New book by Philip Kenney

The Writer's Crucible Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity

Phil Kenney

Philip Kenney is a practicing psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. He did his post-graduate work in British Object Relations at the Washington D.C. School of Psychiatry and has taught Self Psychology as part of his private practice. A long time meditator and poet, Mr. Kenney is the author of the novel, Radiance, and a collection of poetry, Where Roses Bloom. He strives to bring together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality in his work and is the author of a new book on those subjects entitled, The Writer's Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity.

The Only Thing to Fear

August 16, 2013

This morning I did twenty-three pushups. Two weeks ago I could barely do three. I’m lying. Two weeks ago I lowered my chest to the floor, strained to lift myself up and collapsed in a puddle of self-deprecating laughter. The dog lifted his head, looked me in the eye and then averted his gaze: merciful creature.

I’m sixty-four years old and I haven’t done a push up since high school when the football coach gave me a hard time about being a skinny kid with a concave chest. I’ll show him, I thought to myself, but I didn’t. I was too weak in the upper body and too fearful of confronting that weakness.

Recently I got tired of hearing my boys mock my aging muscles and I decided it was time to tone up, by golly. So you can find me on the floor every other morning at about 6:45am following a twenty-minute meditation.

Most mornings, meditation is a lovely experience of peace and bliss mixed together like chocolate and milk. Yum. So it is a surprise to me when a big ugly glob of fear ends up in my stomach as I get down on all fours and prepare to lower and lift this aging body. “What a wimp,” I think to myself. “What are you afraid of?”

Good question. What is this fear all about? Is Coach Sikorsky standing over me deriding my pathetic arm strength? Am I fearful of feeling humiliated when hurting and struggling at pushup number 9? Maybe I am afraid of the pain. Why would that be? I know, I’m afraid it will kill me. Really?

The odd thing is that the fear that comes over me when I begin the pushup routine is similar, if not identical, to the fear that sometimes grabs hold of the small intestine when I sit down to write. Odd isn’t it? Pushups I loathe, writing I love. What gives?

What do I fear with writing? Everything? Failure, a blank brain, mediocre sentences, simple minded or boring stories? Would you believe all of the above? Or is it pain, once again, that prompts the belly to contract and roll over on itself?

What is so painful about writing and why do we fear pain so much that we would avoid what we love or what is good for us? It seems to me that with both writing and pushups we are put on the spot in a big, big way.

No escape baby. Here I am straining to lift my 190lb body and it hurts. I feel the pain and it is coming down on me like a boulder. Here I am sitting at the computer trying to find a meaningful thread to pull and I feel helpless to bring forth one word that is alive.

Why does this pain feel like dying? Am I remembering some form of dying that is forgotten and trapped in my cells? Perhaps a fear that oozes out like sweat? Am I straining to contact and feel something that can never die? Perhaps I’m looking for a source of energy beyond the limits of the body/mind?

When I finish doing my pushups I feel great. My heart is pounding; I did one more than on Saturday morning and I feel the joy of a big release: a freedom from invisible shackles. When I begin to write, when that magic something takes me by the hand, I feel in the flow of a river of liveliness that is wholly me and other than me.

Did I say holy? Maybe we have wandered into the land of the sacred where fear is not so surprising a bedfellow considering the terror of looking into the groundless core of being. Rilke warned us of that terror. Authors die a thousand deaths and fear the next encounter as much as the first.

Sorry FDR, the only thing to fear is not fear. Fear is basic to our nature. It isn’t going away; we can’t think it away or meditate it out of our bodies. The only thing to fear is shrinking from fear. Georgia O’Keefe said she was afraid every day of her life and it never stopped her from doing anything.

Fearlessness is really the courage to stand in the fear, facing it head on and not being deterred. That is going beyond fear, using its energy to live into whatever is before us in the moment, whether that is the daily pushups or a blank sheet of paper. Easier said than done, but doable with practice.

When we sit down to write and feel fear, it should be a signal that we are on the right track. That we have entered the land of awe and though it may be terrifying to face the real truth of who we are, we can be comforted by knowing that in the realm of the sacred fear is a compass, a measure of getting closer to the heart of what is real. Keep going, keep going, you’re getting warmer.







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2 Responses

  1. Andy Robbins says:

    So true Phil, it’s hard to get started but when you are done you feel great. I have to remind myself the best things in life aren’t free or easy. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Phil Kenney says:

    Hey Andy, thanks for your comment. I wouldn’t guess it was hard for you to get started judging by how much great work you are putting out.

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