7 Keys to Courageous Self-Expression | HUMILITY (Part 1 of 3)

Humility is the second key of courageous self-expression. It requires courage to turn unflinchingly toward the honest anxiety at the center of our lives. In this episode, Candice shares her first memory as a child and how being raised in a protestant/atheist home shaped her emotional landscapes and world view. She offers a peek into her two decade struggle with a panic disorder and how, to her eventual and bittersweet relief, it forced her to befriend her fear and forge an alliance with anxiety. Humility, as an expressive force, isn't about meekness or needs subjugation. On the contrary, it is the ability to show up fully - to lean into life as it is and embrace the dark directives that shake us to wake us. Just as we do when we are 'in love,' we can find a sacred power in our perpetual dance with fear. But first, we must be willing to turn and face the vulnerability at the center of our lives.

2:04 - First Memory (story)
6:03 - The waking dream that is this life
7:53 - Defining the 2nd key
8:29 - The Ant Farm (story)
15:04 - Yugen & the Mystery of life
17:12 - Normalizing fear
25:36 - Imagining life post-Covid

#4 | For The Love of Fear

Hello, hello. Welcome back to The Deeper Pulse with Candice Schutter. In today's episode, we will continue to explore the keys of courageous self-expression.

In the next two episodes, we tap into the second key; and the grace and grit that comes from embracing the fullness of our humanity. Now let's dig in.

I've been working on a memoir for quite a few years now. I literally have hundreds of pages chronicling my 40-plus years of life. Most of them will never see the light of day. And that's okay. Because no matter what, capturing the most vulnerable moments of my life... it has changed me.

We learn who we are by understanding who we once were. And we come to understand what gives our life meaning through grief and loss. This is the beautiful-ugly paradox of our humanity; that we are continually straddling two truths - the inevitable power we have to affect the world around us and the inescapable fact of our own mortality.

In the last two episodes, I invited us to become the stewards of our own stories. When we do so, when we grow and mature emotionally and spiritually, we come face to face with a paradox. We come to understand that we are both more and less than we ever thought possible.

Humility is the second doorway we must walk through; and it will ask a lot of us. This key, this doorway, it requires the most courage. Because through humility we learn that the things that most terrify us contained within them the greatest power to set us free.

It's my first memory. It's nighttime. I'm walking down a dark hallway, and my feet sink into brown shag carpet. When I reached the door to my mother's room, I have to push myself up onto tip toes to reach the door knob. I managed to turn it. And then I push with my whole body against the door until it opens.

The first thing I see is Him. Long hair, full beard, shrouded in a sea of white. It's Jesus. He's hovering above my mother. His back glistens in the moonlight, and he arches his head high above the sheet that covers him at his waist. I can't see her, but I know my mother is there; helpless under the weight of his choosing.

I hear her moan as he arches his halo upward. I am dumbstruck by the beauty and terror of it all. A drum begins to beat in my ears. My tongue suddenly tastes foul. I open my mouth to speak, but there are no words.

Perhaps it is no accident that this is my earliest recollection. A rare childhood memory that is all my own, untouched by the influence of photos and parental corroboration. I imagine I must've been less than three years old when I discovered my mother and her lover in bed. And I did what we all do. I made sense of the moment the only way I knew how; through the stories I knew best and through my body and its sense-making noise.

In many ways, we are all toddlers fumbling toward doorways behind which we find things we can not comprehend. Carnal delights shrouded in holy darkness. We watch in awe and helplessness as our heroes cry out for mercy. Saviors inflicting delicious pain without reason. Suffocating our fear with their blinding presence.

All around us, pleasure effervesces like a flashbulb in ubiquitous darkness. We tell ourselves to reach toward the rational; but we are, in fact, creatures driven by emotion as we strive to make meaning out of star dust.

This first memory of my early childhood, it is significant because it stands on its own. I don't have many childhood memories. I've always had a very difficult time remembering events in my life. My brain doesn't record and catalog most of what happens to me. That, or it becomes locked in a vault that can only be accessed through a sort of sensory magic - a song, a smell, a taste that holds the key to some hidden doorway.

