The Power of Fear

I embarked on my yoga journey when I was around 12 years old. My mother took me to the local YMCA every Tuesday and Sunday, and while she did water aerobics, I trudged upstairs to the top floor, where the yoga studio was.

I'm not sure how I got involved. I was bored and not really into anything the Y offered at the time. I was used to soccer, and martial arts. High impact, aggressive exercise. I'm fairly certain the teacher coaxed me to try.

She lit large white prayer candles all around the room, arranged them against the walls and mirrors, and turned off the lights. She called it Taoist Yoga, which I haven't practiced since. It was a slow-moving class; flow mixed with static stretches and mindful breathing exercises. I liked how I felt like "liquid human" after the classes. I felt calm, peaceful. At 12, I was hooked on the "yoga buzz", and I went to the class whenever I could.

Like many people, yoga became a gateway to a clear mind, calm heart, and eventually a pathway to knowing and accepting myself. It's since been a constant in my life. Lovers, friends, family, and jobs came and went. Tattoos, scars, and wrinkles appeared on my skin. Regardless of what happened in my world, the mat was my safe place.

The practice of showing up on my mat opened my eyes to a lot of truths about myself. Truly being present in my body, and letting the stories and the worries of my mind recede began to reveal unexpected results.

During a rigorous 200 hour teacher training, I stared myself down in the mirror, holding Warrior II. I hated the way the pose looked. Realization dawned as I embraced the postural "rightness" of the pose. I was doing the pose correctly. It felt right in my body. But it looked wrong. I realized that my body was not a reflection of who I really was.

Our bodies are not who we are. And conversely, they are exactly who we are. Yoga was how I discovered that even though I was assigned female at birth, I'm actually male. I realized that I was transgender, and that I had been my whole life.

What I didn't realize until a few years later was that I had not accepted the full truth of who I was sooner because I was afraid.

And then I grew to understand that I'd been making the majority of my choices in my life from a place of fear.

I chose what to eat, how to dress, how to speak, how to love, how to create, how to work, and how to play based not on joy, but on how "safe" they felt.

I made choices based on risk reduction. I made choices to blend in. I made choices to feel sheltered. I made choices to avoid failure, at all costs. And if I did fail, which sometimes failing is inevitable, I cut and ran as fast as I could in the other direction, berating myself for being human and making a mistake.

The fear of fucking up became all-consuming. And only with yoga did that fear recede.

People like to call transgender folks brave. But the truth is, many of us have no choice. Once we are faced with the unsurpassed truth of who we are, we cannot deny it anymore. For me, it became a literal choice between life and death. Almost two years after I realized I was transgender, living from a place of fear and risk-averse choices had put me on the brink. I was massively depressed and suicidal, and still had made no move to transition. I started the process, almost kicking and screaming. I didn't want to be transgender, but I couldn't deny who I was anymore.

I've now been on hormones for nearly two years. I've scheduled my chest surgery for this March.

And I am only now starting to deconstruct a life built out of fear. The truth is, I don't even know where to begin. Well, that's not true. Yoga tells us that the heart of our suffering lies in our beliefs or "the movements of the mind". Chitta vritti. I have a colleague who likes to call the monkey mind "Vritti City".

So, I must identify the core beliefs and thought patterns that power my "Vritti City" of fear. These look something like:

If I fail at something, that means that I am a failure as a human being. If I fail, I am not worthy of love.

If people see me for who I truly am, they will find that I am not lovable and they will abandon me.

If I make a mistake, it's irreversible and I can never go back or be forgiven. Even if people do forgive me, they will always remember that I suck.

I am responsible for other people as well as myself. If I don't take responsibility for others, they will hurt themselves and blame me.

What I search for when I look for these core beliefs is a literal "charge" of emotion that surfaces when I reflect on these thoughts. And when I read some of these beliefs aloud, my conscious mind recognizes them as totally false. But my heart recognizes them with a pang of raw truth.

The next step is to replace these beliefs with affirmations. The important thing for me and affirmation-work is that they have to progress in stages, i.e. I can't just flip the belief and state something incredibly, outlandishly positive. My mind will discard it immediately as bullshit. Instead, I must construct an affirmation that has a kernel of possibility, and slowly stretch and warm the tissues of my heart and mind over time to accept it. Then, I can progress forward to a more positive thought-pattern. So, the first one I got some help creating an affirmation for. A Queerdalini teacher and dear friend I had dinner with heard me out. She leaned across the table after I told her my fear and said:

"Failing does not make you a failure. They are two different things."

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that one, because the two have always been conflated in my "Vritti City". So that's my process right now, is accepting the idea that failing does not make me a failure.

The next affirmation would go something like, "If people see me for who I truly am, they will recognize me as human."

"If I make a mistake, I will learn the best I can from it. People will forgive me or not, based on their own personal process. I can only apologize and move forward with new awareness and a commitment to doing better."

The last core belief is a doozy, and this one we'll save for the next blog. Because nothing churns up the whirling power of my Vritti City like the illusion of control.