Truthfully, I am scared of a lot of things. I’ve certainly gotten better over the years, when I was in high school I remember finding a list of fears I had written down in elementary school. It was a long list. Pretty much every single natural disaster was on there, as well as spiders, snakes, sharks, bears, my parents dying, flying, sailing, deep water, water where I could see the bottom, earthquakes, again, just in case I didn’t mention them before, volcanoes, again, because I watched “The Fire Bellow Us” (a documentary about Mt St Helens) too many times as a child, and, hilariously enough, my hair turning white from being really scared. Clearly I was a little high-strung as a child. While I have not become the epitome of chill or laid back I am no longer scared of my hair turning white from some traumatic event, I love sailing (although I am still sketched out by deep dark water), spiders and snakes don’t bother me, and I have learned that natural disasters are outside of our control and I should not spend time worrying about them. That being said I am still scared of things, things that I confront on a weirdly regular basis.
In my adult life I am scared of bears (only while I am sleeping in my tent at night) so I religiously wear earplugs and surrender to death, should a bear decide to eat me. I am scared of sharks so I just don’t do a ton of swimming in the ocean. I am scared of the zombie apocalypse so I don’t read or watch anything to do with it and avoid talking about it at all costs. I am scared of flying so I buy plane tickets months out and then figure I am locked in when the time comes to travel, better just buck up and take some Dramamine. I am scared of avalanches, crevasses, cliffs, and have a mild fear of heights… With many of my fears I have become proficient at avoiding, putting off, or talking myself out of them, but in a bull-headed and rash move against my fears I decided to take the mountaineering course I am currently involved with and meet these last few fears head on.
Fear is a funny thing. Fear is paralyzing, constricting, it freezes your mind and amps up your paranoia. It makes you worry about the future instead of living in the present. It makes you stagnate, scared to move, scared to risk and change and try things. It traps you, restricting growth. Many people fear the unknown more than anything else, which is why many peoples’ greatest fear is death. Ironically though, the reason I find myself facing so many of my fears today is because of my own fear of the unknown. After I was finished with my position at EarthCorps I found myself facing yet another period of the scary dark unknown. I found myself without a meaningful job. EarthCorps was an incredible place to work because it was a place that focused on personal growth, on pushing your boundaries and your comfort zone, and expanding what they called your growing edge. Continually working on and pushing your growing edge in every direction imaginable is an idea that I love and that I hope will stick with me for the rest of my life.
But after EarthCorps was over and my system for pushing my growing edge was gone I knew I was going to have to take things into my own hands. This is how I arrived at the mountaineering course. Kyle had been planning on taking the course for months but when asked if I wanted to take it I had said no. I was too scared, too scared of heights, and crevasses, and avalanches, and ultimately, I guess, death. Whoa, that got a lot deeper than I had planned. The point is, once faced with the prospect of stagnation and the unknown I had to choose something challenging and mountains are what I chose. I am hopeful that I can overcome my fears.
So far on our outings I know I have been scared at times, but looking back from the comfort and safety of my own home I don’t remember those moments in total clarity. I remember actively talking myself through things, admitting I was scared to Kyle, feeling a little weak in the knees, but now that all seems like it wasn’t a big deal. I am making mental notes to my future self: your fear is useless, you aren’t even going to remember it when you are home next week, why even feel this right now when it isn’t going to impact you at all later… perhaps these are the baby steps towards a stronger me.
I don’t know if I believe that people are predisposed to fears or if we are just afraid of things we don’t understand or things that are unpredictable or things that are unknown. But I do believe that if you sit with a fear, get right up close and personal with a fear, learn about it, live inside of it, do it enough, then it just might diminish a little bit. We will see if I am still singing this tune when they put me in a crevasse in a couple of weeks, but for now I am sticking with it. It seems to be working for me so far. So to end this foray with fear I just want to leave you with a couple of quotes from people much more brainy than I:
“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will”- W. Clement Stone
“What is needed rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
“I think fearless is having fears but jumping anyway.” – Taylor Swift
“I am not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott