I Took the Red Pill: Why I Am On The Counterfear Path

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

“This is your last chance.  After this, there is no turning back.  You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.  You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Remember:  all I'm offering is the truth.  Nothing more.” - Morpheus, in The Matrix movie

The End is the Beginning

Sometimes it’s better to start from the end.  And the end of this story-that-was-intended-to-be-short-but-isn’t-really is that I am launching is an idea.  Counterfear.  It's more than an idea:  it is a way of being.  It is transformative.

There’s a scene in the movie Serenity, where intense action has occurred, and things are at a critical juncture.  The situation is dire.  In that moment, the preacher character, who is a mentor and a friend, emphatically pleads with the main character, “I don’t care what you believe, just believe it!!”

This here is where I’m staking my claim.  I believe.  I don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes, but I’m definitely going.

Here’s a bit about why. 


I got the “counterfear” idea well before I left the world of emergency management.  I plucked the idea, watered it, gave it some light, and wouldn’t you know… soon there were little green shoots.  So many fabulous directions to go in!

I kept at it.  All was sunshine and potential.  Shiny.  Then it happened that some wilting started.  I kept on watering.  I tried to bring light, but the growth started to stall.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what, but something was definitely not resonating.  I still felt drawn to work in emergency management, but I wasn’t sure that I could do that while building the counterfear idea.

At the time, I had been working in emergency management, incident management, wildland fire, or public safety for well over seventeen years.  When you’re a kid in your twenties, seventeen years of experience sounds insane.  And then you get it – all that experience – and you’re like “Whaaaaaaaat?  What in the name of all that is good and holy have I been doing with my time?” 

Well let me tell you something.  This is where the “short” part of the story comes into play.  Because if I tell you anything like the actual story, we’ll be here for several books, a mini-series, a magazine feature, and a multi-day newspaper exposé.  Because that’s really where the guts are, right?  Somewhere in all those years?  We’ve all got all this life that happens… and it’s not usually a very short story.

In my case, I ventured into the world with a head full of idealism.  Not long after my park-rangering escapades began, I discovered the world of wildland fire.  Obsession happened.  Wildfires!  Fire engines!  Aircraft!  Excitement!  I eventually found myself in wildland fire management, hanging out with incident management superstars and working in the place that literally wrote the book on how to do it.  A dream career.

Enter 9/11

Here we hit a big pivot.  Some things occurred in the months following 9/11 that would be turn out to be very long and slightly unbelievable stories if actually told here now.  They led me to shift gears in a major way.  In short, I left my career in wildland fire to head Washington, DC to do Very Big Things.  The idea was to help build a National Incident Management System (NIMS), based on the scalable and flexible version of it that already existed in the fire world.  The reasoning behind it was that if we were to have, say, a huge disaster or catastrophe, that after actually building the NIMS (like way down the road, if it was done properly… which would take years), things might be a bit more organized and consistent across the entire response world.  Less death and destruction out of the death and destruction.  Ordo ex chaos.  Order from chaos.

Didn’t work.

Despite the massive and total failure of the NIMS to even begin to be built properly or to ever take off, I did have high hopes for other things in homeland security.  Back when many people thought NIMS was going to actually be something real and substantial (rather than just a handful of training courses), I started running with a crowd that was also very into resilience.  I like to tell the story that way, because it makes it sound like I joined a gang; like we’d sneak out of work and hide out under bridges… to smoke, and to trade enchanting tales about other ways of being. 

That sounds a lot more interesting than what actually occurred.  What ended up happening is that a number of critical infrastructure owners and operators -  many of them very large corporations - tried to explain to Congress and the US Department of Homeland Security and the White House and so on that resilience is super useful.  That we need to build resilience to keep us afloat economically after disasters.  To tie our communities together.  That our society is so complex that it would be good if we put some partnerships and things in place so that when disaster strikes, communities don’t disappear because people can’t do business. 

You can’t do business with no infrastructure, and you can’t have infrastructure without people, but people need infrastructure to stay alive… it’s all intertwined.  If it breaks, it can fall apart in less than a week:  reference communities whose economic center was blown away by a disaster and never really came back.  Sometimes if it breaks, it stays apart forever.  Millions of dollars in research, right there.

Resilience starts with connection.  With partnerships.  Resilience is about community, and interdependence.  We all need each other.  Whether you’re talking about a person or a piece of critical infrastructure - none of it works in a vacuum.  We need each other.  We are a society.  We live in a system.  We like it.  We’d like for it to continue.  We’d like even more for it to be a better system, so we keep working on it.

