A reverie of childhood:
I lie in the double bed where I suspect Grandma sleeps when I am not visiting. The nubby white bedspread is turned down and rests like a lightweight dog on my feet. I’ve read a chapter or two in my Judy Blume book and turned out the goose necked lamp. A soft breeze lifts the sheer curtain and mingles with traces of Grandma’s White Shoulders perfume. Boxes of the perfume reside in the top drawer of the bureau; yearly Valentine’s gifts from Grandpa. I’ve explored (snooped?) all hiding places in this guest room. It’s night two of my annual week-long stay with Grandma and Grandpa. All is quiet. Sleep wanders outside my reach but homesickness settles on my chest (right over my heart) like the penny-shaped paperweight I gave Dad for Father’s Day. Everything is different here. I have to get up tomorrow and do all the new and strange things again. I know Grandma and Grandpa will be waiting for me in the morning at the Formica-speckled table with the ridged edge. Between the two of them there will be a plastic cup of juice filled to the brim next to an avocado colored bowl. I’ll get to choose a tiny box of cereal from the assortment Grandma bought special for my visit. Grandma will take me shopping for outfits of my choosing and Grandpa will introduce me to menu items like walleye and tripe. I couldn’t ask for more loving hosts but still the joy of attention and adventure is mixed with an untethered longing for the familiar.
Joyfear, Bittersweet, Fearward
My solo visits to my grandparents’ house two and a half hours away from home were not huge risks but they were an act of courage for a ten year old. Without a familiar foundation I floated on my own breath and bravery.
Every single defining moment in my life has been filled with Joyfear, with a mixture of intense joy and intense fear into one ball of powerful emotions that both lift me up and make me see things clearly when I hadn’t before.
Leo Babauta, Joyfear, June 7, 2011
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits wrote a short essay about the experience he coined, Joyfear. The birth of each of his children and walking away from his day job are examples of circumstances containing this phenomenon. He recommends not shying away from the conflicting duo because joyfear resides in all endeavors resulting in self-growth.
I have a friend who says, Let love guide you, not fear. I still believe this is best practice but I am increasingly aware of the presence of fear in life-changing moments. Perhaps fear is there to cut through the headiness and bring reality front and center. Perhaps joy is there to help push through fear and touch your dreams.
Joyfear is akin to bittersweet. I know many mothers who found the first day of kindergarten for their little darlings to be bittersweet. I’m going to be honest, the scale tipped toward sweet at my house. I can see the joy in a peaceful house and independent Mommy AND I sort of understand the bitterness or longing for a child departing babyhood.
Another word in the same vein as joyfear and bittersweet is fearward. My friend, Roxanne, heard the term fearward at a conference for psychoanalysts or yogis or some group concerned with the human condition. Move toward what scares you and grow. An example sentence using fearward: I am terrified of criticism but my dream is to connect with the world through writing, so I must go fearward.
Personal Growth, Blossoming, Self-Evolution
Every action I have taken with butterflies in my stomach and possibilities in my heart has allowed me to expand in mind and soul. When I first began working out with a trainer I felt like I would throw up before each session (and sometimes after ;). I knew he was going to push me outside my comfort zone, push my limits and possibly go too far, but I survived and became stronger and healthier than ever. I faced fear and felt joy in the same activity. I wrote in What I Learned from a Guitar Guruabout my shaky fingers and overall nervousness about being observed while I play guitar, yet the music and learning awakens my spirit. In How Charlie Sheen Got Me Off the Fence, I discuss how writing made me feel exposed and vulnerable but also gutsy and at home.
I now see all those butterflies and qualms as signposts pointing to a better me.
Alive, Alive, Alive
Another benefit of situations that produce joy and fear is an increased feeling of being alive. Senses become acute. I could go on and on about the scent of the candles burning in the music school or the burning in my quadriceps as I do seated leg lifts. Every week when I hit the Publish button to put my post out into the world, my heart flip flops. Sensations surface from somewhere deeper than everyday. Life is heightened.
The visits to my grandparents’ house are some of the best memories of my life. If I ever need to visualize a happy place, there it is. I can see the 1970s kitchen and recall the candy and coloring book cupboard in the corner. I can smell the picnic ham in the kitchen and the Ivory soap in the bathroom.
When stress or worries settle on my chest and I can’t sleep I think about Grandma and Grandpa’s house and the joy of my budding independence and the fear of my budding independence. I remember I blossomed there.
Where could you find joyfear? Is there a dream calling you? Is there a place where you could increase your independence? Someone who gives you butterflies?
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