Finding Purpose and Overcoming Fear Through Deep Listening

How to overcome fear by using deep listening as a tool

- | 57 Aha! comments | Posted in category: Life & Inspiration

You are loved mural on wall for overcoming fear

When I was 23 years old, I painted my first mural. Northampton, Massachusetts, 1997.

My art was my life. And the thought of peddling it door to door, being rejected by gallery after gallery was more than I could handle.

In a moment of inspiration I thought – if I could just get someone to let me paint their wall, nothing could stop me from sharing my beloved pictures with the world!

To get there, I had had to do some things I never did before. I walked around town searching for walls I might be able to paint. I asked at stores and businesses “Who owns this building? How can I contact them?”

I was making it up as I went along but amazingly, after some weeks I received a call back from a local building owner. The answer was yes. I could paint a mural on his building.

I was getting a degree in painting at the University of Massachusetts. I painted all the time. In my home, at my studio on campus – but always in private.

It gave me freedom to make mistakes, explore, try new things, fail, start over, succeed, celebrate, and feel.

The wall for this mural was on the main thoroughfare in town. Hundreds of cars drive by every hour.

Here’s the thing: when you do something you’ve never done before you can’t be prepared for what’s going to happen. There’s just no way to know what’s going to happen.

I had my design – a broad-leafed tree of life, 16 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It felt infinitely larger than anything I had ever done before.

I took out my brush, opened the paint and went to begin, but I froze. In a moment, I was overcome by a gripping fear so powerful I could not proceed.

“You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

The Grip of Fear

My thoughts screamed: You are going to fail! What if you ruin this wall – right there in front of hundreds of strangers? What if they all think it is so stupid?

It was a degree of fear that was not normal to me. I was stunned.

But I literally could not proceed. The terror was too great.

This fear of being exposed as a fool, a failure, was coming right from my most sensitive place. No longer safe in the privacy of my studio, every phase of the creation of this painting would be visible to passers-by.

I knew something had to change, or I would simply have to go home and not paint this mural. But it had all felt so right!

I stood there, brush in hand, closed my eyes and prayed. “What can I do?!”

RELATED READ: How to Not Fear Failure

Deep Listening in the Thick of the Moment

The sound of traffic faded. I forgot where I was and just concentrated, listening for some kind of new idea.

Over the period of a few minutes, a new thought arrived in my mind like the sun dawning over the horizon. It was utterly new to me.

This is not about you or how people see you. This is your opportunity to give a gift to the very real people who live in this neighborhood.

That idea sat in me for some minutes. I sat with it silently, stunned again at this concept which turned my prior state of mind upside down.

In essence, it meant, “Your fear, as enormous as it feels, is not really relevant here. Your work, because it IS good, is meant to enrich others.”

My pictures were precious to me. But could I be so bold as to consider them a gift to the community?

Then, glory: I found I was falling in love with this new idea. My work IS for others!

I began to feel it through and through, and as I did it was as if the idea grew in me so large that there was just no more room for the fear. My excitement to create this painting which, for the first time ever in my life, really would reach people, overcame me.

A rare kind of joy filled me as I realized I was now able to begin the painting.

The Spoils of War

Over the ten days that I worked on that mural, I met lots of people, talked about the mural with countless strangers, and my life was changed.  Riches poured forth from the experience.The mural tree of life on the wall

First of all, I showed myself that I could do the very thing I had most feared that I couldn’t. The mural succeeded.

Not only was it not a failure, but it was also a vibrant success. People had slowed their cars driving by, clapping and shouting approval as they passed.

The very people I had feared would judge me, had become a source of joy for me. I could see and feel that my idea, my mural, had communicated with many of them.

I had a new understanding of “community”. Each face passing on the sidewalk and in the flow of traffic on the street is a being that matters.

They each, just like me, have feelings, hopes, fears, the stories of their lives. And if they have those things, I can reach them my art.

It landed in my heart with a soulful certainty – I will be a muralist. And I labor to bring beauty to these beloved people.

“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

A Crazy Idea

Fast forward seven years. I’d made my way painting murals, sometimes fighting for every inch of success, sometimes with great, generous moments of progress.

I’d become used to the idea of coming across an idea that I loved and worked to make it a reality in the world. It was exciting and hard.

In those days, I drove a humble 1993 Mazda 323, white. Guaranteed – no heads turned when I drove by.

One day a dreamy idea floated into my mind. It was my little Mazda, but instead of its blank whiteness, it was painted to look like a little brown bird.

