“What is love?”
“Love is the total absence of fear,” said the Master.
“What is it we fear?”
“Love,” said the Master.
(Anthony de Mello)
Earlier this month, the Centre for Narrative Leadership held a summer gathering entitled Love and Fear at Hawkwood College, Stroud. 24 of us spent two days exploring how these phenomena manifest in our lives and work as storytellers.
The idea for the event came from a conversation with my partner Chris Seeley who had previously met and worked with professional mediator, Michael Jacobs whose MA dissertation had looked at some of the ways that we are entrapped by the stories we tell ourselves.
The more I thought about the theme in the run up to the event, the more I realised that love and fear are inseparable: a polarity of opposites. Fear contracts and diminishes our capacity to love (ourselves, other people, and the planet) whilst love is what it takes to dissolve fear.
On the first day of the gathering, Chris and Michael facilitated a session in which we discussed our personal relationship to the theme. Small groups were then asked to make some kind of image to represent their individual and collective understanding of love and fear – not as abstract entities but as concrete declarations of who and what they loved and of the fears that sometimes got in the way of manifesting or enacting their love. Here are a few examples from the image we made:
Joy – I don’t deserve this/ it won’t last
Brilliance – know your place
Art – I am too small to have a voice
Body – self-loathing/ it hurts
Friends – why would anyone like me?
Dancing – everyone will look at me and think I’m stupid
Stories – no-one will want to listen
Singing/music – I’m tone deaf
It was a simple (though not easy) exercise but it evoked a significant insight for me: whilst much of what we loved was shared and some of what we loved was almost universal, the fears we identified were quite particular. Behind every fear lay a story: a fragment of our personal history; an experience of being shamed that had somehow diminished our capacity for living and loving.
Holding on to such stories stops us living in the present moment: the embodied memories I have of being shamed as a child (for example, as I wrote about in the previous post, of being told that I was tone deaf) relinquish their grip when I begin to see them as stories from the past. The choice is stark: either we have our stories or they have us.
As Robert Sardello says in his excellent book Freeing the Soul from Fear, our task is not to abolish fear but to find the inner resources to face our fears. If we can do that then we can also develop our ability to distinguish between fantastical fears and genuine threats (such as climate change) about which we should indeed be concerned.
These few words have just scratched the surface of love and fear. I shall continue inquiring into the relationship between these two existential states in future posts. If you would like to contribute your views and ideas to the inquiry as it develops then please comment below.