I often wonder if the memories that I have access to are even real. Perhaps they are just fictions I've created to fill in the vacuous gaps in my mind. In any case, the story of my life is a disjointed collection of ephemeral somatic impressions that I perpetually reassembled to fit into a larger narrative.

Some may wonder: why bother? What's the point of excavating the past? Well, storytelling is an effort to become lucid, more conscious and free. When I share my experiences, I'm able to stand at a distance from them. They no longer define me. And yeah, I probably get the facts wrong more often than not, but storytelling isn't about telling the truth. It's about recounting the dream as you remember it. Laying out in plain sight for all to see the foundation upon which you have built your life. Sharing our stories and our common humanity with others helps us to wake up from inside the nesting doll of memory. One remembrance at a time.

In my early adulthood, I would often be held hostage by my dreams. While asleep, I would become lucid; aware that I was dreaming. And so I would decide to wake up. My eyes would open, but soon enough I would look around and discover I was still dreaming. This would happen over and over, again and again. Layer by layer, each time my eyes would open I'd be an inch closer to waking life, but unable to escape the dark lair of the unconscious. Eventually I would grow desperate, and in a panic I'd become paralyzed in my dream. My eyes unable to open. My lips fused together, offering neither breath nor sound. Terror would serve as the final alarm, and I would finally jolt awake sudden-like, crying out and gasping for air.

I can't help but wonder if memories work similar to dreams, holding us captive and paralyzed; hostage to a reality that is no longer active in our waking life.

Perhaps this is the purpose of the soul - to rouse us, to wake us layer by layer. When our waking dreams are their most terrorizing, it is the soul that tenaciously carves its vertical path. Somehow sprouting through the concretization of our stories. The unconscious eventually reveals itself to us, using passages of uncertainty, terror, and pain. And, in the end, we become more lucid and available to the soul's journey and purpose in this life.

We will never have access to the whole truth so long as we live inside the bones and blood of the dream. And that's okay. At face value, this is neither honorable or tragic. It is, simply put, all we have to go on.

Humility isn't about meekness or subjugation of self. These definitions, born from centuries of power struggles, they are perversions. Humility is from the Latin word humus meaning: 'ground.' To be humble is to be 'of the earth' - to acknowledge the elemental self that is shaped by the tides of change.

One evening after tossing back a six pack of Miller Light, my stepdad, Gary, revealed to me his personal theory of human existence:

"Can, we're just a glorified ant farm. Somewhere out there some smart-as-shit aliens are looking down on our tiny little world, and they're laughing their fucking asses off."

Gary's nihilistic gospel was delivered with such a measured acceptance, I'd just nodded along in casual agreement. Satisfied with my good natured response, he took another swig off his beer and that was that. In truth, I appreciated the fact that his theory wasn't a story I was meant to take literally. It was a rather honest and refreshing admission, that we humans are a small and insignificant part of a vast universe that exceeds our comprehension.

Besides, I felt sort of complimented by his choice to confide in me. It made me feel like a grownup who could handle the truth. His explanation made sense to me because it explained why, so much of the time, I felt so painfully naive and ill-equipped. Humaning was hard. And maybe that's by design... so the aliens have something worthwhile to watch; the original reality TV show.

I'd grown up attending Sunday school at my grandparents' church back in Eskridge, Kansas. That is until about the age of four. Since then, my experience of a higher power was more of a superstition than a devotion. I only ever prayed when I wanted something or felt bad for doing something.

My mother was and still is a generous and virtuous woman from a salt of the earth family that was understated in their virtue. She wasn't one to advertise her beliefs, especially not around the likes of Gary. Gary was, for the most part, atheist. The only time he spoke of God, it was sandwiched between expletives.

Gary had a small collection of war metals, including a purple heart that he had earned during his first term in Vietnam. But he left them buried in a box at his ex-wife's house. He had no interest in being celebrated as a war hero. And I think he was atheist mainly out of reverence to his fallen battalion; the one he'd been unable to save in a bridge explosion. In Gary's mind, there was no God, and there was certainly no glorification in sacrifice.