I smiled at the thought and went back to my business.

Some weeks later I had the same thought. I smiled again and imagined that little car zooming around my neighborhood.

The thing is, the thought kept coming to me more and more over a year. It was a really cute fantasy!

But then, about a year after I first began dreaming of this bird car, it dawned on me – I’m gonna do it! I got really excited about it.

I drew up the design and went out to begin. And as I went to make the first mark on the hood of the car – it happened again!

That fear came crushing down on me like an avalanche. One minute previous all had been well, and now I was filled with terror.

A cruel voice in my thoughts announced, as certain as gravity, “They will pity you. They will shake their heads and pity the poor village idiot. You will be shunned.”

All anonymity will be gone. Everywhere I go, I’ll be the poor idiot who thought he had a good idea, but really just went too far.

I was, again, paralyzed. I had no tools to deal with so vicious and terrifying darkness.

I closed my eyes and prayed. I’d grown so used to following my ideas – why did this feel so horrible??

I simply reached out, listening – “What can I do?!”

What Do You Stand For?

Very quickly, almost like a response, a new question arose in my thoughts – a question for me. “Do you believe in beauty?”

It seemed unrelated, but I considered it, willing to go along. My heart’s answer came quietly, quickly. “Actually, yes, I do. I believe in it more than anything.”

I knew it was true. Every time I worked on a painting what I was really doing was loving beauty. It was perhaps the most life-affirming thing I knew.

And then, as if it were a mathematical proof, the next step asserted itself: I believe in beauty. I know I will go to any length for it. Without beauty, there is no point in anything else.

And with that, the threat that people will pity me remained, but I found that I didn’t care. I realized then and there; I was willing to stand by beauty.

If beauty instructs me to do something that makes me look foolish to some, I will do it. Beauty is right and those people (if they even exist) are wrong.

And the punchline again, as if it were the refrain in a song: It isn’t about how they see you. This is a gift of beauty for the very real people who walk the streets of your neighborhood.

Car painted as a brown bird

Standing Out for What You Believe In

I made the bird car and drove it everywhere.  Never once did anyone ever say anything mean about it. But I did receive countless compliments, applause (yes! As I drove down the street!), and one note under my windshield wiper: “You have the best car in the city.” Children often tugged on their parents’ hands and pointed, smiling and laughing.

One of my previous thoughts had been right. I did lose a lot of anonymity. Everywhere I drove my car called attention.

I realized this was a necessary step forward in my mission to help people through creating beauty. Every day as I step into my car I am consciously affirming my commitment to stand out on a limb for beauty. I accept the honor of the job.

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Feeling Loved

These experiences of reaching out and finding answers in my times of great fear leave me feeling loved by life, the universe, God. Whatever name I put to it, my experience tells me that if I reach out for guidance as I strive to do my most real work, I receive that guidance.

Through countless difficulties and challenges that guidance has been there. It often brings ideas that cause me to have to change, grow, and do things I never did before.

It often is demanding, giving me my work to do. And as I honestly strive to do that work, it brings beautiful, real goodness and healing for myself and others.

If that’s a real thing, I want to share it.

You Are Loved

In late 2013 I was working on a mural for an elementary school in New Orleans, LA. The principal of the school intimated her desire to help the students feel loved and cared for as they walked through the halls of the school.

I felt a deep honor as I considered the important challenge that laid out for my mural. How to actually cause these children to feel and recognize how precious and important they are?

As I have learned to do, I listened in the deepest inward way I could. I focused my desire to have my art really be effective in people’s lives.

A question came. Do we have to be subtle about this? Can’t we just say it directly?

I tried to think of the words that I had most longed to feel at the hardest moments in my life. Within the larger mural I wrote:

YOU ARE LOVED

YOU ARE NEEDED

YOU ARE IMPORTANT

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL

YOU CAN DO IT

Mural on the wall with you are loved written on it

The Most Important Message, Everywhere

Upon finishing that mural I realized that I had come upon a large idea. I began to imagine the words YOU ARE LOVED, 15 feet tall on the sides of public buildings. I recognized the airy, exciting feeling of the hope of making an idea into a reality.

Since then I have worked to connect with schools, worship communities, prisons, and anyone who was interested. We are making YOU ARE LOVED murals in the real world.

Sometimes, even now, so many years later, I find myself feeling fear about what I am about to express.

