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Tears and Fear: six episodes of truth

For months I’ve wanted to write about the transformational potential of showing our truth to others, and about my intention to create the invitation for that on whatever scale I can. This is key to my vocation and something the world sorely needs. But, as much as I have tried to over-explain it, I have not been able to find the words. Finally these episodes came to mind—moving me from head into heart. I offer them here.

Here I am leaving all concerns behind on a jaunt with our beloved family pet.


My aunt Alice loves God, the church, and the Bible. My mother once slammed a door after declaring “I don’t have an ounce of concern about the salvation of my soul” to an unwitting Christian readying to evangelize from the porch. When I went to a Bible study group at twelve years old, it was an overheard concern of my aunt’s that I shared. I remained silent on the concerns inside my home—inside that door slammed shut. After I spoke, I began to cry softly. It was OK. My tears were witnessed with exactly the same energy they carried. This was a gift.


I bravely donned my favorite casual look. It was June, I was twenty-five and overly thin. I smoked a cigarette in my powder blue Dodge Dart as I drove to the hospital. In the basement, I found Conference Room Three and opened a door I would walk through for years to come. Ellen asked me if this was my first meeting. I clinched my face, locked my throat. Allowing any oxygen would only enliven my long-held fear, confusion, and regret. Ellen touched my shoulder and turned to look at my eyes; she smiled a little bit. As soon as I breathed, I cried. Again, it was OK. Years of discovering, wondering anew, uncovering, and healing started right there.

This $500 investment got me where I needed to go–on so many levels.


George and I toured northeastern Arizona and the Grand Canyon with my parents a few years before my dad’s slow death. The man who raised me wasn’t breathing well. We drove hundreds of miles, ate some great food, and let our psyches expand in wide open space and muted desert color for days. Zooming back to Phoenix on I-40 in traffic moving well above the 75-mph limit, my husband expertly dodged a couch in the road. (Yes, random.) This was the last stressor I could hold, and I began to weep. Keeping both hands firm on the wheel, shoulders holding steady, and eyes fixed solidly ahead he asked, “Are you upset, or just releasing?” It was release. He touched my hand, but continued to zip along fluidly in the right lane. He had learned so much.


It’s just so hard to hold your breath in space like this.

I’m not in tears, but I’m scared. I go to my colleague. “Pretty sure I just blew up our whole database.” She manages the file server and our big shared platforms. In a way that feels too unhurried to me, she puts away a thumb drive and eases a desk drawer shut. If she’s rattled it doesn’t show; she might even be enjoying this. “Ummmm, Lori, aren’t you worried?” I’m horrified. “Nah. I’ve seen some shit,” she explains. She has worked for a U.S. Senator, a Secretary of State, the head of a political party. Her mistakes had the potential to be in the news. I want to be calm like that. Otherwise, what’s the use of shit?


In recent years, I sat in clearness committees at retreats given by Wholeheart. I had just discovered Parker Palmer’s writing and something I considered the real deal in deep listening. The process felt monumental to me. Part of the agreement was to stick to “no fixing, saving, advising, or correcting each other.” Sometimes, I was a focus person for a committee. Every word I spoke, each gesture I made, and any laughter or tears that came were held lovingly in the space they generated, gently living in their own essence. Some ideas had a short half-life. Others became a guide to me. I learned how much I wanted to change direction. At home I cried because I was painfully off course.


A therapist softly directed me to keep breathing when my face scrunched. She’d look at me warmly and inhale; this prompted me to do the same. With a tilted head, she gave a perfectly moderated two nods on my exhale and she offered an almost inaudible “mm-hmm,” inviting whatever information the tears offered: sadness, healing, release, direction. Multitudes more. Doors slammed shut cracked open.


Opening to the expanse inside makes room for the richness of all my life. I’m grateful for every energetic assist I’ve been offered by fellow travelers on this journey. There are many more than those I’ve written about today; they’ve come from girlfriends, colleagues, even strangers.

May I invite your truth to speak? Professionally, I can offer coaching and facilitation. Personally, I strive to offer curiosity and compassion.

Susan McDowell is a Whole Person Certified Coach and trained facilitator based in Central Vermont.
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