The year is 1990, and I'm 15 years old.

I grab a Coke from the fridge and sit down on the couch with a plate of pot roast. My family had developed a habit of eating our meals in front of the TV, and we watched as Tom Brokaw reported on the Gulf War. As I looked on at the live footage of explosions near Baghdad, I suddenly lost my appetite.

Before this latest move, I had left a boyfriend back in Tucson. He graduated less than a month before our tearful goodbye. Mom and I drove east toward Kansas in a U haul truck, and he headed home to pack for basic training. Now he was fighting an oil war in Saudi Arabia. He wrote me letters almost every day, but I rarely wrote back. I didn't know what to say or what to make of a world where he was sent to die for reasons I did not understand, all while I attended pep rallies and shopped for lip gloss.

Mom picks up on my shift in mood and cheerfully suggests we watch a rental video. It was Gary's pick, a documentary on Nostradamus. I'm immediately drawn into Nostradomus's poetry fascinated by how it cryptically foretells of the French revolution, the rise and fall of Hitler, and the assassination of more than one US president. But toward the second half of the film, experts offer translations regarding his future predictions, foretelling the story of a King of terror, a rise in Islamic fundamentalism, and predictions of a third antichrist who will form an alliance with Russia that will result in World War III. The film dramatizes apocalyptic scenes in vivid detail; a nuclear strike in New York City, an earthquake on the West coast, a war that will last for nearly three decades. When the credits finally roll, there's a pounding in my chest. Together, my family and I marvel at the reference to, what now seem to be, current events. And I strive to look casual as I pick up the VHS cover and read the copyright date. 1981, nine years earlier. Gary laughs darkly, then drapes his leg over the back of the couch to pass out for the night. I retreat to my room, shell-shocked. My entire existence suddenly feels like a joke, and some old geezer from the 15th century got early access to the punchline.

Mom follows me to my room, sits on the edge of my bed and asks: "what's wrong, baby?" She reaches for my hand and I pull away quickly as though she's burned me, irritated by the reminder of my own fragility.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe the fact that Chad will be dead soon and the entire world might be nuked any minute." I cloak my fear in sarcasm.

She leans in a bit closer and puts her arm around me. "Oh, Can, it's just a movie. It doesn't mean anything." Her reassurance feels predictable and fabricated. I immediately start sobbing.

She sits with me and, after an awkward silence, she tells me she understands. And then she says that she isn't afraid.

Struck by the change in her voice, I pull back to take in her words. She explains that she is unafraid because of her faith. She says, "I am not afraid because I believe that before the end of this earth, Jesus will return. And all of that is good will rise to be with him in heaven. So we need not be afraid for when the darkness falls, he will be here with the light to save us."

I stare up into her eyes; they're warm and wet. I swim into her gaze, longing to tether myself to her faith. While I've never heard her speak of this before, she seems so certain. And because my faith in my mother is strong, and deep, and true, I decide to believe. But not in him. In her. I collapse into her embrace, cling to her hope like a scrap of debris in a seemingly endless ocean.

She pulls back and smiles, so I do the same. Then, patting my leg reassuringly - one , two, three, like always - she heads off to bed.

Most of us have at some point pondered the vastness of the universe and had a brief glimpse of what the Japanese call yugen; an experience of the universe that triggers an emotional response too deep and powerful for words. It typically lasts only a fraction of a second as the mind does its best to comprehend the inconceivable. For the briefest of moments, we are submerged in an odd and unnerving blend of blind terror, magnificent awe, and weighty mystery. For most of us, the door slams shut as quickly as it opened, our consciousness graciously protecting us from the burden of life's utter incomprehensibility.

We are floating on a rock in the middle of immeasurable space with no real understanding of why we are here, how we came to be, and what will happen to us when we die. On the surface, we cling to creation stories and scientific proofs, but ultimately, it is our uncertainty that defines us, whether we want it to or not.