Last year, beginning a YOU ARE LOVED mural in a prison in Massachusetts I felt the nervousness that this was too sensitive a thing to say in so rough and mean a place. At this point, it is a familiar feeling.

It was easy to recognize that voice. Yes, it feels like fear – but now I recognize it as the voice that proves to me that I’m doing the right work. I’m pushing my boundaries and bringing beauty to places where it doesn’t usually get brought.

“The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~ Fredrick Beuchner

Fear is a Gate, Listening is a Tool

From these and many other similar experiences, I feel confident that fear is a gate. It comes, sometimes powerfully when I am beginning to attempt something important.

Fear presents the appearance that the gate is locked, and there is no way to go through. But there always is a way.

Listening is the tool that arrives at the key to the lock. It is a deep and trusting willingness to reach out to the universe, God, intuition – our deepest knowing.

In this article, I have related stories of when listening produced quick and complete answers. Other times in my experience it has required patient and persistent listening and asking.

One thing I feel sure of: there is a voice out there, willing and able to present us with the perfect idea, even at the darkest time. And its ideas are light, generous, and cause us to turn outwards to serve.

Fear is not the end of the path. It is our invitation to listen!

Over to you –

When you listen deeply what do you hear?



Show Comments

57 Comments - Read and share thoughts

  1. Alex Cook

    April 25, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Greetings everyone! I’d love to hear your thoughts about listening, being loved, and overcoming fear. Thanks so much for reading!

  2. Stella Chiu

    April 25, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    Hi, Alex/Harleena

    Enjoy this nice journey of overcoming fear. I like the way you use “gate: for fear and “listening” as the key to open up the gate.

    You demonstrated so well in these two stories that change your prospective will delete fear from your life. Instead of concentrating the doubt in your abilities, it is much better of to see your work as the contribution to others.

    Enjoy the post.

    Stella Chiu

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Hi Stella! Thanks so much for your thoughts. I’m delighted you could relate to my journey of overcoming fear. All the best to you!

  3. Philip Verghese Ariel

    April 26, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Hi Harleena and Vinay

    It is really good to hear from you again after a gap of a month!

    Nice to meet Alex the talented personality on you page today!

    It is indeed an inspiring story you presented thru these page Alex.

    Good one to read as, said i too could pick few lessons from this amazing post.
    It is really great to note the concluding para: “Fear is a Gate, Listening is a Tool” exactly Listening is indeed an amazing tool! It really opens many gates of fears!!!

    Thanks for this motivational piece.
    Alex excellent paintings,but sad, you should have included few more pics!
    Anyways, Keep up the good work!

    Best Regards

    Keep sharing

    May you all have a great time of sharing and caring 🙂

    ~ Phil

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      Hi Phil! Thanks so much for your thoughts. Yes, fear often seems to be the end of the road – a wall – but really, it IS a gate. And very often a clear message that we are doing the work that is moving us outside of our comfort zone into newness and growth. I’m glad too that you enjoyed the pictures! You can see MANY more at my site mentioned in my author bio on this post. Enjoy!

  4. Dr. Johnny Velazquez

    April 26, 2016 at 1:22 am

    What an awe inspiring post. True. We have allowed fear to dictate our future. Many times we become our own biggest obstacles. We tend to listen to that negative inner voice. Thank you so much. It is an uplifting post. Blessings.

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      Hi Johnny! Thanks so much for writing. 🙂 Yes, we can all serve ourselves and the world by being willing to listen for new ideas, right in the face of our fears. There is always a way forward, and the wonderful thing is that it’s not our job to make it up – only to listen and receive. Much love, Alex

  5. Keiko Katsuta

    April 26, 2016 at 1:28 am

    Hi Alex,

    Thank you so much for sharing your precious experiences! Your murals are gorgeous, and the message, “YOU ARE LOVED,” IS the most powerful and the VERY message that we all need to receive!! So, thank you for that as well!

    I draw mandalas to help people heal and get closer to their authentic aspects. Every time I finish a work, the doubt starts talking to me, “Will this really help people?” even though I completely love the work.

    But then, the Voice says to me, “Allow your gift and your authenticity to serve the world” just like your Glory told you.

    I’m still working on getting myself out there and practicing the conversation with my fear and the Divinity, but knowing that someone else like you are walking on the same path encourages me a lot.

    Thank you so much for your amazing insights, Alex!