While a whole lot of folks have been sold on the idea of resilience, and community, and connection, there are some key parties that haven’t really gotten the hang of it.  Lots of reasons for that.  As with NIMS, it’s meta-cognitive and non-linear.  It involves multi-scale and overlapping systems.  In other words, it’s freaking complicated, and all of the things are intertwined with other complicated things. 

Yet, it isn’t really all that complicated.  If you start with the basic pieces, it’s pretty simple.  Counter fear.  Connect with people.  Take care of each other.  Do it on some sort of scale…. even if it’s just with your immediate neighbors.  Or your family.  Friends.  People you work with.  Business associations.  Church groups.  Folks online.  It’s all community. 

Connection & Community

This kind-of-long-but-could-have-been-much-much-longer story has a point.  It is about leadership.

We have to lead.  If we want connection, and we want community, then we have to find it, invest in it, and build it.  I don’t mean money.  I mean that we have to create the space for connection and community.  We need to invest ourselves and our time into our connections… within existing communities, or in new ones we create.  

Each person.  We all work on our own little corner of the world.  Just like in incident management.  Everyone has a job.  You figure out what your job is.  You learn it.  You do it well.  You’re part of the greater whole.  You connect with other people, and help them figure it out too. 

On this planet, things are going to be rough.  It’s the nature of the place.  Plus, on this Earth, we have an ever-increasing world population - most of whom live in high-hazard and high-density zones.  There will be complications.

We can be afraid of it.  We can see trouble everywhere.

Or we can recognize the nature of the world, and be ready for it.  And see what we can do about it.

Some things will be bad.  There will be trouble.

Saying “there will be trouble” is not fear.  It is not fear-mongering.  This is not a mongering type of a place.  This is an amplifying type of a place.  It is a place to come and get grounded.  To find ideas, or to create them.  To identify fear, and figure out the tools to use to counter it.  To build relationships, partnerships, and alliances.  To figure out what your calling is.  To pick up some tools, so you can dig in to whatever type of work you need to be doing.  This is a resource.

The goal here at Counterfear is to lead.  It is to create the space for fabulous ideas to happen.  It is a place of vision.  It is for team-finding and village-building.  It is a place to arm folks to solve problems.  To find each other, or to figure out how to find each other.  To tie in with a community, or to build one.  To find connection.  To connect people, and ideas.  To find strength.  To figure out how to help other people find strength.

This is all very big-picturey, but it’s really not meant to be anything more than what makes sense for you.  What resonates.  When you connect with people, you find strength, and creativity, and love, and fun, and ideas.  When you are part of a community, all of that is amplified.  All of it. 

We counter fear together.  This is resilience. 

The Counterfear Path

In the end-which-was-a-new-beginning, there was a moment when I knew I had to decide.  I needed to decide whether I should stay in emergency management - a field I have loved - or whether it was time to dive down the counterfear rabbit hole, to see how deep it goes.  That moment happened on a Saturday.

In that moment, I could see that it was about finding light in the darkness. 

I realized that for me, it came down to what might happen in the next US catastrophe.  Like a catastrophe that would be worse than 9/11; worse than Hurricane Katrina.  Or even something just as bad.  When it happens, how would I be likely to react?  What would I want to do to contribute?  Would I finally go after that newspaper exposé?  Would it be time to tell the tragic tale of so many policy plans, gone awry?  Would the moment strike where I needed to tell the story?  Or would I want to be in the middle of it all, doing my job in some emergency management role? 

No.  None of those things.

Where I would want to be is on the fringes, or even far away.  This sounds a little silly because it seems obvious:  who wants to be in the middle of a catastrophe?  Well, some people are wired for it.  I have been one of them, for as long as I can remember. 

I realized in that moment that my wiring had shifted.

That day, I realized that if there was to be a catastrophe (and there will be) - and assuming I wouldn’t be right in the middle of it - what I would want to do is to help people connect to each other.  I would want to help people and communities to support each other through said catastrophe.  I would want to help people counter fear; to bring tools to find the light… because there will always be some light.  Even in the worst chaos there is light.  I would want to be helping communities be strong, so that they could help out the catastrophe-impacted communities.  We're going to need that.

If, heaven forbid, I should find myself in the middle of said catastrophe… well, I’d like to think I’m set for that - specific logistical and supply needs aside (including reasonable footwear and appropriate hair products).  Years of emergency management work would likely turn out to be pretty useful.  But it would still be all about countering fear, connecting with people, and helping the community.  Being resilient.  And also probably staying alive.

In the end, it’s about light.  It’s about the path that brings the most light.  Now the path ahead is glowing, for me… and not just because there's a sun on the logo. 