The two most honest moments of our life, are the moment of our birth and the seconds before we die. If you have ever witnessed the birth of a child, you know how to listen for the reassurance of that primordial sound, a cry for reunion that punctuates our arrival. Each and every one of us comes into this world, screaming with an uncertain terror. Anxiety is our first song, striking its cord through an odd melody of terror and grace. If we are lucky enough to be born into loving arms, our fear sends tears streaming down the cheeks of those who seek to comfort us.

Likewise, in the moments just before our last breath, we are forced to slough off our denial. And yet again, face our fear as we pass across an uncertain threshold.

Isn't it perfect and natural to feel terror when life itself is such a mystery?

Ever since I can remember, I've been afraid. Even as a young child, I would lie awake at night, feeling for my pulse, wondering at my own mortality. But at some point I learned to deny my fear. To never speak of the terror that silently echoed back at me from my core.

When I was 16, after an unfortunate event landing me in the hospital, involving a Black Crowes concert and recreational drug use, I developed a full blown panic disorder. True, the experience that night had been traumatizing; but ultimately it had triggered some latent darkness from my forgotten past. As it turns out, I didn't record memories for good reason.

From that night on, I rested upon a flame; anxiety on constant simmer. I was never quite sure when it might boil over into a full fledged panic attack. It didn't help that my panic attacks were often accompanied by mysterious stroke-like symptoms; blurred vision, numbness in my tongue face and hands, scattered thinking. The pressure would build and I felt essentially trapped inside my body. In some ways, I think panic was my way of exiting the story the only way I knew how. But my attempts to leave my carnal self behind were never successful. The symptoms would pass within a few minutes, and there I would find myself. Life rolling on all around me. As I would come to, I would look around in disbelief, wondering at the fact that my terror was of such little consequence to the world around me.

As I record this episode, we're beginning to see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel that is COVID-19 - a virus that has stolen our loved ones, our freedom to move about as we please, and perhaps most of all, the dignity of our collective denial. COVID made us a lethal threat to one another, our very breath a vehicle of our own destruction. And while I in no way saw it coming, I have to admit to having some mixed feelings around it all.

Do you remember the movie The Sixth Sense? How at the very end, our protagonist, his fists clenched around the bed covers finally reveals to Bruce Willis his truth out loud for the first time. "I see dead people," he says. It is an admission that shocks us and also makes us slap our foreheads saying, "of course, the truth was right there in front of our faces all along!"

Sometimes I feel a little bit like that. No, I do not see dead people, thankfully. But I have to admit that when COVID hit and everyone was suddenly starkly aware of the acute fragility of their own existence, I felt oddly at home inside of this new world. It was as if the anxiety that I had always carried with me was finally being seen and felt by others on the daily. And while it may sound strange, I found this collective awareness profoundly soothing, a relief from the burden of denial.

Because fear and I have become friends and I've learned that, when I'm free to feel my fear, I am no longer held hostage by it.

For centuries, both religious and new age fundamentalists have taught us that fear is a negative force, an illusion, a separation from our true self. Love is glorified as the strongest, most resilient and affecting emotional experience that we're capable of as humans. Nevermind the fact that fear, anger, and hatred seem to debilitate and dismantle just as many, if not more, lives than love rebuilds.

But I say this not as a cynical observation. Remember, fear and I are friends.

I have come to believe that fear itself serves a purpose beyond the carnal satisfactions of our survival. When we are busy looking only for inspiration and illumination, we miss so much. Dark directives come and go, each having a purpose at a given point in time. Darkness and destruction are necessary counterparts to love and light. Fear, pain, confusion... these are not evil forces. They are not enemies to be dispelled or defeated, emotions to rise above or voices to shut out. Fear itself does not cause conflict, wage wars, or destroy families.

Similar to the way we demonize power, we do the same with fear. While it does contribute to destructive impulses, fear is not the enemy. Reactivity is.