    In love & gratitude,
    Keiko

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:33 pm

      Oh Keiko, it’s so heartwarming to hear of your experiences on the path you are on. Bless you! And yes, I do believe we all would expand, and grow, and shine more and more as we understand that we are loved. You can see many more of these murals, and read about the ideas behind why I paint YOU ARE LOVED murals, at youarelovedmurals.com. I have had so many struggles to understand and feel sure about the support that comes from the Divine. But I do know that with each struggle, with each effort to grow and be good, we do make progress and are better able to serve and be free. With much love and powerful warm wishes for you, Alex

  6. Clearissa Coward

    April 26, 2016 at 1:43 am

    Great article. I have missed opportunities because I allowed fear and the feeling of inferiority to whisper those paralyzing thoughts into my soul. I love the fact that you faced your fears head on and always received a positive result. As an aspiring entrepreunuer, I am afraid most of the time. Thank you for sharing. I will have to be still and listen for that inner voice and allow it to guide me.

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Hello dear Clearissa! How good to hear about your efforts as an entrepreneur. I’m glad you felt a connection to this article too. In my experience, facing fears always gives an opportunity to let go of thinking about myself and do more thinking about others or beauty, or some other good thing like that. Fear is always about self and when we can love goodness more than we fear for ourselves, the fear can slip away. Really its useless! I wish you all the best in your listening and am grateful to think of all the good things you will hear. Warmly, Alex

  7. Lorraine Reguly

    April 26, 2016 at 3:08 am

    Welcome back after a much-needed break, Harleena!

    And Alex, what a neat post!

    Deep listening is not something most people do on a regular basis, unless they take time for self-reflection once a week (or every two weeks, or once a month, or whatever).

    I learned to do self-reflection when I was in university studying to become a teacher. When I began teaching, it was a requirement.

    Now that I am blogging and writing for others as a freelancer, I continue to self-reflect. With this process comes the deep listening you refer to.

    It is from listening to my inner voice and seeking spiritual guidance that I continue to move forward with my business, with my goals, and in life.

    In my daily life, I also use affirmations. They help keep me focused on the big picture, too!

    I particularly like how you said:

    YOU ARE LOVED

    YOU ARE NEEDED

    YOU ARE IMPORTANT

    YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL

    YOU CAN DO IT

    I use an entire, full-page list of positive affirmations! And they have helped me achieve my goals, too!

    Well done, Alex. 🙂

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Lorraine! Thank you so much for your thoughts! It’s wonderful to hear about the progress you have achieved and how listening has brought the needed guidance. And yes, we must remind ourselves often of the things that are true about us and others. Sometimes we are so easily distracted! But fortunately, all the best things are only a thought away. 🙂 If you’d like to see more murals with these affirmations you can at youarelovedmurals.com. All the best to you on your continued adventure! Alex

      • Lorraine Reguly

        April 26, 2016 at 10:26 pm

        The murals are beautiful. I even like the ones in Spanish! 🙂

  8. Stefany

    April 26, 2016 at 3:58 am

    The feeling of fear have left many trembling and crippled many dreams, however only a few of us really go for what they believe and want. When I was younger fear was like my best friend, I was so fearful of everything I did or say. Keep in mind this started at a very young age. when you get criticised for almost everything the fear finds a way to creep inside of your head and stay there for a long time pretending to be your friend. It took a heartbreaking experience to let go of that fear and as you stated I listened to the voice within and it was that voice that helped me to let go.

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Dear Stefany, how wonderful to hear that you were able to let go of that fear that stayed with you for so long. I know just what you mean about a heartbreaking experience somehow enabling you to let go of the fear you had been harboring. It’s wonderful to be part of this community with so many people in the work of letting go of fear and seeking true progress. The more we do it for ourselves, the more others can see that it is possible to be unafraid. This is an inspiring goal! With love, Alex

  9. Donna Merrill

    April 26, 2016 at 4:18 am

    Hi Alex,

    What a beautiful share. I had to savor every word of it and glad I did. I enjoyed sharing your journey because that fear voice in my own head used to pop up so many times. Although it still does once in a while, I know how to handle it. I never let it stop me when those negative thoughts enter my mind.

    Learning through experience, like you have has outweighed the negative. At times it is more strong than others, but once you work it through….once you paint that car as a bird….that feeling is so wonderful. It brings happiness and also more positive people to your life.

