My Gnarly Cave-Like Fear of Showing Up Bigger In The World

About two months ago I was at a Biznik networking-in-the-park thing where we each looked at what we needed to do to become more “visible”. To show up bigger in the world.

And we drew it with crayons and pens. (Have I mentioned how much I love Portland?)

When I asked internally what I needed to be more visible, the answer I got was something like: “I don’t want to show up bigger in the world! All my projects are already too much and I can’t add anything else to my life! More people will want things from me and I will be overwhelmed and never have any free time to pet my cat and watch TV. Aaaahh!”.

I drew a picture of that (below on left). Then I drew what I wanted to somehow transform this issue into…a strong presence radiating light and energy from my whole being with a strong connection with my heart. Not at all crushed by an overwhelming weight of awfulness.

biznik - overload drawing

I should note here that I didn’t do the exercise exactly as instructed – I turned it into an intuitive exercise rather than an analytical/brainstorming exercise.

I wanted to find out what my body/mind/soul knew that my mind didn’t – and I find intuitive artmaking to be a particularly effective way to access that wisdom.

So next I asked myself “How do I get there? (to the shiny happy me)”. The drawing that emerged was a cave…

biznik - cave drawing

But it wasn’t just a cave, it was a tunnel. It led to somewhere radiant, but with a big question mark.

The answer was clear (if not specific): I had to step into an unknown darkness and have faith that I would reach the light at the other side. I needed to stop avoiding my fear and face it.

Facing a problem is often 90% of solving it.

While I’ve known I had a “visibility/showing up” fear/problem/issue for a long time, I had never really walked into it. I hadn’t investigated it clearly. I knew the cave was there, but it looked so dark and foreboding I never thought to shine a flashlight into it and see what was there and where it led.

Note: when I say “Face your fear”, I don’t mean “force yourself into a situation you are afraid of and try to bulldoze your way through it by suppressing your desire to run screaming in the other direction”.

That doesn’t work. And it’s likely to re-traumatize you.

What I mean literally is turn your face toward it. Notice it. LOOK at it. Sit with it. Be with it. Be present to it. Name it. Write down what it is. Make a drawing or painting of it, something to represent it. Meet it and have a conversation. Seek to understand it. What is it really? That’s what will bring it out of the shadows and make it into a normal kind of thing that you can deal with.

Looking squarely at something is the flashlight that turns a fearsome cave into a passageway to greater power and freedom.

I want to be clear that, at the time, I didn’t think “OK, I’m going to shine a flashlight on this cave and conquer my fears!”. Looking at the drawing, I was very much still going “eek!”. But I did make an internal intention to somehow turn toward that cave.

And I didn’t know what that would look like. It’s the intention that matters. You just have to start walking toward the cave with your flashlight.

Looking back over the past few months that I can trace that intention through many different small and large things that followed from that initial small internal decision to “turn toward it”.

Your intention doesn’t have to be specific. It can just be the intention to turn toward the issue and choose to believe you can face it.

That intention sets things in motion. And the most important intention you can ever have is the willingness to be committed to a journey that you don’t yet have a map for. It’s an internal vote of confidence in yourself to handle whatever comes up – and that confidence will lead you on. Fortune favors the bold.

In that moment I became willing to be present to whatever that darkness held–and it’s key that I didn’t know what it actually did hold. That’s why it was scary! It’s the fear of facing it that actually is the majority of the “issue”.

Once I actually looked at it (and that unfolded over a month or two), the fear faded away, and what was left was a set of completely do-able activities that would take me from where I was to where I want to be.

What I discovered in the cave: just some things I need to learn and get support with. Nothing all that scary after all.

OK, so what was in the cave?

  • a fear that my life would become unmanageable if I added any more “inputs”
  • a fear/insecurity that my writing wasn’t “good enough”
  • an ongong pattern of oscillating between being overly-strict with myself and overly-unstructured

Thing to learn #1: How to manage inputs (and be more productive with less stress).

I was afraid I would not be able to handle what would happen if I showed up fully and said “YES” to more visibility and throughput. That my life would become unmanageable.

That had a very simple explanation, which was that my life currently is just not very well managed! Duh!

Well, it’s managed OK for the level I’m at, but to grow in my personal capacity to be productive, I need better systems.

The great thing is that people have studied that and it’s a totally solvable problem. I’ve been reading Getting Things Done, am completely in love with it, and am getting a handle on all the “open loops” in my life. That means getting all the “stuff” out of my head, into a system my mind trusts, getting “clear and complete”, so I have the energy to be highly productive on a regular basis.