Regardless of era or lifestyle, how an individual reacts or responds to fear decides her fate. A cave-dweller shows up for the hunt with the reality of a predator looming nearby; does she retreat in terror or breathlessly continue forward?

A homeless man braves judgment as he extends his hand, in hopes of an offering; will he swallow his pride in order to gather enough spare change for a meal, or will he collapse in defeat?

An executive is berated by her boss yet again; will she shamefully slinked back to her office or finally speak her mind and face the consequences?

Fear is not the problem. Fear invites a response, and it inspires choice. Sometimes fear propels us into action. And at other times, it invites meaningful hesitation. It is purposeful. It is necessary. And it can be held as sacred, just like love.

Both love and fear shape our purpose in this life. We cannot live on love's waters alone. We must feast on fear's meaty ferocity and purpose. Fear is an invigoration, and it is often clarifying. It can give legs to love, turning sentimentality into action.

COVID reminds us that it is time; it is time we pause and collectively examine our fears and the darker impulses that keep us pointed toward superficial pursuits. We must turn toward our fear, not with disdain or rejection, but with curiosity and wonder. Rather than condemning and stigmatizing dark emotions, we can grow up and learn to accept that everything in our emotional landscape matters. It is all valuable and informative. If we become curious enough to pay attention.

Chronically bypassing our so-called negative emotions, it's a reflex and it stunts our growth. When we are quick to dismiss feelings we consider unworthy of our attention, our shadow looms even larger. We lose sight of the constructive dissonance within which provides us with essential information we need in order to recreate a life that helps us to better actualize our values moving forward.

Life's most potent redirections are often like birthing contractions; impulses that push and churn at our depths, forcing us to push against norms and upset and expand the edges of our comfort zone. Pain, anger, despair, grief. All of these are unadulterated forces of nature, essential to growth. Ripping and tearing at what is sure, dismantling and renewing our lives so that they might expand more readily. Ironically, it is the refusal of our darker emotions that keeps us locked in the dream; when it is within their terrorizing rebellion that our freedom lies.

There are a great many fears, but there is only one common anxiety - that of our own mortality and insignificance.

And this is why authentic self-expression requires so much courage. If we want to tap into the deeper pulse and unleash courageous self-expression, we must turn toward our fears, turn toward our humanity and its inherent limitations.

We run from depth because we are afraid of the pull of gravity at its center. We fear being swallowed whole by fear, pulled into a vacuous space of terror that we'll never be able to escape from. We chase shiny bright things because they help us to disavow our fear, to remain at a distance from it. We seek to find peace in light spaces alone, and we abandon parts of ourselves because we're afraid to enter into the darkness where we will find them.

But guess what? Fear becomes a safe space when we are no longer afraid of it.

As Carl Jung wrote: "Only paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life."

The path of personal development is both discomforting and rewarding; yet when we befriend our fear and its dark emotional messengers and engage with it as a remembrance of sorts... understanding that, like love, fear too has a purpose in mind for us... we come to know a brand of peace that does not rely solely on our comfort, bearers of light, or predictable outcomes.

As this COVID journey transitions us back to something resembling safety, will you continue to wear a mask? I'm not speaking of the face shield that keeps us from contaminating our neighbors. I speak to another layer of protection, the mask that we wear to keep our shared humanity from view.

Hiding our humanity from one another is exhausting. And you will know when you have connected to true humility because you will feel a deep and abiding sense of relief.

Humility is a freedom that takes practice. It's showing ourselves to the world as we are; nothing more and certainly nothing less.

We can get out of the way. Out of our own way and out of the way of others; out of the way of the natural unfolding of life... If we simply accept that our humanity itself serves a purpose.

In the next episode, I will share more personal stories along with The 5 Tenets of Humility; five practices to help you connect to humility, authenticity, and courageous expression.

Until then, I urge you to engage in intimate dialogue with your fear. To make friends with it. And to uncover the expressive power that comes from owning the fullness of your humanity.

Dark or light. Rain or shine. In fear or in love. It's all sacred.

Until next time, my friend. Ciao.

© The Deeper Pulse, Candice Schutter