    Thanks for the inspiration,

    -Donna

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:51 pm

      Hi Donna! So nice to hear your thoughts and experiences. Thank you. I know just what you mean about learning to handle fear. As a younger person the fear seems to never end, and totally unmanageable. But it’s the very best thing when we begin to see that, just like learning a lesson in school, we can actually get better at learning to recognize fear as the changeable thing it is and less as the impenetrable wall it seems to be. With love, Alex

  10. Kim Willis

    April 26, 2016 at 7:09 am

    Hi Alex

    Sweet story

    I’m into listening big time. Certainly listening deeply to your own inner voice is part of it. But in my day to day business life I like to also listen closely to my prospective customers. I talk to them on the phone, I ask a question and then listen very closely to their answer.

    I look for hidden meaning behind their answers – what people say and what they really mean are often two completely different things.

    Listening deeply is a learned skill which also requires our brain to be relaxed and open to possibilities.

    By using the technique you gained confidence and resolved to dismiss your fear and press on.

    Keep doing it!

    Kim

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Kim! Thanks so much for your thoughts. I appreciate your different take on listening. It’s a wonderful gift to learn to listen to those around us in addition to listening internally. In fact, it seems to me that it’s simply listening for value and substance, wherever, that brings value and substance to us. I’m sure it’s great for your business and your customers really appreciate your close attention. Listening communicates a great respect and I’m sure they feel that! All the best to you, Alex

  11. Shantanu Sinha

    April 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Hello Alex,

    This is great stuff 🙂 Nice meeting you here on Harleena Mam’s blog.

    Over coming your fear is one of the hardest task to deal with.
    Lot of motivation and self confidence is needed for this to be done.
    The story you made us aware of, it is could be taken as an inspirational lesson for all of us.

    Facing your fear is one of the bravest task among all, I till date regret the opportunities I let
    to go, because of my fear and not believing in my self.
    Frankly speaking I am not good at listening, may this would be a factor that I tend to let go so many
    opportunities.

    Thanks for sharing this post among us.
    Have a great week ahead.
    Shantanu sinha

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Hello dear Shantanu! Nice to hear from you. I know just what you mean about listening being hard and sometimes feeling just terrible at it. You make me remember a time, many years ago when I just wished to be good at listening. I knew I wanted to be good at it, and I knew it would help me be in touch with my life in a more substantial way, but I felt distracted and, frankly, like when I listened I didn’t hear anything! Like you said, overcoming our fears can be the hardest thing, but I do think it’s possible. I remember having to be so patient with myself, and then even learning to be patient with myself about not being patient with myself. 🙂 A good trick I think is to gently keep watch of your successes and celebrate them. Let them grow in your thoughts and be glad about them, no matter how small. Listening is natural and we can all be good at it. Don’t give up! With warm love, Alex

  12. Carolyn Nicander Mohr

    April 26, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Hello Alex, Harleena and Vinay,

    Wow, what an impressive return from your break! Alex’s story is so inspirational. His creative spirit was hard at work, not only in creating his art, but also in concocting ways to share his art with others. How brilliant to think of murals and car art to allow others to enjoy his talents!

    His fear of getting started truly reminded me of my fears in starting blogging. Putting your work out to the public can be frightening. But when you realize that you are just doing it to help others.

    Best wishes to you, Alex, for much continued success. Thank you for sharing your work with the world and inspiring others. Yes, Fear is the Gate and Listening is the Key.

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      Hi Carolyn! Thanks so much for your comments. It’s wonderful to me to be hearing from so many people who are dealing with or have dealt with fear, and getting through it. Thanks so much for chiming in and I’m so glad you found it inspirational! With love, Alex

  13. lisa thomson

    April 26, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Hi Alex, your story is beautiful. This brought tears to my eyes. Of course, many of us can relate to fear. Fear of being different, having different ideas. This is affirming that we’re on the right path.

    Congratulations on bringing beauty and love into the world for those who need it most! Thanks Harleena, for this wonderful guest post.

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 10:37 pm

      Hi Lisa! Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, it’s wonderful when we can feel and understand that we are not alone on this path of exploration and expression. We ARE on the right path! Love to you, Alex

  14. Ilka Emig

    April 26, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    Hi Alex!

    Thank you for this inspiring and truly honest post. Like so many who commented before me, I can relate to your fears. I was also afraid to start my blog. I wanted to share but at the same time, I was afraid people would not like my posts. The same goes with my music, always afraid of rejection.

    I guess listening, and finding an answer while listening, gives us the assurance and confidence we need to present our art to others.

    I guess it is all part of being an artist. And I guess it is part of sharing something that so very important to us, pouring out our hearts and making ourselves vulnerable. But this is also the beauty of being an artist, no matter if we are painters, musicians or writers.

