What To Do When You Find Yourself With Three Challenging Companions On the Personal and Spiritual Journey
Patty came to her session with me and said “I just don’t get it! Things have been going so well, and all of a sudden, I find myself doubting myself all the time, and I can’t make any decisions, because I feel so uncertain about which way to go. It’s frustrating! I keep beating myself up because everyone says that doubt will just generate more doubt. I feel like I should be able to pull myself out of it, but I just can’t.”
In the same week, Jane came in to her session and said, “I’ve been feeling a lot of fear lately, but I know I shouldn’t have fear. Whenever I talk about my fear, people keep telling me to buck up and push through. I know you’ve told me something different, but I keep reading that if I have fear I won’t be able to manifest what I want. I just want to get rid of it — and I feel guilty for feeling it in the first place.”
The Three Companions
Patty and Jane have each encountered one or more of the Three Companions. You may also have encountered the Three Companions lately. These companions on the spiritual journey get bad press, especially in some self-help and traditional new age circles. Yet when you are doing deep personal and spiritual work, it is inevitable that they will accompany you on your journey.
They won’t be constant companions, but close to it. They are actually necessary to enable you to be as clear as you can be, and for you to fulfill your greatest potential. They are: Doubt, Uncertainty, and Fear.
Many people on spiritual paths expect that if they put in a little time and effort, all Doubt, Uncertainty, and Fear will simply vanish, and that they will be in a relatively constant state of peace, joy, happiness, love.
Even worse, when they experience any of these three, they think there’s something wrong with them or with what they’re doing or blame themselves for not being “further along” their path.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that if you’re really working your spiritual path, you will have these companions more often than not. When you are shifting or healing, these come up to enable the shift to occur, and to allow you to move into a new, more centered space.
You can’t grow without change
When we’re really honest, most of us would like to grow without changing. Yet we can’t grow without change. And change itself takes us out of our comfort zone.
We don’t know – and learn that we can’t control – the next steps. Our lack of control and our sense of not knowing bring on Doubt and Uncertainty.
When you can’t see the next step
Doubt and Uncertainty are our companions when you truly can’t see around the corner to the next step – when you know the old is not working, or is gone, and you aren’t yet into the new state of being. This is actually one of the most fruitful times for deep growth, as anthropologists have proven over and over again. They call the time “in between time,” the liminal stage – or threshold stage.
This stage is uncomfortable — even scary — because you can’t see what’s next; you simply know the old patterns or ways of being are gone, but the new isn’t in place yet. The danger is that you’ll back away from the change, and go back into old patterns of being.
Doubt and Uncertainty keep you from backing away from the change
And that’s when Doubt and Uncertainty arise. These companions help you shift and move through this stage.
Have you ever noticed when you have to make a big decision that you go through a time of Doubt and Uncertainty? You might make a list of pro’s and con’s, or you might weigh your options, or you might talk with a few friends about the decision.
Doubt and Uncertainty are actually fueling these actions. Most think of Doubt and Uncertainty as “negative” emotions. But they serve their purpose by creating the discomfort needed to actually take the next steps.
In order to move forward, you must find the will and courage – and faith — to take the next steps that bring us into the new place. Without Doubt and Uncertainty, you don’t develop that will or courage.
When Patty and I talked about the role of Doubt and Uncertainty, she uttered a sigh of relief. “Wow — that makes so much sense! I’ve just made some big changes. That old pattern that you and I have been working on is gone, and I thought it would be smooth sailing, but I’ve now seen something else that I need to work on, and it’s created all of this doubt. From what you say, that’s not only normal, but to be expected! It’s still uncomfortable, but I can deal. From what you say, it will help me find the will and courage to take these next steps. That’s a whole different way of looking at it!”
When you know what the next step is
Fear is different. Fear comes up on the spiritual path when you know what to do and know what the next steps are. But somehow you can’t do what you know is necessary, or take the next steps. Contrary to what you may hear, every single human being experiences this.
I’ve read and/or heard about it in every spiritual and philosophical tradition. Each tradition talks about the fact that sometimes we do the things we don’t want to do, and don’t do the things we want to do. How long has this been going on? Well Thomas Merton recently quoted the biblical writer, Paul, talking about just this.
The only way to heal is to go through
When we’re in this state, we tend to blame ourselves (yet again), and often try to deny it. One thing I’ve learned about Fear, though, is that the only way is through. Denying it only makes it loom bigger down the road, and actually increases our doing what we don’t want to do/not doing what we want to do.
Fear itself asks us to dig deep and find and heal the wounding that has us in these doing/non-doing patterns in the first place. So it, too, is a necessary companion on the spiritual path.
How to move through Fear
When Jane and I talked about Fear and its role in personal and spiritual growth, she also heaved a sigh of relief. “I felt like I was wrong to feel fear, even though you and I had talked about it before. I was afraid that feeling the fear would keep me from doing what I know I need to do in this situation. Feeling it and shaking it out with you has already made a difference. It’s not so big, and I don’t feel frozen in place anymore. I know I can take the next step.” Note: The “shaking it out” that Jane referred to in her response is a practice I teach in my work with clients. It involves shaking your spine and limbs to help you move the fear through and out of your body.
Now some situations aren’t that simple — you may feel Fear for awhile before you can take next steps, and often the Fear brings up the very wounds that are next to heal, which can take some time — but I hear responses like Jane’s all the time. We may spend a few sessions working through the Fear, but inevitably, facing and moving through it leads to major growth and change — and people move out of that frozen place that Fear can take them much quicker and easier.
The next time you feel Doubt, Uncertainty, or Fear, be grateful! These companions show you that you are truly working your spiritual path. Without them, you will not have the vision, faith and courage to move into a state of greater clarity, love and trust – in short, to become more conscious.
I end with a famous prayer that helps you move through Doubt, Uncertainty, and Fear. It is called the Metta Prayer:
May you be at peace
May your heart remain open
May you awaken to the light of your own true nature
May you be healed and
May you be a source of healing for all beings.
and so it is.
With love and gratitude,
PS: If you are dealing with Doubt, Fear, and/or Uncertainty, or simply want to clear out and heal what’s getting in the way of your best self, I have had a couple people complete recently, and therefore have a couple spots open for clients. Check it out here. Or book a free Discovery Call to explore working together.
What beautiful and reassuring teachings you give here, Mary. It’s so easy to think we are failing when these 3 companions come up.
I love this: ‘Fear comes up on the spiritual path when you know what to do and know what the next steps are. But somehow you can’t do what you know is necessary, or take the next steps. Contrary to what you may hear, every single human being experiences this.’