How to Conquer Fear (Presented by a Preschooler)

I wouldn’t say that I’m superstitious or that I believe in luck, but I do agree with Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic) and Steven Pressfield (The War of Art, Turning Pro) that ideas and inspiration come from some divine realm and that I am essentially just a conduit that the Muse decides to visit because they’ve noticed that I’m serious about what I do and that no matter how I’m feeling (tired, scared, discouraged) I show up and do the work. Every day.

On a slight tangent, do you remember the film Like Water for Chocolate (1992), where the female protagonist’s stifled emotions – rage, despair, joy, passion – were transferred to the dishes she prepared and elicited the same reaction in the people who ate them?

I love that film and I believe that objects and matter can embody, carry, and transfer positive and negative energy.

Objects collect and retain memory. What might look like an ordinary rock or inconsequential piece of wood may really be a momento that holds powerful mojo, particularly if you are privy to the history of the object.

A long time ago, when I taught art to preschoolers, I was given the gifts of an oblong, smooth, white rock and a two-inch, half piece of round wood by one of my students.

I accepted these bizarre offerings with delight because the previous week – the first day of a new session – the child who presented them to me had NOT wanted to be in my class.

The child – I remember her Anglicized name being “Ann” – was very young, a few months younger than the 4 year minimum age requirement for preschool art class. English was her second language and she didn’t have many words in her vocabulary. She was hiding behind her father in a sobbing meltdown. All she wanted was her father to take her out of this terrifying situation (I could totally empathize. I was a painfully shy child and as much as I loved drawing and painting I suspect my mother would have had a hard time getting me to go to a class where nobody understood me and I didn’t understand them).

I smiled and told her we were going to have fun and that I hoped she would stay. Because of the language barrier (and because I had nine other 4-5 yr olds to attend to as well as her), I asked her father to stay for the duration of the class and help encourage her to participate.

To her credit, even though she was still crying, we got her started on something. I’m happy to report that by the middle of the class there were no more tears and Ann was enthusiastically drawing on a huge sheet of paper tacked to the wall, all smiles when I came to check on her progress.

The following week she came bouncing into class ahead of her father, all grin and giggles. She handed me the rock and small piece of wood. I asked if they were for me to keep and she nodded yes and said they were a present. I asked if they were for good luck and she nodded again. I thanked her warmly and they went into the pocket of the coveralls I wore to teach every week.

As a mentioned, I don’t believe in luck. It’s entirely possible that Ann didn’t understand what I meant when I asked if they were good luck objects. The rock and the wood were most certainly collected from the stone and bark landscaping on the art center grounds. Nothing special about that. But because her delivery of these humble objects came with such joy and confidence I felt compelled to keep them.

Today Ann would be twenty-five yrs old. I like to think that somehow our brief interaction helped her approach future unknowns in a different, less scary, light. I imagine her now as a fierce young woman, tackling each new situation head on with an enthusiastic grin (or at least a fake-it-till-you-make-it smile).

Where are the “good luck” objects now?

These sweet souvenirs have been in my life for many years. I regularly use the stone during meditation. There is now an indent on one side where my thumb rests. It is not lost on me that Ann’s present helps me practice being present.

Simple objects infused with a memory hold strength. Ann’s gifts continually remind me that even though new experiences and the unknown are terrifying, there is the potential (and probability) that you will find joy and success if you are only willing to push through your fear, show up, and do the work.

Thank you for the lesson, Ann.

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