    I love your art and I love your creativity. The car looks just fantastic.
    All the best, Ilka

    • Alex Cook

      April 26, 2016 at 10:40 pm

      Hi Ilka! Thanks so much for your comment. Congratulations to you for moving ahead with your blog despite your fears. The more we commit to what we feel is most right, the more our fears fall away. Our work becomes the immovable object and our fear grows less and less. All the very best to you on your journey! With love, Alex

  15. Corina Ramos

    April 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Hi Harleena. Hi Alex.

    It’s nice to meet you and congratulations on your post here on Harleena’s blog. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I kind of had the same moment you did when I started my second blog. Right when I was about to go live, I hesitated and started wondering if I was doing the right thing, would people read my posts, etc. It made me second guess my skills.

    At that time it was hard for me to listen to myself because the negative thoughts were too loud. What helped me was turning to my friends and when I listened to their reassurances, it helped me overcome my fear.

    I love that you said fear is a gate and listening is a tool…I truly believe that.

    Thank you again for this wonderful post!

    All the best!
    Cori

    • Alex Cook

      April 27, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Hi Corina! So good to hear your experiences. Another commenter above – Kim Willis – brought up how useful it is to him to listen to his customers. It’s so true that the things we most need to hear can sometimes come to use from people around us – our friends, colleagues, customers, etc. In fact, I owe a great debt of gratitude to some friends for just a thing. When I was just beginning my career as an artist (around 2000) my friends told me I needed to make a website to show my work. It seemed like a lot of work, I didn’t know how to do it, and I wasn’t even sure anyone would ever even look at it. I deferred, not wanting to waste my time. But rather than giving up they got more and more adamant and would not let me off the hook. I was annoyed, but also touched that they would stand up to me. I knew it was because they loved me and my work. Finally, (and certainly because of them) I did make a website for my work and naturally it was a very good idea. Thank goodness for our friends and for our ability to hear them!

  16. Mario

    April 27, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Wow … that was just what I needed to hear. I just recently moved out of my parents house, moved to a bigger city in pursuit of a different life and hoping to depend on my art and creative abilities. I was beginning to have fear and doubts like you described, your story and experience will prove to be invaluable to me. Thank you again.

    • Alex Cook

      April 27, 2016 at 8:42 pm

      Mario that’s wonderful! Thank you so much for letting us know! One thing I always try to remember, and use to cheer and revive myself – Your creative gifts are here for a very real reason. They are a gift to you and others. Bless you as you begin your adventure and find your ways to use your gifts and enrich this world!

  17. Quinn Eurich

    April 27, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Honest, open, thoughtful, insightful – it inspires me and makes me feel joyous seeing the beauty you make.

    Where is your bird car now?

    I imagine it sitting in the Smithsonian Institute right next to Mr. Roger’s sweater!

    Thank you so much for sharing Alex!

    • Alex Cook

      April 27, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Hi Quinn! So glad you liked the article! You can see even more of my work at my website, listed in my bio above, or just click my name on this comment. 🙂 The bird car, alas, is no longer in this world. In fact, I drove another painted car for 10 years since then! At my site there is a tab dedicated to all the art cars I have painted. Check it out! All the best to you Quinn!

  18. Alan Marsden

    April 27, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for this really fresh take on handling fear. Often we hear about the need to confront it, sure, but to take the time to listen to it is a new approach to me.

    It’s meditative in a way. I really enjoyed your story and it will help many who try to quieten their inner critic. My inner critic is the source of all my fears so I’ll try listening and following your approach.

    Best wishes.

    Alan

    • Alex Cook

      April 27, 2016 at 10:45 pm

      Hi Alan! Thanks so much for your comment. I have to say, I have had PLENTY of experience with the inner critic in addition to these few experiences. It can be absolutely awful. It became so necessary to me to find a way through that I can confidently say I have done a thorough study of the inner critic! Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it has no useful information for me. Sort of regardless of what it says. It’s never trying to help me. It’s always trying to subvert my best self. So, over some months and years of effort I have largely learned to disregard it. But how do you know when it’s the inner critic and when its just good sense? I think it’s in “the tone of voice” of the thought. When the thought is harsh, cruel, mocking, belittling, mean, etc – that’s the inner critic. And when the voice is just giving information, that’s probably alright to give some attention to. Listening is really something to learn and learn and learn. I look forward to being better at it! All the best to you Alan!
      Alex

  19. lh. louis

    April 27, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I am definitely passionate about overcoming fear, there are definitely different ways of overcoming fear, deeply listening is the best.

