Motivation: from Courage and from Fear

As part of my work in the Moon Path for the AODA, I do regular meditations — daily, if I can manage it. (In principle, it’s easy to get up ten minutes earlier and meditate before the day starts. In practice, this requires a consistent bedtime and sufficient sleep. I haven’t managed that yet…) During my last meditation, I received a powerful message concerning the source of my personal motivation.

fluteofdawnUsually, I follow the meditation method described in the article by Erin Pavlina called “Go to your Room.” The basic method is to relax, breathe slowly, imagine yourself in an elevator going down 20 floors, get off the elevator and ask to be taken to “your room”; once there, you will recieve messages from your subconscious. I modify it slightly: going into an elevator has no appeal to me, so I usually imagine myself following a forest path down towards a stream. At every breath, I pass a trail marker, counting down. I allow my imagination to wander; I pass waterfalls and high rocks, sunny mountain pastures and thick brambles. At trail marker 0, I meet… whatever my subconscious has in store for me.  (You can try a free audio guided meditation on this theme here.)

For example, a week ago I came upon a small Greek-style temple with a dome and Doric columns. In the middle of the temple was a small pool. As I watched, a frog hopped out of the pool, paused a moment, and leapt far forward. Mid-leap, it changed into a bird, and flew away. The frog, I felt, was myself; the bird was my power. Very strange.

But my most recent meditation was nothing like that.


I was concerned about fear. Over the last six months or so, fear has been bothering me much more than is usual in my life. Honestly, I am more afraid now, on a day-to-day basis, than I remember ever having been. What am I afraid of? Financial destitution. Losing my family (somehow, nothing specific). Losing my job. Not rising to my potential. Not being the father and husband that I need to be. Being overweight all my life. I had almost none of these fears a year ago.

What happened? I don’t know. We’ve taken some risks in the past year, but most of them have paid off in one way or another. We are deep in debt, but I have a good job and no indications that I will lose it. Given time, we’ll climb out. Of course I can imagine all sorts of scenarios for things going right, but somehow I feel more drawn to worrying about things going horribly wrong.

I know that fear itself is the worst enemy. Why can’t I shake it? This was my question going into the meditation.

I was meditating while I was driving, as I frequently do. (My wife hates that I do this, but I really have no problem with it. It’s much like the walking meditation practice.) But as I began counting down, I started to feel that the speed of my car was something that my subconscious was resonating with. I felt it would be more appropriate to imagine the trail markers on the highway itself. I did so.

When I hit zero, I began to feel a slow pounding, like an inexorable heartbeat. I got an image of a great landscape spread out under me, and I could taste the fear of falling. The sun seemed too bright and too close. I scrabbled for a handhold, and it seemed to me that my hands were long and thin and had claws at the end. My claws were scrabbling at a smooth surface. I felt as if I were being held firmly but gently by a huge pincer.

I realized I was a mouse. A mouse held in the beak of an eagle. The pounding heartbeat was the sound of the powerful wings of the eagle. And it was flying… directly toward the sun.

The eagle, I knew, would fly into the sun and through it. It wouldn’t hurt the eagle at all. But I, the mouse, would be utterly consumed by the fire. I could taste the fear.

Then another realization hit me. I was the eagle, too. I, the eagle, my greater self, was heading for the light; and the light would completely destroy me, the mouse, the fearful self. I could even imagine the tremendous heat of the sun, and the mouse disappearing into a puff of ash as the eagle breached its surface.

The terror of the mouse was all-consuming, but the eagle’s wingbeats continued to pound the air, strong, unstoppable.

That was it as far as the meditation went. It left me shaking and exhilarated. I had to pull over at the next rest stop and recover.


As I thought about it, I realized some things about myself.

We are all, most of us, motivated to grow and improve ourselves in one way or another. But motivated why? Why can’t we just accept our faults and concentrate on what makes us happy?

For many of us — and for me, much of the time — we wish to grow to avoid pain. We want to avoid embarassment, so we prepare for our presentations. We want to avoid failure, so we try hard to succeed. We want to avoid rejection, so we practice our social skills. Pain, and fear of pain, is our motivator.

But of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Why not be motivated by curiosity, or simply the raw desire to improve ourselves? Isn’t it possible to be motivated positively, instead of negatively? Well, sure, in theory. But what would it be like? For someone primarily motivated by fear, it’s hard to even imagine.

Suppose you’re faced with a problem, and a choice of solutions. Option A is a safe, secure, and effective solution. Option B is more difficult, less secure, riskier, and the chance of success is slim. Further, even if you did succeed, you’d be no better off than if you’d chosen A. Option B is just harder. Which option should you take?

