Fika (Fee-ka) is a Swedish word describing a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break in the day. It’s also a concept, a state of mind, an attitude. For more on fika, read my introduction here. Grab a cuppa and something sweet and delicious. Even better – do it with someone else. Enjoy the story. Let it be the beginning of a conversation – with someone else, or yourself. Head over to my website and leave a comment if you want to. Enjoy.
“Getting Clear” by Rachel Naomi Ramen
After listening to Patricia’s fears for more than six months, one day I told her that for the next four weeks she was simply not allowed to be afraid. She had looked at me in confusion, unable to imagine what I had meant. Carefully I explained that I had observed that her first reaction to just about everything was fear and that when people had one reaction to everything, that reaction became suspect. In short, I did not believe that all her fear was true.
Abruptly she had become angry, telling me that I was not compassionate, and indeed did not see her or understand her. “No,” I said, “I believe that after all these months I do see you. This fear that has so little to do with who you are got in the way.”
Calmer, she asked again what it was I was suggesting that she do. She reminded me that she experienced fear many times every day. “I know,” I told her, “and I am proposing an experiment.” I suggested that whenever she felt fear that she think of it as only her first response to whatever was happening. The most familiar response, as it were. I encouraged her to look for and find her second response and follow that. “Ask yourself, ‘if I was not afraid. If I were not allowed to be afraid, how would I respond to what is happening?’” She was reluctant but she agreed to try.
At first, Patricia had been discouraged to notice how many times she experienced fear every day. But she was surprised to find that often she could step past her initial stab of fear with some ease and that then she had a wide variety of different reactions to the events in her life. It had never occurred to her to challenge her fear in this way before.
After a few weeks, she even began to wonder whether she, herself, was afraid. For the first time she questioned if the fear that had been her life’s companion was just a sort of habit, a knee-jerk response to life that she had learned years ago. Over the next few months whenever she felt fear she was stopping asked herself if it were true, looking closely to see if she really was afraid. Surprisingly often, she discovered she was not.
Over time, she found that she was not afraid to submit her work to others, not afraid to try when she was not sure she could succeed, not afraid to speak out in defense of her values, not afraid to introduce herself to someone and offer them her help, not afraid to confront an angry person. Her mother had been afraid of all these things.
Staying safe had been the most important thing in her mother’s life. Slowly Patricia came to realize that it was not the most important thing in hers. Her mother had lived a narrow and unhappy life. It had been a close call. “Rachel,” she told me, “if you carry someone else’s fear, and live by someone else’s values, you may find that you have lived their lives.”
As a child I was surrounded by my father’s fear. Many years ago, as I was trying to sort myself out from the ways I had lived and inhabit the way that I am, my companion in this process, a therapist, had given me the gift of an exquisite antique silver bracelet. She had it engraved with the single word clear.
She had known that a silver bracelet was something that I would take seriously. For more than a year I never took it off. A few months after she gave it to me, I asked her why she had had it engraved with the word clear and not with my name. “Look it up,” she said, “but only in a very large dictionary.”
I looked it up in the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, and found that it had more than sixty meanings, many of which have to do with freedom: free from obstruction; free from guilt; free from blame; free from confusion; free from entanglement; free from limitation; free from debt; free from impurities; free from suspicion; free from illusion; free from doubt; free from uncertainty; free from ambiguity; and so on. And, of course, its ultimate meeting, which is “able to serve perfectly in the passage of light.”
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to become clear. No matter. It may be the most worthwhile way to spend the time.
This story is published in My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging by Rachel Naomi Remen. Pp 155-157. (Riverhead, 2000)
Are there times you have found yourself living someone else’s life?
What are you spending your life getting clear about?
Have a good weekend.
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