I cannot believe how much of a relief it was to get that this is just stuff I can learn. It takes some time to develop the habits, but I don’t have to be come some other kind of person, who has some magical super-woman mad ninja juggling skillz. Or at least, I can learn the mad skillz. =)

Thing to learn #2: Healing some “stuff” around my writing, and undertaking some specific learning on how to write powerfully.

OK, this fear was kinda dark and murky and involved some grief work.

A few things converged in my childhood to give me a complex about my writing such that even when people said they got something from it, I would internally dismiss their positive feedback. Their words would glance off an internal shield that was protecting some painful wounds.

But once I got in there I realized it’s the kind of thing that nearly every creative person has to deal with at some point: past woundings around their creativity. I’m not alone in wondering, “What do I know? What do I have to offer?”

So I spent some time sifting back through those memories and letting myself feel the pain and grieve for the support, acknowledgement, encouragement, and validation I needed and didn’t get as a teenager trying to express herself through words.

It’s still something I’m working with, but I’m slowly letting in appreciation and it feels like a gentle spring rain. My fear and pain is softening into a gratitude for the grace of the Universe and a feeling of tenderness towards myself.

The second part of this is that once I accepted that a) I do want to write and b) I’m not the most awful useless writer in the world, I then realized c) I would actually like to learn more about writing effectively. Realizing you don’t suck is different than feeling truly competent, and the latter only comes with study and practice.

Thing to learn #3: Healing  and clarity around the issue of “discipline”.

If you think of discipline as self-parenting, I used to vacillate between super-loosy-goosy over-permissiveness and super-hardnose authoritarian rigidity. Like a pendulum swinging back and forth, each extreme would create a lot of unmet needs which would inevitably cause me to swing back the other way.

Not at all a fun cycle to be in.

Setting up structures and systems and organizing yourself really only works if you are consistent about maintaining them. So I knew I had to work through this if #1 was going to have a chance of working.

Healing this has been a long journey for me, and this is just the latest leg in it. I’m seeing it more clearly, and finally seeing the way out–the middle ground. A way to be with myself that is neither a forceful and rigid box or a spilling-everywhere puddle: I can build an organic container for my “self” out of sturdy materials, that can breathe. And I can maintain and cherish it (in a “your body is a temple/vessel” kind of way).

Ok, so I found a pile of rocks between me and the other end of the tunnel. But with my flashlight and some elbow grease and support, I can start moving them and clearing the way.

You wanna know the most magical thing about this process?

The Universe has totally showed up to support me in working through these issues. People, conversations, connections, insights, and resources have shown up to help me move those rocks: from describing what’s on the other side, sharing about their own tunnels and rocks, providing schematics and diagrams of how to remove rocks from tunnels, to giving me magic rock-dissolving pixie dust.

I firmly believe that if you humbly ask for support in healing something, magic will happen.

I say “humbly” because you can’t command the support. It’s more a willingness-surrender kind of thing. It’s the meaning of the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves”.

You know when they have fundraising drives on OPB and some sponser says they will match the donations of everyone who calls in?

That’s God. God matches your donation toward your own healing. God shows up in response to your will to heal and matches your efforts.

I think of the Universe as an organic system and we are all parts of it. The Universe wants to be healed, like people long to be free and like water seeks the lowest point. Because you are part of the Universe, you belong to it, it will help you to heal if you are willing to turn toward that part of you and let the water seep into the crevices in your heart. (And by “water”, I mean the healing principle of water/God, as in “The Tao is like water”).


  1. Intuitive art helps you access knowledge you didn’t know you had.
  2. Facing something is often 90% of solving it. (The other 10% is the work you then see you need to do).
  3. Getting systems in place helps you manage your life and business so you can show up at a bigger level.
  4. Healing creative wounds is entirely possible but it takes digging around in the muck a little and being willing to cry out the hurt.
  5. The Universe will help you heal if you ask it and let it, and you don’t have to know how or why.

Note: this post is continued in: Fear of Biggification Part II: The Unresolved Stuff.


  1. 1. Those crayon drawings rock. Very cool way to access your intuition.
    2. Havi rocks! 😉
    3. The whole bouncing between two extremes? I soooooo relate. Self-discipline, connecting with others, being pro-active, … I do it with all of these. It’s a normal learning pattern, I think. You have to explore the space to see where you’re most comfortable, but if you don’t do it consciously you can end up just getting swirled around.

