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Scared? Before you do anything, ask yourself a question

July 11, 2016

The question is:  who do you want to be?

I woke up to a world that seems to have lost its mind.  Humans hurting humans.  Weather that makes no sense because it’s unprecedented in our short, recorded history.  And in the United States a political campaign that’s turned into a made for TV reality show.

This is my umpteenth rewrite this morning.  I feel lame writing about any of it, because nothing about what’s going on is simple.  And it’s heartbreaking.  But I kept writing because i remembered I don’t have to save the world.  I just have to make enough sense out of it so that I can manage myself without adding to the chaos, and maybe share a little of what I’m learning with you.

When I’m confronted with things that scare or sadden me, I feel a compulsion to do something—anything—even if it’s wrong, just to feel better.  If I go with that compulsion I’ve got lots of choices:  shove a chocolate donut in my mouth; slide down an endless internet black hole for a few hours; remember a grudge and work it for a while; or start waxing poetic about what’s wrong with the world and why everybody who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot.

This morning I wanted an alternative to behaviors that have never, ever satisfied me for longer than the time I engaged in them.  So I asked myself a question.  Who do I want to be?  How do I want to show up when life hands me stuff that I’m afraid I can’t handle?

Do I want to fall back on automatic pilot, that place where I don’t actually feel anything, I just numbly do what I’ve always done?  And then feel worse?

On automatic pilot my mind creates awful and catastrophic thoughts even though I’m sitting in my comfy chair with a full belly and a cup of coffee.  The thoughts trigger my body to pump out survival chemicals to help me escape from the scenario I’ve created in my mind.  It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense, because I’d have to leave the planet to get far enough away to remain untouched and unfeeling–they just keep on pumping.  So I keep on reacting, like a puppet.

The situation that creates the fear doesn’t really matter.  There will always be something we’re afraid of, wanting to run away from, or avoid.  We may not even be aware that we’re responding from a place of fear.  There’s simply too much going on not be unsettled at times, even when we can’t quite put our finger on what’s bothering us and making us feel not quite right.

What matters is to not react out of that initial fear and resistance, and to wait for the space that makes room for the question.

The moment I asked who do I want to be I felt a lessening of the fear in the pit of my stomach.  That question has power and substance and a strength that draws me up into the fullness of who I am.

This morning when the space opened up and I asked the question, almost immediately one of my all-time favorite books came to mind, ‘Making Peace in Times of War’ by Pema Chodron.    Check it out the next time you’re afraid.  Or maybe better, before you’re afraid.  It’s a small, short book.  It’s one of a handful of books that I’ve re-read many times.

The gist of the book is that my attitude will determine the degree of suffering, if any, that I will experience in this moment.  And that my perspective will determine the degree of effectiveness that I will bring to a situation.

I get daily email reminders of what’s right with the world … stories about people like you and me who have risen into the fullness of who they are, in spite of living in a world that’s struggling to find its way.  Their stories change me, enlarge me.

So today when (not if) I’m assaulted with more than I think I can handle I will stay connected to all the goodness and loving kindness that surrounds me when I remember to take my attention off of what’s wrong for a moment, and notice what’s right.  I will pause and wait for the space that makes room for the question, who do I want to be?

If I can’t save the world, I can manage myself.  And If I do that, at least I won’t be adding to the fear, divisiveness and heartbreaking chaos of which the world already has an abundance.

Try it – what have you got to lose other than a few pounds?  Who do you want to be?

Much love,


  1. Jenny Mckeown says:

    This seedlings hit home for me. I just moved from a home I spent 30 years with a beautiful person. Fear doesn’t come close to how I felt. Tho going through the move i started to think”wow” this isn’t so bad. In fact my new home is sweet and has my personal touches in it which bring me comfort. So I am becoming a new me. A brave and confident person.

    • Robyn says:

      Ahhhh Jenny, that’s so wonderful to hear. What a trip, right? I don’t know if brave and confident is a new you … I would have used those terms all along … sometimes they just need to come right to the forefront and lead but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there all along. You just don’t need to pull them out all the time.:)

  2. Jason says:

    Attitude and persepctive…. Right on! Love that part. Got excited when reading and asking myself..who do I want to be! Very grounding for me to say this.

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