Climbing High and Swimming Deep
Fears Feed Suffering
As my dad said to me several years ago, “If there is a hard way to do something, you will find it and make it harder”. I took a sense of pride in this. To achieve against tough odds validated my existence, made me more worthwhile. I did not need to face my fears to suffer; in fact, it was their avoidance and battles against what was easy for me that produced misery. This was all a choice to suffer. All the choice to fight against calm, peace and space – to keep control, be small, be unloved.
I always feared deep water, or heights (and giants) – an unknown vastness of space like a vacuum or something uncontainable and massive. It was a fear of nothingness and vastness, where I would dissolve into an abyss. I have written before that I used both deep water and space as key healing meditations since the early days of my injury; places of quiet refuge and peace. When I began those meditations, I did not recognise that these mental safe houses were the tip of the iceberg in a greater depth of life experience. Joy sought me through my greatest fears.
Support of Others
Over the last few years I chose to face my fears – ride a bicycle, surf, swim in deep waves of the Pacific water, climb down mountains (descent is the scary part). I could not have achieved any of these without the support of others. The patience of my partner at the time to watch me cycle in circles around the park with the kids like a child on training wheels. As he patiently suggested obstacles to help me turn, mapped out road routes to practice meeting cars. Alone I never would have faced riding a bicycle without his support and patience as I wobbled like a toddler.
In Nicaragua, great leaps in deep water and driving were made. In a five-person fishing boat we bobbed in the deep Pacific ocean currents, whilst friends surfed for several hours. I knew I had to swim – I took a step like walking the plank and into the water. With ease the fear was gone for getting in, but then I had to keep calm in the water – “Fish! Scary fish beneath the vast ocean currents that might suck me down into the abyss of suffocation.” My imagination runs wild and so I focused on the sensation of the cooling water on my skin. My eye-line stayed on the boat and my friend talking to me to reassure me. The large waves became a game of bobbing apples with me as the apple, a reminder of silly childhood games to ease the fear. Fun chit chat with game-like thoughts helped ease me in the moment to stay and be present to the experience.
I also I drove a great deal – wrong side of the road, interesting road quality and some enthusiastic overtaking were challenges. My comrades would cheer me to overtake a bus and tackle interesting terrain that generated anxiety. It was fun, we laughed and they made it a game of joy. Now I enjoy driving in Italy a place I was always so fearful of driving around. Those amazing supporters cheered me on and gave me courage each drive and the fear faced down.
Being motivated by our empathy is key. In Costa Rica, I witnessed my friend in of the jump from 20-foot rock into a pool. Her motivation was the dying woman sat on the rock who said “Do it for me”; then she jumped.
Face Fear with Others
When we cannot feel the love within ourselves to face our fears, if we can feel the love of others supporting us then we can face our fears. Through empathy, compassion and love we are stronger to face what hides beneath. With love we can forge ahead into our larger Self and life.
When it came down to facing them, each fear was simpler than I imagined. The keys were being present and empathy of others. Throughout each fear faced:
- Be fully present
- Take one step at a time - like an instructor guiding a child (baby steps)
- Calm breathing (focus on exhales to soothe the soul)
- Observe the sensations as an out of body experience and let them pass
- Feel the space in between the actions as though slowing down time
- Smile – tells me I’m enjoying it!
- In desperate times – meditate into a hypnotic-type state until I did it (this works best for a one action fear like jumping into a deep lake).
- If possible, have positive and cheerful comrades to cheer you along just enough.
Fear is your secret
Now one of my life goals is the constant feeling of calm, peace and space that give me the sense of freedom and expansion – sensations I once feared are now my desires. When you understand the root of your fears then you can become free from them.
What are your nightmares? What are your fears? When do they appear? How do they show up? How do you react to them - cut off, run, freeze? Is there a link between them? Can you trust in your fears to find your freedom?
My nightmares and fear of life rested in a fear of nothingness. Yet in deep water and space I found peace. What dissolved my misery and saved me in the end was my nightmare. Now I seek the space, the depths, the expanse that I could not have dreamt of before.