Thursday, 15 January 2015

F.E.A.R



I'm currently reading Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild. It's been highly covered by the blogosphere so I'm not going to tell you how good it is (okay - it is really good) but rather I just want to focus on one particular thing she writes about. As you can imagine from someone who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone, fear is a subject which comes up regularly in the memoir. She writes;

''Being near Tom and Doug at night kept me from having to say to myself I am not afraid whenever I heard a branch snap in the dark or the wind shook so fiercely it seemed something bad was bound to happen. But I wasn't out here to keep myself from having to say I am not afraid. I'd come, I realised, to stare that fear down, to stare everything down really'.

I was already turning over these words in my head, thinking about what they mean to me when I read Hazel Jane's lovely post on fear and then I realised that there was a post brewing.

Let me start by talking about water. I have a pretty big fear of swimming and of water generally. I'm not totally sure why this is. It could be related to the time I almost drowned in my swimming lesson when I plunged into the water without armbands. Maybe it is that, or maybe it's the fact that there is no easily accessible oxygen when you're submerged in the stuff unless you possess gills which I do not. It could be the uncertainty of whether or not my feet will touch the bottom if I get tired and decide to pause or it could be the pressure of the weight of the water on my whole body making me hyper aware that I am not in a safe place. I don't really know, could be any one of those things. Point is - I feel afraid just thinking about it.

Last year, a lot of my challenges involved water. Either swimming in it, plunging into it or kayaking down it. Why would someone so afraid of something force themselves to confront it time and time again?

The worst moment during those challenges was without a doubt the obstacle in Tough Mudder which required me to jump into a muddy body of water, of undefined depth, from quite a significant height. Climbing up to the top, my brain kept telling me that I could do it, that it was safe, that I definitely would not die, that everyone else was doing it, that I could swim so there was nothing to be afraid of. I got to the edge and my logical brain became mute and my body took over the conversation. It said 'Nope. Not happening. Sorry'.

I stood on the edge of that drop with clammy hands and became aware of my racing heart which was drumming so hard against my chest that I could feel the vibrations throughout my whole body. That heart normally goes about its crucial business of keeping me alive so quietly that I rarely notice it and yet at that moment it was the only thing I could focus on. That's what fear is for me. It is the sound of my beating heart. Fear is the realisation that I am indisputably alive but that I am only so through a bizarre mix of circumstance, chance and the beating of a muscle in my chest which cannot be consciously controlled by me. It is a reminder that life is fleeting and completely not within my control.

I jumped.

When I was younger I lived and breathed horse riding. My two horses were my best friends. They were gentle, playful and wonderful. They were also pretty fucking scary at times.

There were days that I would be afraid because the fences I was jumping seemed too high and the distance to the ground if I fell seemed even higher still. There were occasions that my horse was spooked by something and I felt that my control was gone. It frightened me.

I longed not to be afraid, to be one of those horsey people who just oozes confidence from every pore but the first lesson I learned when I started riding was that fear was the appropriate response. If I didn't feel fear then I wasn't respecting the power of that 1200lb animal and was underestimating quite what a wonderful and difficult thing it is to attempt to work in harmony with it. Every time I ride I get a small feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach. It ensures that I never underestimate the task at hand and it heightens the sense of achievement I feel once the session is over.

Since then, I tend to think that the feeling of fear is not there to stop me from doing something but to indicate that what I'm about to do is challenging, that it is not within my comfort zone, but that it is a task worthy of my respect and that when my fear has been faced down, the rewards will be great.

I forced myself to complete so many water based challenges last year because I like to hear my heart beating so loudly that its life force cannot be ignored. I like to feel afraid because it tells me that the rewards will be worth it. Hindsight has taught me that if it scares me, it might be worth a try.

I found the photograph here. It's by Michael Leis and you can look at his other work on his website.

4 comments:

  1. Lovely post. I think this reflects a lot of life - challenging yourself despite being afraid of things. It's the only way to grow.

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    1. Hi :) thanks for commenting!! Yes I think that's true. Most of the best things I've done, the things which really shaped me as a person, were things that scared the living day lights out of me before I did them.

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  2. This is such a wonderful post! You are so brave to challenge yourself to things you know will scare you - I'm struggling with that at the moment but reading you talk about feeling alive and loving the feeling of your heart beating really makes me want to stare fear right in the face!!

    Such an inspirational piece :)

    Hazel xx

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    1. Thanks for commenting! I'm glad you liked it since it was inspired by your post! The fears I've made myself face are pretty small but I normally apply the same sentiment to the rest of my life too. Sometimes works well, sometimes not so well haha.

      I'm looking forward to reading about what you'll get up to when you face down the fear. :)

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