Week 8 – The Ordeal
Luke, Han, Chewbacca and Princess Leia are trapped on the Death Star as the garbage compactor walls close together in Star Wars. James Bond
struggles through Dr No’s deadly obstacle course in Dr. No. Ripley faces the Alien Queen in the hive in Aliens.
The Ordeal is when the Hero is faced with his or her greatest fear. It is a crisis point, at which the Hero must summon all of his or her power in order to
succeed. Often the Hero does not prevail, but instead gains a greater prize through defeat or even death. You will not always win, but if you persist and
follow your beliefs, you’ll become the Hero you’re meant to be.
In keeping with the spirit of this stage, this week’s meditation track is ten minutes longer. You may find this meditation more difficult, but persevere
and you’ll find your effort will be rewarded (which is next week’s focus).
Life is filled with challenges. Work and relationship problems, unexpected crises, and other difficulties crop up and test our ability to handle trials.
Some things we have to deal with, but some things we can avoid. Often, we don’t take risks or try new experiences because we don’t want to add additional
stress to our lives. However, this mindset can prevent great things from happening. Asking for a raise, approaching someone we want to meet, or travelling
to a new place all have the potential to improve our circumstances, but avoidance of the fear of failure can stop us cold.
Keep in mind that I wrote avoidance of the fear of failure, not avoidance of failure. We can’t avoid failure because each time we have an opportunity and
don’t act, we are failing. It’s the fear of failure we need to overcome. The best way to do this is to make failure our friend. Be free to fail. T.J
Watson, who built IBM into a corporate giant, said the formula for success is to double your rate of failure. I suggest that you do more than this. Fail
lots. Fail spectacularly. Crash and burn, and you’ll find that as your fear of failure evaporates, your many failures will equal many successes. Your worst
failures also make the best stories for later. Be sure to prepare as much as possible, and then flow with the outcome, good or bad. In the words of Nike,
Just Do It.
In the last section, overcoming the fear of failure was proposed as the key to success. So how do you overcome fear? Fear is an emotional response to
something that is perceived to be dangerous, threatening or potentially painful. In many cases, fear is completely justified because it gives you the
ability to avoid a real threat. Jumping out of the way of a bus or running from a wild animal are both performed much more effectively with a dose of
fear-produced adrenalin. If the fear is justified, it’s a natural response that makes sense. The problem arises when fear no longer makes sense. If you
need to act calmly and carefully, panic doesn’t help. Also, if there’s no clear source of danger, fear becomes anxiety. Anxiety is a state of fear without
an obvious external cause, and as such is worth conquering. To do this, you’ve got to face your fear.
There are a number of ways to do this:
- Flooding is immersing yourself in whatever is causing your anxiety. This is the cold turkey approach to facing fear. For example, if you’re afraid of
enclosed spaces, you get on an elevator and stay there until your fear diminishes or goes away. This is often the quickest way to overcome an anxiety, but
it can be difficult as well. Make sure that the anxiety you’re facing is not actually a danger to you.
- Gradual desensitization is similar to flooding, but ramps up to full exposure. If being in a crowd caused you anxiety, you wouldn’t start by going to a
U2 concert (that would be flooding). You’d begin with small groups of people at a park, move to a supermarket or movie theatre, and then attempt a concert
or football game. In this way you give yourself time to reduce or come to terms with your fear.
- You can also deal with fear and anxiety through simulation. A fear of heights can be confronted by looking off the edge of a rooftop in a video game. The
height of the building could be increased over time to create gradual desensitization, or a skyscraper could provide a flooding experience. The same thing
could be done with insects, fire, dogs, or other sources of anxiety.
Don’t fight your fear. Face it. Give in to it and come out the other side. In other words, be afraid. Be very afraid. Until you’re able to deal with the
fear. It’s said that true courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to keep going while full of fear. The No Fear advertising slogan got it
wrong. It’s unrealistic to seek a state of no fear (unless you stay home and do nothing, which would probably lead to more fear) but instead be fearless by
functioning while full of fear. Fear is a fundamental component of the Hero’s Journey, and a Hero accepts fear as an occasional travelling companion.
Public speaking is often ranked higher on polls of people’s fears than death itself, which led to the old joke that people would rather be in the coffin at
a funeral than giving the eulogy. However, public speaking is something that can be understood and overcome (try Toastmasters) while death remains a true
mystery. The Samurai of feudal Japan, famed for their bravery, were dedicated to coming to terms with their own death. They trained as though they could
die at any time. If you want to live a Samurai-style life of fearlessness, you need to deal with your inevitable demise.
It can help to pinpoint your actual fear. Are you afraid of being in pain? The act of dying? Being dead? By determining what actually scares you, you’re
able to better deal with it. If you’re afraid of the pain of death, you may not feel pain at all when you die. You may pass away in your sleep. There may
also be pain management medications available, and if not, your body has built-in pain management systems that will kick in when necessary. If you’re
afraid of the dying process, what about it do you fear? The pain? See above. Saying goodbye to loved ones? This is a hard one, but remember that saying
goodbye isn’t about death or fear, it’s about love.
If you’re afraid of actually being dead, think about what death actually is. You’re simply not alive. So the time before your birth is the same as the time
after your death. A period of time that you’re not alive. Most people don’t worry about the time before they were born, so the time after their death
should be the same.
If you’re afraid of what happens to your spirit when you die, this is a true unknown. Some profess to know, but they actually don’t. There may be nothing,
or there may be something. Your guess is as good as anyone’s. If it’s nothing, you’ve got literally nothing to worry about. If there’s something, you may
believe that the way we live our lives determines what happens to us after our death. However, that can only be a good thing. If you live your life with
integrity, by doing what you believe to be right, you can’t go wrong when you’re gone. If you’re living in a way that makes you feel you’re going to be
punished after you’re dead, you know you’ve got some changes to make. At any rate, you’ll find the answers to these questions when you’re dead. Not before.
You can spend time worrying about it, or you can get on with things, live fully, and be glad that no one can spoil the ending of this great adventure we’re
Week 8 Exercises and Resources
- Continue your weekly meditations. Once a day this week, listen to Week 8 - The Ordeal.
This one is 10 minutes longer than usual, so see what comes up. Continue meditating for the rest of this course and beyond.
- Pick a challenge that you’ve been avoiding because of fear of failure, prepare for it as best you can, and go for it. Like Exercise 2 in Week 6 where
you fail at meeting someone, be prepared for failure (or success). Try to let go of the outcome.
- Use flooding, gradual desensitization, or simulation to face a fear. Be really afraid. Being afraid is very uncomfortable. Get used to it. Make sure
you’re safe, though.
- There’s an old self-development exercise in which you imagine your funeral. You picture the people who will be there, how they discuss your life, and
what the eulogy will say about you. Although this is a great exercise and can help you figure out your Difference (see Week 2), the following exercise is
not the same. This time, imagine your funeral, but not how many people are there or what they say. Imagine actually being dead. Your body is lying in the
coffin, and you’re gone. You’re not listening to what people are saying or reading your obituary, you’re dead. Your spirit is no longer around.
Where is it? That’s the key question, isn’t it? We’ve all got ideas, but nobody knows for sure. Perhaps nobody ever will. It’s
hard to come to terms with the uncertainty, finality and potential lack of self-consciousness that death represents, but it’s also freeing. If you’re not
afraid of death, you’re not afraid of life.
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope
Remember there is a reason we are afraid of some things. Use common sense when facing your fears. Unless in a controlled environment, facing down
grizzly bears or poisonous snakes will not reduce your fear, it will reduce the amount of time you’ve got on this planet.