    Here’s a big “Yay you!” for taking on this journey and a big “Thank you” sharing your situation. It’s so helpful to meet people who are going through the same stuff. :)

  2. Emma

    Thanks for sharing. It was fun sitting in the park and drawing that day and it was fun to see your drawing again and hear the next piece of your process I can sooo relate to the cave/tunnel experience. I find myself in that dark space at least a few times every week. Sometimes everyday. The first step for me is always acceptance of where I am and the the next piece is acknowledging that there is a way through and I just need to find it – or shine the flashlight like you said. And after that I agree that using my intuitive abilities is my biggest asset. I will usually get a “feeling’ of what I need to do next. Then remembering that all I need to do is take one step forward.

    This reminds me of when I hiked the 10 miles down into the Grand Canyon. Literally, with every step the view changed. Each step I was in a new place. That memory and that metaphor helps me everyday. Hope to see you in the park again this week- Kaya

  3. Like James, I’m so there with you. I like how you call the cave a tunnel, but because it’s such a long tunnel (nothing happens overnight), it just looks like a big scary cave and why would I want to enter a big scary cave that might actually be a cave instead of a tunnel like everyone is telling me it is? I mean, if it turns out to be a cave, I’ll have wasted a whole bunch of time moving the rocks out of the way then slowly inching forward flashlight in hand (moving slowly so as to not disturb sleeping bears).

    But, of course I’ll continue because my desire to move forward is stronger than my desire to run away.


  4. Wow. This is right on. I was stunned to see your crayon drawing — it’s a precise visual on how I feel sometimes and how I would like to feel instead.
    This post sounds exactly like the healthiest of things that are running through my head these days. It’s exactly what I needed to read today.
    This is an excellent blog, and I keep up with it always. Thank you!!!

  5. Hi, Emma,

    The universe keeps pointing me toward you (via Conal and (I)An-ok, simultaneously) and I am really enjoying reading your stuff. So much of it (from all three blogs I found) makes so much sense to me. I’m grateful and happy about your existence. Just sayin. :)


  6. Hi everyone!

    First I want to say, I’m so grateful for the comments! As you can imagine, it really helps with my whole am-I-legitimate-and -does-what-I-say-matter-at-all stuff. =)

    Yes! I have been a big extremes-bouncer. It’s calming down of late. I think I used to get on new kicks and think they would “solve my life”, and I’d get all excited…and then crash back the other way when, surprise, my life was still there, and still mostly as murky as it was before. Now, I still do the kick thing, but it’s not as extreme: I have a more stable middle ground. But I still catch myself doing it sometimes. And then yes, there’s the other side of, it’s how we learn. Certainly it can be a fun-enthusiastic-integration thing rather than a rabid-conversion-burnout thing.

    Yes, I see you walking through technology tunnels all the time. You are fearless! You are learning at a really rapid pace and the changing scenery seems to excite you rather than daunt you. It’s inspiring.

    Yes, exactly. It’s like – you have to believe there is actually an “other side” before you are willing to go into the cave. Otherwise, why bother?

    I guess that’s where inspiration comes in – it can come from within – that internal pull (or push!) to move forward, like you said. Or it can come from watching others and seeing what they have done and how they walk through their tunnels. But I think even then, it has to match up with something inside – the inner drive for liberation. Hmm.

    Yeah, motivation – that’s a puzzle all in itself. I am highly motivated to move rocks. Sometimes I don’t know how to help people who are so convinced that it is only a cave, or the tunnel is so impossible to reach the end of that it’s not worth it *in this lifetime*. I suppose though, you would have to start with small tunnels and rebuild that internal strength and confidence. OK I’m really rambling here. =)

    Thanks! I’m glad it landed right where it needed to. =)

    Oh, this comment made my day. Nothing like someone saying they are happy you were born. =)

    Glad it is resonating. Hey, I just met (I)An-ok in person last week. Yay for cyber-friends-you-get-to-meet! =)

    Yay!! (Random celebratory mood!)

    In gratitude,

  7. Emma

    The technology Tunnel seemed more like another planet or universe to me. I realized it is actually true. It’s walking into another world without knowing the culture, rules, norms or language. I guess I just decided to stay and learn from the natives! Thanks for your part.

    The tunnel for me is more of my inner fears about me, my ability, intelligence etc. A cave feels sort of safe and enclosed. A tunnel has light at the end but to get there it means possibly dealing with spider webs and other icky things. That’s where the fear is for me. I don’t like things that will jump out and bite me.


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