I played basketball through college. As one of the tallest people on the court, I usually played Center. My job on offense, essentially, was to set picks, shoot lay-ups, and rebound.
Or, as my coach sometimes put it: "Get back in the paint, Novacek!"
I'd occasionally get bored with the limited confines of my role, or feel desperate when we were losing, so I'd step outside of my "area" and take a jump shot.
This generally resulted in one of two outcomes:
a. I'd miss the shot and get yelled at. Maybe even subbed out. It would be deemed a horrible shot.
b. I'd make the shot. In which case, it would be deemed a good shot.
I've been thinking a lot lately about overcoming fears. The truth is, we likely all have a self-imposed "paint" in our minds. The areas where we feel safe and comfortable operating, the familiar routines and thought patterns we return to again and again. We probably even have people in our lives who are (explicitly or implicitly) telling us to stay there.
But we never expand our games—i.e. grow—if we don't step outside of the "known" areas and act.
We've all heard we need to "overcome our fears" but I think the concept is often packaged in a sterilized, commercialized way and the packaging can strip the idea of its inherently profound meaning.
It's easy to visualize a contestant on The Bachelor saying, "I've been terrified of heights forever, but I went on a private helicopter tour of Aruba with Anton, and finally overcame my fear. Now we're in love."
We can all roll our eyes at that—but the thing is, these variations of "sterilized" overcoming-fears examples are everywhere.
I mean, I just made one. (This is getting strangely meta but I'm going to go with it.) I just claimed taking the occasional three-pointer in college was a wild risk.
The truth is: at the time, it actually was! And yet, we all know that people who are truly good at basketball, the masters of the sport, the professionals, would not call a three-point shot a risk. They'd never label shooting a three as "overcoming fear." They would call shooting a three pointer: playing basketball.
So the question becomes: do you want to be a master at the game of life or do you want to be the equivalent of a so-so Center on an average team in the Patriot League with a decent hook shot but a terrible free throw percentage? (:
I'd wager Rumi would object to labeling the metaphorical occasional outside-of-your-range jumper as "growth." Rumi would likely say: burn your fear-based comfort zone to the ground. Devastate your expectations.
His poetry advocates for total destruction of mental limits and routines. Of breaking out of your self-made prison with an ax. Of falling, hard. Of escape. Of—even—dying before you die. And, to him, this is not just recommended, it's necessary in order to live a life of love.
Consider this Rumi poem in full:
The way of love is not
a subtle argument.
The door there
Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn that?
They fall, and falling,
they're given wings.
My favorite part of this poem is everything. :) I like how he equates love and freedom, a comparison we don't see often in our possession-obsessed "put a ring on it" culture. I like how he points to animals—consistent teachers on the path to becoming more connected to the universe.
And, my favorite line: The door there is devastation. I spoke of the importance of unlearning a few letters back, referencing Yoda's quote, "You must unlearn what you have learned." And I still believe unlearning—essentially, breaking free from the lies you've been fed your whole life— is an integral step to freedom, yet, maybe "unlearning" is too academic a word for the experience.
"Unlearn" can summon, perhaps, the image of erasing a chalkboard. In my personal experience, Rumi's word choice is more apt for this process:devastation of the old way of thinking. So much so that you can't fathom going back; you can't return to your house of fears if you've burned it down.
It's not merely a step outside of fear, it's changing your entire perception of how you view the world—seeing your life through a new lens. A love-based lens rather than a fear-based lens. In Byron Katie's book Loving What Is she writes:
"You're either believing your thoughts or questioning them. There's no other choice."
Rumi's poetry often gets at the power of questioning—and destroying—tangled, fear-based thoughts, and then, even, transcending thought and acting not on thinking but on feeling.
Do birds go to class where they learn the intricate aerodynamics of flight? Of course not. They fall, and falling, they're given wings.
This next quote comes from the beginning of a Rumi poem called Quietness:
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an ax to the prison wall.
I (briefly) referenced the concept of "the other side" last week, referring to the other side of pain. I believe in the possibility of a joyful, love-filled, and peaceful life, and I believe the way there almost always requires utter devastation of old world views. Dying before you die. Rising from the ashes.
Not only 13th-century poets believe this. Price Pritchett, business advisor and author, puts it like this:
"The real limits won't box you in, but the false ones you're carrying around in your mind are a self-imposed prison. So how do you break out of jail? Through surrender. You have to forfeit some of your old beliefs and sacrifice some of those 'sensible thinking patterns.'"
And writer James Baldwin says:
"Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety."
Take an ax to the prison wall.
The good news is after you burn down your old house (likely built on the shaky foundation of fear anyway), you can rebuild it exactly as you desire. A house on rock, not a house on sand.
At that point, you're on the other side of the game. So if anyone ever yelled at you: "Get back in the paint!" You could look at them and say, "What paint?"
with Love and with Light,
p.s. I recommend Loving What Is especially if you're trying to heal (or strengthen) relationships. It provides awesome tools for letting go of expectations, and asks you to actively participate in your own healing. Byron Katie calls it "The Work" which is basically a framework for intense personal inquiry. She says, "Love is so big that you can die in it—die of self and be fully consumed in it. It's what you are, and it will have all of you back to itself again." She also bluntly calls out a lot of people for clinging to damaging thought patterns (the book contains interviews with people upset by various things). In her opinion, suffering is optional. (Note: as with all books, take what resonates and leave the rest.)
p.p.s. You can read the full Quietness poem here.