I’m embarking on a new artistic endeavor of writing my own one-woman show to perform next summer. I have a combination of excitement and fear that is tempting me to push the psychic brakes. New territory is like driving on ice on an unwinding road though. There’s danger even if I don’t slam on my brakes–there’s the possibility of me falling off the edge of the cliff even if I pay as much attention as possible. Thanks for your lovely insights, though.
Well, I wrote about them because I could feel all those muscles stiffening up and the desire to slam down was far more exhausting than going with the flow. And, if we only look forward, not only do we want desperately to put on the brakes, we can become fetalized and never move at all. What we do today, becomes the lesson of tomorrow. I have my own new territory to explore, so I wish you the very best in your endeavor (knowing that you will do wonderfully well), asking that you pray for me, as I will for you.
Thank you 🙂
You know you are always welcome.
Thank you so much for sharing that. I agree wholeheartedly. I am a teacher so not only so I witness the tendency for self-sabotage in myself, I also see it in my students. I can also ask my loved ones to keep and eye on me and make sure I am not “tripping over my own feet”
The first night I stood up after being introduced as the Instructor, I opened my mouth and nothing came out. It was a room full of teachers accumulating credits to keep their certification. Brakes, brakes, brakes. I told myself, “You wanted this, worked hard for it, now speak or go home and watch television for the rest of your life.” It was a bumpy beginning to one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. when the six week course was done, my students petitioned the director of the program and we did another six weeks.
Have you ever read The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer. I recommend it highly.