One time, I was in a park in Rome, watching a boy, about three years old, play chicken with some pigeons. He would race up to the birds and then, at the last minute, veer away. It was hilarious and adorable, as almost all Italian toddlers are. Even more so when he went over to his father and staged whispered in that exaggerated Italian accent that all children there seem to have, “HO PAURA,” rolling his Rs and widening his eyes for effect.

He was saying he was scared of the pigeons and that’s why he kept veering away from them.

But he actually wasn’t saying that, exactly. “Ho paura” literally translates to “I have fear.”

In english, you say “I’m scared.” Or, “I’m afraid.”

I sometimes wonder what a difference it makes to say, whenever you are feeling fear, “I have fear” or “I am feeling scared,” instead of “I am scared.”

The first two imply some temporariness to the state of the feeling. You have it, but it’s not going to be forever. That kid is not always going to be afraid of those pigeons. This was a year ago, and I would wager he’s terrorizing them like the best of them now.

“I’m scared” elides the temporary nature, the momentary possession, of the feeling, which creates an effect of totality, of what’s called “egoic identification.” A fancy way for saying you can’t separate your identity from your thoughts. It turns scared from being an adjective for a temporary state, into a being a permanent state of being.

Obviously we don’t actually turn into a permanent state. But my point is, sometimes we get confused when we say we are our feelings. I know they’re adjectives and are meant to describe a state, but it does seem to accomplish the very thing we’d like to avoid–getting caught up in overly identifying with emotions Instead of more accurately saying that we have them. And they’re temporary. They will pass. If you are feeling fear, allow it, and it will move on. If you fight it, that usually increases it.

So, what do you have and what has you?

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