The path of fear is option A. The path of courage is option B. Why? Because Option B offers the chance for more personal growth.

Even if option B has no other advantages whatsoever, the fact that it is more difficult means that it is the path where you will learn more. So you should take it, if you can.

Choosing courage means asking yourself, constantly, what the BOLDEST course of action would be. And taking it. Should you ask that girl out? Yes, always. Should you ask for that raise? Yes, always. Should you join a club, run for office, write a letter to the editor? Yes, always. Should you have another child, or buy that nice house? Yes, both! Particularly if you are afraid of doing so. Take the boldest choice, the one with the most chutzpah, the one that shakes you in your boots.

Because that is the only way to get rid of the fear. Turn toward the sun and fly directly into it. When you face the light directly, the mouse will disappear. Only the eagle will remain.

For more on courage vs. fear, be sure to read Steve Pavlina’s great articles, “The Courage to Live Consciously” and “Why Grow?

23 responses to “Motivation: from Courage and from Fear”

  1. I don’t know what it is about this post… I followed it from a trackback on Steve Pavlina’s site… and it just struck me. Thanks you very much. You’ve put a permanent smile on my face today, and re-affirmed that I should pay attention to my intuition.

    Sorry about the weirdness of this reply… feels weird for me as well. I just feel a bunch of emotions that I haven’t felt for a long time.


  2. firefly.jelly Avatar

    Hi Adam, thanks for your kind words. I don’t know what to say, except that I’m really glad this helped you somehow, and I wish you the best, whatever your endeavors.


  3. […] Be aware of symbolism, it will be everywhere. People’s minds think the best in symbols, and everyone has their own personal symbol-dictionary. There are many symbols that stay the same from person to person. Towers often mean suffering (even in pre-Sept 11 symbolism); death means change, not death outright, and could even be changes for the better; birds mean freedom; etc… The feelings that the symbols evoke are just as important as the form of the symbols themselves. An example of symbolism that I’ve seen elsewhere is that of a person who saw himself as a rodent being carried by an eagle into the sun, followed by the sun consuming the rodent, leaving the eagle unhurt. (For that person’s interpretation of these symbols, visit his weblog Druid Journal.) I may share some of my own symbols later on, but they’ll deserve their own post, rather than being a footnote in this one. […]


  4. Hi Jeff,

    I popped over to your blog from Slade’s post of
    Why he blogs.

    I wanted to share with you about ego and fear. It’s a
    concept that I first heard of many years ago while
    reading one of Wayne Dyer’s books.

    My attempt at relating ego and fear would fall quite short,
    but I can say my take on it was the ego LIKES status quo
    and nudges you to avoid change.

    So best to ‘weather vane’ you in this direction and say….
    “Google it”. (ego fear Wayne Dyer)

    I’m quite sure he is not the first nor the only one
    to cover this, but as a starting point.

    I did find one very interesting link out there
    that described stress (ego) and the physiological
    response we have to that.

    To grab one paragraph from this link :

    “Essentially, stress is caused by the ego’s inability to control all the situations, people, conditions, and relationships that it wants to control. Whenever the ego cannot have what it wants, it feels powerless. Consequently, when you feel powerless or overwhelmed mentally, emotionally, or physically, you feel stressed.”………

    xo xo


  5. Here’s a random thought on this one Jeff… is there a possibility that the fear you have been experiencing (and I realise this is an old post) has to do with your consciousness shifting from being ego-based (identifying firmly with the ego and the ego being in charge) i.e. being the mouse, a ground rodent with limited vision… to being a True Self-centered being (able to observe the ego, but not reacting to it’s thoughts and feelings and perceiving the Self as spirit) represented by the eagle – a majestic being of great vision and scope?

    So as the ego senses that it’s ‘power’ is threatened, it reacts with more and more fear, causing you to focus on the fear and therefore stay more in the ego-self instead of making the final transition into Soul-Self?

    I really like your bit at the end, telling us that the only way to deal with fear is to confront it head on, to fly into the sun. I have been struggling with motivation a lot recently and have just written a post on it – but I feel like you’ve given me the answer in this article. Courage is the motivation I have been searching for – doing the most difficutl thing because it builds the self the most. I think this is a really important idea, and thank you for sharing it with us.

    I would be interested to hear your comments on this.
    Much joy,


  6. Debra and Kara-Leah, thanks for coming by. I do agree that fear comes from the ego’s sense of loss of control; and it’s unavoidable as long as you identify yourself with your ego — because the ego can never control everything (thank goodness)!

