Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On the Other Side of Fear

Not too many nights ago, I was weaving my way through a winding, cliff-lined piece of Highway 1, awed by a shaft of moonlight shimmering on the placid face of the Pacific. I was contemplating the wisdom—or lack thereof—of my recent big move to California, when out of nowhere appeared —a deer! There it stood, smack dab in the middle of the road, jolting me out of my circuitous thinking and into a quick stop. Graciously, it left me plenty of room to hit the brakes.

While the deer did not hit my car, it did impact my consciousness. I felt like it was a bit of a cosmic whack on the head, the Universe asking me to sit up and take notice. It was not the first time I had been spooked by a deer since I moved to this neck of the Redwoods. Several nights prior, I was frightened by a deer rustling in the bushes near my house, an admittedly far less intimidating experience, but for someone who takes clues from the Universe, noteworthy, especially when taken in the context of the more recent roadside encounter. I intuitively felt that both events were signs. But of what? To find out, I worked with the deer as I would dream images, and contemplated the feeling that they triggered—fear—as well as the symbolism attributed to them. For the latter, I consulted Jamie Sams’s Medicine Cards, a divination system that draws on Native American ideas about the spiritual teachings of various animals.

According to Sams, deer offer a special lesson on how to handle the very feeling they had recently provoked in me—fear. Deer teach that it is a form of self-love to fully feel your fear. The key is not to hold on to it, but to feel it and (here’s the important part) gently let it all go. You create more chaos by fighting your anxiety, deer say. If you repress your fear or try to just make it go away by force of will, you may find it scrambling for your attention — as I did, on a dark, cliff-lined road. But if you approach it with gentleness, and get it out of your system, it will cause you considerably less trouble.

It was just the right time for me to recall this lesson. I was pushing through two major life changes: the loss of my longtime job and the subsequent move to another state. I needed to remember it was ok to be afraid.

Not yielding to the freak out rustling on the edges of my consciousness was actually preventing me from accessing the energy to create what I needed, such as a sense of stability. Like a deer caught in headlights, I was frozen—by my own resistance to myself. Sitting on the edge of the continent with no certain plans for the future deserved at least a robust “Oh my God!” So I let myself have a good, old-fashioned meltdown. And when I was done, I felt calmer, more confident, and creative. I even wrote this blog post.

My deer-friends made me stop and remember what all the wise ones know: Terror tenderly held eventually transforms into courage.

The next time you find yourself repeatedly running into a certain animal or person, ask yourself “Why is this happening?” It’s a simple question, but the answer to it may carry the power to transform you.


  1. Love this...I'm glad you're holding yourself with tenderness.

  2. Melissa,

    This was a good reminder of how to work with fear. I'll use it the next time I board a plane headed across the Rockies (the turbulance is awesome!).

    I'm also reminded of my middle daughter who at 8yrs old in a meadow in the Northern Trinities in Ca. sat down and quietly waited. After about 20minutes three deer approached. With careful, hesitating steps they came nearer and she just sat. Soon they were bending down and nuzzling her hair. One seemed to kneel upon a forleg almost as a gesture of reverence.

    Later that day I asked her where she'd learned that trick "from an Indian man on the Island." She was speaking of a ceremony we had attended on Whidbey in Washington state the year before.

    "Were you afraid?" I asked. "Not as much as they were until they knew I was one of them." Deer can teach us a lot. Thanks for your blog.

  3. Dream Dragon That is a beautiful story! Wow! Thanks so much for sharing it. Consider posting it on my Facebook page, also called The Night Is Jung. It's worthy of sharing. Your daughter sounds like a very special little girl indeed.

    1. Yes she is, but not so little now. She followed her dreams and is now a Pediatrician working to bring healing where she can.