    I trained myself, keep listening to the very great motivational videos, spend a little cash on business books, it’s definitely changed the way I think, the way I fear things. When fears are coming, because of the studying and reading, I could actually analysis the risk.

    But let keep it basic, fears is good.

    • Alex Cook

      April 27, 2016 at 10:50 pm

      Interesting idea Louis! I must admit, I would be hard-pressed to think of an example of a time when I think fear is a good thing. I’d be interested to hear what makes you say that. I pretty much exclusively think of fear as something to be overcome/seen through. Certainly there is a time and a place for caution, setting reasonable expectations, etc., but fear seems to me to be a purely destructive concept, making us miserable and trying to keep us from doing the good work and living we are here to do. In my experience there are countless better ways to be motivated than by living in fear. I say, let’s live entirely without fear.

  20. Obinna Onyenali

    April 27, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Hi Alex,

    I want to thank you specially for this inspiring post. It’s easy for me to relate to your story, maybe because I’m an artist too.

    The fear of rejection and negative feedbacks has left a lot of promising talents stagnated, which shouldn’t be.

    Once again, thanks for the write-up.

    • Alex Cook

      April 27, 2016 at 10:53 pm

      Wonderful to hear from you Obinna! Thank you for your comment. Yes, it’s so important to see our work and our art as more than just reflecting on us. May your art be a blessing to you and your community! With love, Alex

  21. Jasbindar Singh

    April 29, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Profound blog, Alex. Do love, “fear is a gate and listening ( deep ) is a tool.” As you indicate, if we do this regularly enough, we do get the answers or pointers along the way. Sometimes, the voice of truth can be scary but as has been said, “it will set you free.” Thanks for the wonderful sharing.

    • Alex Cook

      April 29, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      Hello dear Jasbindar! Thank you for your thoughts. 🙂 I’m so glad you know what I mean and have experienced that good guidance from listening. And yes, the truth certainly can feel scary. Just as you say, it does set us free, and causes us to grow, shed old fears, and see more of our larger, beautiful selves. All the very best to you!

  22. Ikechi Awazie

    April 30, 2016 at 3:55 am

    Hi Alex

    What a profound message? “You are Loved”. I love your story about overcoming fear. You remind about a post I wrote about fear. Your story shows that while fear will come to us at a point where we are making a difference, listening to our inner voice does help to unlock our creativity.

    You are just blessed that your inner Gps is able to bring out the beauty in your life. Most people struggle with the voice of doubt and fear and even when they try to listen, they can still hear the doubt.

    I want to say that I agree with you that our work is meant to enrich others. Thanks for sharing and have a swell week. Take Care

    • Alex Cook

      April 30, 2016 at 10:59 pm

      Hello Ikechi! Thank you for you comments! Every last one of us will struggle against fear as we work to grow out of our small shells. I certainly have. The crucial element is whether or not we are willing to persist and push through that fear. I can only say that I have experienced that the desire to push through fear comes from feeling the sheer goodness of the desired outcome. As we fall in love with goodness, beauty, service, or any of the many other pure things in life, we will find the unbreakable desire to enables us to push through our fear.
      All the best to you!

  23. Bola Akande - Jwb

    April 30, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    Fear is definitely a gate. It closes all the doors on posibilitis. Love the story and the art.

    • Alex Cook

      April 30, 2016 at 11:02 pm

      Hello Bola! Thank you for writing! I’m so glad you liked the story and the art. The important thing is to not let fear be the final story. This is why listening or praying is so important and beautiful. I may be filled with fear, but if I am willing to listen to a voice that is coming from Divinity, a goodness outside of me, it can replace the fear which otherwise I would have no way to deal with.
      Thank you for your kind words! All the best to you!
      Alex

  24. Andrea

    May 2, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Hi Alex,

    I truly appreciate you sharing this story, it has hit home on a number of levels. Firstly, it seems that fear is that inevitable nuisance that raises its head as soon as we’re about to do something meaningful and out of our comfort zones.

    Secondly, I love how you faced it and actually listened to what it had to tell you. This is amazing! I think a lot of us don’t like the feeling of fear because it’s so uncomfortable, yet it’s the gateway (as you said) to better things on the other side. Reminds me of Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s journey.

