"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Facing Down Fear

Last Monday I finally got back on my bike.

Two years ago on July 3, I went for my morning bike ride. The summer air is still fresh and cool in San Antonio at 7 a.m. I counted on my ride to clear my head –setting the tone for the day.

A mile from the house I encountered a small, white dog. He was so small he didn’t worry me. I didn’t even brake when he rushed the bike.

In what seemed like an eternity – but in what was probably less than a minute – I was face down, skidding on the pavement. The dog leaped into the pedals. I was thrown over the handlebars and onto the street.

Nine stitches in my mouth, two wrists so badly bruised I couldn’t drive for a week. Knees so jazzed up from hitting the street – literally – that I couldn’t exercise for several months without feeling the pain.

And no way could I bike.

I kept thinking about it though. I loved to ride. The gym didn’t do it. Running wasn’t a fit for me. I needed movement. Flow. Air.

It was a thought spurred by Dr. Christiane Northrup that got me back in the saddle. Dr. Northrup is a noted women’s health advocate. I’ve been listening to a great recording featuring her. Being reminded of the power and resilience of the female body is empowering, but what really struck me was the reality of what LIFE does to us if we allow it. Gradually, because of fear-based experience, we shut down. We take good things out of our lives. We lose our enthusiasm.

Sometimes we are just plain overwhelmed. I used to go to the post office and frequently noticed a woman come out of her large, weed-entangled house next door. Dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, she puttered in the yard and sometimes came across the street, presumably to check her mail. I went to that post office a lot over several years. The house grew noticeably shabbier and more infirm, as did its owner. One day I pulled into the parking lot and the house across the street had collapsed. “That could be me,” I thought to myself. “Too much house to take care of. It gets harder and harder…”

Eventually all human projects disintegrate and disappear. Only Nature perseveres.

I thought about selling my house, but decided it was a little early to go that route.
But after my accident I stopped biking.

We humans are fragile creatures and we would be foolish not to take care of ourselves. But every time we make a choice to leave something out or eliminate an activity we enjoy because we no longer have the courage or enthusiasm or heart to do it - our world narrows slightly. And then the inner house gets shabby. The lights dim.

I don’t want to live in the dark. Screwing up courage to get back on the bike took planning – and a fair amount of positive self talk. Consider cultivating this positive self talk, and pepper it with a nice dash of defiant self-esteem. I bought a better helmet, but also decided to focus on each block of my ride more carefully. If I see a dog, there isn’t any guarantee we can share the street amiably, but I deserve to be there too, and I am going to take my chances. Feeling the air is worth it. I choose each morning not to be afraid. Or to feel the fear and do it anyway.

And isn’t that what every tough, self-empowering choice is about – every single day? You may be afraid of what won’t happen if you go into the studio, but go there anyway. You might be intimidated about speaking up when it isn’t socially or politically correct, but how will you feel about yourself if you remain silent?

Don’t allow your world to narrow. Claim some small part of your joy back today. And relish the experience of it.


  1. Trite but true--there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Live Strong!

  2. Oh Jane. I never saw this picture before and I was scared you had been attacked. I knew about your accident but never realized it was this serious. You inspire us all to live courageously.

  3. I've noticed that sometimes we quit actively analyzing or thinking about a concept or idea because the automatic impulse is to toss it off as trite! Thanks for your comment pointing that out. It's hard to stay in present time and meet ideas we've met and dismissed in the past with enough freshness to activate them anew.

  4. Oh, Jane, I am so sorry you had this experience. I used to ride my bike a lot when we lived in CA. I would ride for miles and felt safe and so free. Fast forward to our move to NC, not a bike friendly place and so I stopped riding. Portland is one of the most bike friendly places in the country and I have been trying to get the courage to get back on my bike. You have encouraged me to face the demons.

    Hope your healing is swift. XXOO

  5. Sometimes the right picture can be so powerful in translating a concept.
    In this case it is obvious how difficult the decision to get back on the bike must have been. Thanks for sharing this cautionary tale - and reminding us to be wary of developing habits that can stem from poor choices.
    I too am happy that you are back on your bike.

  6. Thrilled you are back on the bike. It was such an important part of your life-I was sad you had let it go(understood why-but sad all the same)

    Kathy Williams

  7. that fear can trap us in an invisible cell is so true. time, good self speak and a new helmet can help recovery. when i was attacked by a pit bull while riding my mare years ago, i lost it for a while. ...part of the recovery was internal, self care and part is external , new saddle!. last year when i was still sitting at a red light, i heard the loudest noise and then felt the huge push shove into intersection. time does warp at those moments. one Volvo totaled, one woman walking. it has taken me a year to drive as needed, less than before but not to fool myself about a smaller carbon footprint keeping me from behind the wheel.
    thank you for sharing your bike experience of not letting fear be the driving force in our lives .
    may you continue to heal through words and art!

  8. I can't begin to tell you what this post meant to me, as a recovering agoraphobic and an artist delving into new media. In addition, I've had hand problems for years and then I fell on my hands about eight months ago. I am determined to heal and find a way to make art while I am healing. It is always helpful to read the experiences of others who find the courage to climb out of a hole and pursue whatever makes them come alive. Thank you.


  9. A very timely post for me! Thanks for your bravery in posting it. My world has been shrinking and I'm beginning to feel agoraphobic; I am a caregiver for my mother and daughter and have health issues myself but for today I feel brave enough to venture out into the world and find some joy outside. Thank you for inspiring me to think differently.

  10. As usual...you are right...and inspiring.

  11. Such a shocking photo Jane & I see it was before you came to Australia teaching? Your post has made me think about facing my own fears & given me hope. Thanks.

  12. Fear is potent, unrecognized fear especially. It's taken a long time, but I've been trying to recognize when fear makes a decision for me. It isn't always easy to see, rationalization makes the decision seem rational instead of fearful. Thank you for bringing to mind this tender spot of mine. I do struggle with it.

  13. Thank you, Jane. For this post and for getting on your bike again; for being the myth-making daemon that reminds us all to call ourselves forward.
    What more can I be today? What piece of limitation am I willing to heal & repeal?
    May the wind bless you abundantly each morning.

  14. What wonderful writing; what thoughtful content. Thank you. That helped.