Big Fear, Big Opportunity


While I’m not aware of my fears all the time, when facilitating groups, my “big fear” becomes very alive.

Will I be able to serve this group well?  Will I be able to intervene when necessary?  Or, will I fall into my habitual pattern and avoid getting messy?  And so it goes, on and on, the inner voice of anxiety.

As an example, a couple of weeks ago I co-facilitated a group of activists about self-care and its impact in their activism.  Beforehand, I was concerned about the diversity of race and social/economic status of the participants.  In particular, I was afraid that we were going to be dealing with a theme that could be viewed as unnecessary, given the political and economically critical situation here in Brazil.   My ‘big fear’ was to hear participants saying: “Self-care is a luxury! What are we even doing here? What do you know about us?”

Initially, my approach to the workshop design was guided by this fear.  As I planned the day, I imagined jumping right in and “dealing with” questions of diversity in the group up front, so that we could (I imagined) all move harmoniously on through the content of the workshop.

This is one way many of us deal with fear, in my experience.  By trying to quickly solve for what appears to be its cause, in order to get rid of it as quickly as possible. But there is tremendous creativity and intelligence left on the table when we do this.  (And in my situation, it would have been a complete disaster if I had proceeded in the way I first imagined.)

There were important questions I wasn’t asking myself, such as, “What could this fear be informing me? How could I include my concerns  in the conversation and the facilitation more?  What if I were to move towards this fear – a sensation that I could also call aliveness?

As my fear-based thoughts went around and around in my mind, I began to see the need to take a different path.  So I slowed down, asking myself, ‘What is beyond this fear and worry in me?’ And importantly, ‘What is my intention with this workshop?’

My deepest intention was to hear the participants’ pain, and to direct their attention to including more of themselves so that they could keep on doing their activism effectively in the world without burning out.

And as I weighed how best to do this, I felt it was crucial to talk about the differences inside the group directly. Yes, we live in the same country, but we also come from different backgrounds and cultures and have different skin colors.  Brazilians are known for being cordial, so there is a tendency to avoid talking about differences – but as I have learned through experience, not relating consciously with those differences actually highlights them.  I also realized how our diversity was connected to my fear; I felt different from the group. So including myself and my concerns meant I including this diversity in the design.  After approaching the design this way,  I felt more prepared.

I began the workshop by including more of each of us, with a focus on sharing our diverse experiences and life stories, and allowing space for each one to engage with the intensity and rhythm needed. I noticed a shift happen when I facilitated an exercise where the group was divided in smaller groups of 4 or 5.   Each participant took turns completing the same sentence  “For me, care means….” while the others practiced deep listening. We explored what was important for each one, going deeper into their needs and desires, and finally talking about differences and sameness in their lives.

I felt the fear melting away.  The air in the room felt different as I looked into the eyes of the participants, feeling our common human-ness as emerging in their stories;  transcending fear, differences and sameness.

Because we were able to bring our differences to the table, with intention and openness, beyond this fence there was the possibility to find sameness in a more authentic way. We were more able to find common ground, more space to listen deeply and connect, and be more open to what was real in the moment. This was possible for me because I listened to the fear I was feeling and allowed space for it to unfold.

My facilitator insights were:

  • Take your fear into account:  It is a precious source of information, and a place to check in with before, during and after the facilitation.
  • Be aware of emotions (yours included):  Go towards them rather than away from them.
  • Be present to what is happening in the moment in order to calibrate and scale

The result for me of this facilitation experience was that I feel more alive, engaged and appreciative of being able to work with people who are trying to impact the world in a positive way. Which is, of course, a beautiful example of the very topic the workshop was focused on—bringing self- care into the fray of our work in the world.

What is your big fear? And how can you use it to unlock new pathways for your creativity and wisdom?

Marcia Kodama is a Certified Integral Facilitator and Certified Integral Master Coach based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She works with groups and individuals in exploring their full potential. You can learn more about her work at

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4 thoughts on “Big Fear, Big Opportunity”

  1. Great article and very pertinent to the facilitation I’ve been doing recently with the US Forest Service. I think my biggest fear is not listening to my fear – or any other emotion that might be arising in the moment. When under pressure (mostly self imposed), I often tend to charge ahead without first checking in with myself and then allowing myself to read my audience before plunging ahead. Thust you’re doing very well, Marcia. Cheers! JD

  2. This is great Marcia! I loved reading about this and related to so much of it – especially as I prepare for serving a group next week! Big love to you!

  3. Loved this blog Marcia. Using your own fears to help shape the workshop is brilliant. Thanks for writing about the experience. As I read it I felt new opportunities open for me. (Sorry I’m so late in responding–better late than never– is what my Mom used to say)

  4. Great post Marcia. These two questions of yours ‘What is beyond this fear and worry in me?’ and ‘What is my intention with this workshop?’ really summarized it well. I’ll add these to my facilitator notebook to remind me. Thanks for these insights!

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