    Debra, the article you point to has some great tips on how to stop a habitual stress reaction. Thanks for that.

    Kara-Leah, I think you’ve hit on the core of the post. After I did the meditation, my fear didn’t disappear immediately, but it did start to abate. The Buddhist meditations for peace helped me a great deal, as well. And I can say this: nowadays, while I don’t exactly go out and seek danger and adventure in every situation, my first instinct when offered with a choice is to grab for the most interesting route, even if it doesn’t look entirely …safe.

    As Cernunnos said to me recently in a meditation, “The quickest path to personal growth is the exercise of the Will.”


  7. […] My top picks of Jeff’s site (for today anyway): […]


  8. This post is a great motivation. What struck me also is your reference to animals.
    You mentioned the mouse and the eagle and though it’s a totally different animal, I’ve dreamed of a rabbit last night.
    You may wonder what a rabbit has to do with it, but if I may quote a bit of my dreamblog ( on the explanation of the Rabbit:
    “Rabbit is often connected with fear because they are timid and constantly on guard. Rabbit wants us to learn how to face our fear and know when to defend our space or walk away.”
    I amazes me every time when our subconscious or higher self seems to give us messages that have to do with our daily lives.


  9. […] If you wander too deeply into the woods, you’ll come to an area where the path is lined with bricks, instead of leaves, but the walkway is riven with cracks and fissures that extend down into the earth; the light will fail and fade into dusk and darkness, but it will not be night — it is simply always dark here. Nevertheless, the tumbled brick path and twisted trees will be lit by an unholy, unwholesome blue light. At last you’ll find your way blocked by a great chasm, a bottomless abyss that radiates fear. This is the region I escaped from last year when I wrote the meditation on courage. […]


  10. […] ago I promised my wife I would stop meditating in the car. I was sorry to do it, because some of my very best meditations happened then, but I understood her concern. I’m willing to concede that perhaps deep […]


  11. Jeff – every time I look at a new (for me) one of your posts, I am blessed again. This one was especially beautiful and meaningful.


  12. Lori, thank you. I’m deeply touched, and grateful that you’ve found this site helpful.


  13. I suffered chronic fatigue for long time and lately I found I has tremendous fear inside my body. Would like to hear the “courage to fear” meditation. Please drop me the link,



  14. Hi Connie: the meditation I describe here is one that I spontaneously developed while I was driving; I haven’t made a guided meditation version of it. I did make a guided meditation called “Release from Fear”, which has a different structure, and is available for $5 here.


  15. Hi, I wanted to thank you for this article and this wonderful website. I’m planning on following a Druidic path, but was held up by my fear of evil spirits or demons. I found this article on fear after searching for how Druids deal with or believe in evil. I can honestly say it seems evil spirits really affect those who believe in it. I will respect evil spirits if they are out there, and I will certainly not go seeking them.

    So for the fear part. I’ve felt fear for a few days because I wanted to really want to follow this path, but I feared running into something completely evil. I spoke with my freinds about it and it comes down to one’s view on life and the world. Then on speaking to my father his advise is who would you call if you have an evil spirit show up? Simple answer Catholic Priest. That’s why he believes what he believes because Catholism has a way of dealing with inherint evil.

    I know what my father is saying, but I cannot live my life in fear. I feel that Druidism with a concentration on Irish deisism is the perfect fit for me. When I think about fear I think about the movie “Strictly Ballroom” when the protagonist’s father says he never really lived, “Because I lived my life in fear.” (I’m not reflecting on my father’s personal beliefs here.) But I cannot go on living the next 30-50 yrs of in of a Chrisitan God who would stick me in some underground roasting pit. I’ll believe what I want to believe and grow from it. Because I know the good gods above and below are out there and they may have their dark side and I may not understand them all the time. But it is going to have fun finding out!


  16. Aja, what a wonderful message! I salute your courage and conviction! Keep me posted on your adventure!


  17. Thank you for your meditations…when I do them I feel an ancient connection


  18. […] present this book. I have already given some basic instructions in a few places (such as in this old post) and provided a simple downloadable guided meditation to get you started, and given tons of examples […]


  19. […] Any decision based on fear is one that will eventually have very unpleasant consequences. Make your choice from a position of strength and courage. […]


  20. […] an eagle flying overhead, which is rather rare for these parts, and may have something to do with this. Then, that evening, out of nowhere, I realized that 44 was twice the number of cards in the Tarot […]


  21. […] all of it. Finally I asked Adam Alexander at, who had said some kind things about my meditation concerning the eagle and the mouse and who, on his site, indicated a willingness to answer questions of any sort. Before Adam could […]


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