The Saturday that I made the decision to leave emergency management seemed sacred.  I don’t even know what the date was, but I do remember the sunlight.  I was outside, and the light was beautiful - the way it is just before the sun sets.  All kinds of soft red, and just enough orange and yellow to feel warm and all-encompassing - like the rays were all around.  I was out for a walk, and I kept walking for a while to be sure I was comfortable with this new direction.  With taking a leap.  With launching an idea; a tool.  A movement.  A tribe.  A team.

The truth is that I have no idea what this whole Counterfear thing will become.  I do try to put my faith first, but this was - and is - a big leap. It seemed kind of crazy at the time to do such a thing and I also wasn’t sure how it would work, so I had me a little chat with the universe.  The hidden God.  A higher power.  All That Is.  It sounds lighthearted to try to explain, but there’s no easy way to communicate about what is going on there. 

What I asked for is if I could just get some sort of sign that this was the right path.  Just something that made it clear.  100%.  I didn’t need it like right away that day or anything, but I asked for some confirmation soon-ish so I could Know.  I mean I did know, but it seemed surreal.  Not at all unlike Wonderland. 

On Monday afternoon two days later, my vehicle was in for service so I was working at a restaurant in northern Virginia.  After I picked up my Jeep, I parked it in front of a different restaurant than I had started from.  As I turned off the engine, a man approached me.  He was a Hispanic man of medium build, with a kind face.  He was not much older than me, if at all.  I partially rolled down a window:  14 years of city living brings prudence.

In broken English, and very slowly, the man explained to me that he had a book for me.  It was not here.  He needed to go home and get it.  It would take ten minutes for him to go home.  He would go there, get the book, and bring it to me.  He knew it was for me.  Would I still be here in ten minutes?  Did I understand?  He needed to give me this book.  It was a gift.  He had been expecting me, and here I was. He needed to bring me this thing.

We went over it a few times, and I understood, and he understood that I understood. 

What I really, really understood is that for years, I have randomly given books to people.  Like, I’ll be in the bookstore, and feel compelled to get a certain book for someone I know I will see later that day.  I have kept a book in my car more than once, knowing it was intended for someone, but not knowing for who until that person showed up.  Later, I have heard the most fantastic stories about transformation and peace and whatnot after said book is received.  Sometimes I never hear the result, but I do know that I followed my intuition in the moment.  I’m not out doing this every day, mind you.  I do keep my eccentricity in check.  Sometimes.

I went into the restaurant where I had agreed to meet the man, ordered dinner, and settled into a table to work.  Not long after, the same gentleman returned, book in hand, smiling.  It is a gift, he told me.  It is for you.  “You understand?  It is for you?”  I understood, and tried to summarize how I knew, because I often gave people books for no obvious reason.  Never quite like this, though. 

He left to sit outside with his friends.  The book was called "Ascension," by Dr. Susan Shumsky.  Huh.  A spiritual book.  I was so not surprised, but very touched; although I was a little fascinated by the particular flavor.  I’m not specifically Buddhist, but some Taoists I know say it is all “fingers pointing at the same moon”.  It had already been made quite clear to me that there was a specific message for me here.  This person had been expecting that I would turn up at some point so he could deliver it.

I opened the book and skimmed around.

The opening of the Foreword:

“For eons, humanity has experienced - and fully believed - a reality of limitation:  we are small, powerless in the face of life’s difficulties of lack, ill health, aging, death, war, and natural catastrophe.”

I didn’t figure that the mention of natural catastrophe - or limitation - right in the front was remotely coincidental.

The beginning of Chapter 1:

“You will never die.  You are an immortal being of light… and you live forever in a body of light.  This physical body that you temporarily inhabit is not your true home.  You reside in a beauteous, radiant body of luminous spheres in multiple dimensions.  You have never been born and you never die.  You are ageless, without beginning or end.”

I laughed out loud, with tears in my eyes.  People in the restaurant wondered what was happening.  I must have been a little radiant, because the guy at the next table asked me out.

“This is your last chance.  After this, there is no turning back.  You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.  You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Remember:  all I'm offering is the truth.  Nothing more.” - Morpheus, in The Matrix movie

A book answered my question, as did the shining stranger who brought it.  I’ve had a lot of awe-inspiring - and trippy - stuff happen.  I’ve never before had the universe send me such a specific answer in writing.  It’s easy for me to forget, and get caught up in the chaos and catastrophe here.  What a beautiful and clear reminder to receive, that my true nature is my soul.  Light and love.  That's what this is really all about, anyway.

I cannot imagine a better way to start this journey.

Counterfear.  Resonates.

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WRITTEN:  2016-0126, 0911 hrs CST
EDITED:  2016-0226


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