    You are a gift to the world, thank you! 🙂
    Andrea

    • Alex Cook

      May 2, 2016 at 11:25 pm

      Hi Andrea!

      Thanks so much for your comment and your kind words. 🙂

      I think you’re exactly right – this IS the hero’s journey. If I remember correctly, Joseph Campbell speaks of the hero as the one who journeys to the unknown and returns with treasures that are entirely his or her own. As we face fear and see/live beyond it, we can’t help but become heroes in that sense. Overcoming fear necessarily gives us life-riches which we inevitably long to share.

      I want to be clear, I don’t think of myself as listening to fear and gaining riches from that. I think of myself as listening BEYOND the fear or in spite of the fear. Listening to a voice (actually I like to think of it as a Voice) that is outside of my fear, that isn’t afraid, and that has solutions that fix the problem. To me this is the voice of God, or the divine, or the universe, or whatever you like. I believe it is the very opposite of listening to fear, and to hear it, in fact, requires that we actively NOT listen to fear.

      Thank you again for your kind words. I am so delighted that this article hit home for you!

      You are a gift to the world too! <3

      Alex

  25. Kristen

    May 3, 2016 at 6:32 am

    Hi Alex- I am reminded by your ‘received’ words: “Your fear, as enormous as it feels, is not really relevant here. Your work, because it IS good, is meant to enrich others” tells us that ‘listening’ or prayer is answered when we trust that there is an Answerer who loves us and is guiding us, especially when we ask for help.
    I loved helping you and others to create the Sacramento Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer’s ‘You Are Loved’ mural. And I rejoice each time I drive down Marconi Ave (west-bound) and see it on the church building, big and beautiful with that message/reminder of being Loved and knowing that we are all included in that Love.

    • Alex Cook

      May 3, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      Hi Kristen! How wonderful to hear from you here on Aha NOW!

      I look back on that mural with such fondness. That was the 3rd YOU ARE LOVED mural ever. now there are 15 of them in 5 states and 2 countries! It’s wonderful to think of it being there on Marconi and the thousands of people who see it every day. I love that. 🙂

      You can see more of the YOU ARE LOVED mural if you click on my name above this comment. It will take you too the site.

      Lots of love,

      Alex

  26. Izuzu Nworgu

    May 7, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring story.
    Fear will always creep into our lives but the most important thing is overcoming that fear.

    • Alex Cook

      May 8, 2016 at 4:24 am

      Thank you Izuzu! Yes, we can always overcome fear! Sometimes quickly and sometimes with great patience and persistence. 🙂

  27. K.J. Hutchings

    May 7, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    A fantastic post Alex and a great reminder that we cannot let fear stop us in life – we cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by an emotion to the extent it snuffs out our dreams and goals.

    Fear will always be a there when we try something new or take a risk – it’s always a sign we are moving outside of our comfort zone. That’s why it’s important to listen to our fear and not run away from it. You are so right that we need to listen beyond the fear and hear the voice deep inside us that isn’t ruled by fear, the voice that knows what is best for us and reminds us that “You Are Loved”!

    Thanks for this post! 🙂

    • Alex Cook

      May 8, 2016 at 4:27 am

      Hi KJ! Thanks for your comment! Yes, it’s all about the voice beyond the fear. It will always be there, waiting for us to listen, ready with the wisest, kindest, most effective ideas. <3

  28. Bernadette

    October 11, 2016 at 4:38 am

    I have been deeply touched by your story Alex after reading about you in the local newspaper this weekend. I teach Faith Formation – grade 7 and I cannot wait to share the next step after introducing my middle schoolers to your short messaging. Next, I want to watch them message out in art.
    More importantly, our teens need to be the recipients and think really hard on your simple words of love, encouragement and joy before they think that life is not a wise choice. A difficult issue in my daughter’s school this year.
    However, I feel a great movement coming to every town, school and church in America and its all in God’s plan for you. The Holy Spirit is alive and well in you and He’s taking you on a great journey. Enjoy the ride!

  29. Harsh yadav

    May 15, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    Hello Alex,
    This is by far the best article i read about overcoming fears. The way you shared your journey is so interesting, there were moments i felt “Gosh! I also felt the same in many circumstances in my life”. And yes, there’s always a little voice echoing inside us and guiding us to follow the right path. I know i read it quite late, but they say “better late then never”.




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Read more posts in the category: Life & Inspiration




Finding Purpose and Overcoming Fear Through Deep Listening

by Alex Cook time to read: 9 min