It was not quite a full blown panic attack but it was pretty close. Lying in a freezing cold tent on the Incan Trail in Peru at 12,000 feet surrounded by darkness and a dozen other sleeping bodies in nearby tents and yet I felt completely alone. I was alone with my thoughts or fears really. It was midnight. I had to get up in four hours and walk over 20 kilometers rising to 14,000 feet. I had already walked 12 kilometers that day and was tired. Tired but not sleeping. In fact completely awake and terrified as a little dharma drama was playing out in my head.
It was sort of like this:
“What the hell am I doing?
“I am not one to sleep in a tent or walk mountains or do anything outdoorsy. I am given to book reading, mocha cappuccinos and warm beds. I will be the one trapped on Dead Woman’s Pass at 14,000 feet having a melt-down and will have to be air-lifted out while hundreds of tourists and porters laugh and wave. “
“This is a huge mistake. This is a disaster. I think I am going to throw up.”
“Can’t breathe. No, just relax and breathe. You are a Yoga teacher for Christ Sake. Calm down.”
“You calm down. I am about to humiliate myself and family by thinking I could actually walk 47 kilometers in three and a half days at 14,000 feet––higher by the way than the 12,000 feet your jumped out of a plane at.”
“I did jump out of a plane, even though I have a fear of heights. I can do this. This is just fear. I am going to breathe away fear.”
And I did. Or I must have as I was awoken in the dark by our guide offering Coca tea and a new resolution that I could do this.
The story we tell ourselves about ourselves is actually the most powerfully positive or negative source of belief we have.
Current neuro-scientific research suggests that 95% of who you believe you are comes from past experiences, what people have told you about you and therefore stories you tell yourself. Yes 95% of who you are is well––a made up story.
The story I have been telling most of my life is that I am not overly athletic, outdoorsy or daring but the truth is actually the opposite. I am a Power Yoga teacher and can do things in my body most people would say are impossible. I canoe, camp and fish every summer as soon as the snow is off the lakes. I have traipsed alone through India, Europe and the US with little more than a smile and a back-pack. I have been on my own since 15 and put myself through university and received two degrees in four years. On my 35th birthday I sky-dived to prove to myself that getting older meant getting more expansive. I have witnessed death and great human suffering and know the potential of the human spirit and the power of love. This is what I reached for along with my capacity for deep breathing when the shadows of doubt, self-sabotage and fear arose at midnight on the side of a mountain in Peru.
I had to dive deep and find the 5 per cent of me that is pure potential, radiant joy and capable of anything. I thought of the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna’s battle to overcome his own demons of limiting belief. I was not going into battle but I was here to break through my own limitations and find my Divine potential.
This is the trouble with thinking we know ourselves is we define who we are. As soon as something is defined it is limited. We tend to stay in nice little boxes of comfort and knowing. We tend to say that is not for me or that is beyond me. We tend to allow what has been to guide what can be. Truly we are unlimited potential and what has been is only a reflection of what you were not who you truly are today.
My midnight panic attack showed me the shadow stories about who I am that I thought I had overcome or released was still there. Hiking to Machu Pichu had just given it a reason to arise. I did not see it coming. Yes I was putting myself in a physically and emotionally challenging situation. Yes I was not one to climb Everest but this was a far cry from that. I have done decades of self work and self-worth training but in the end the story was ready to arise and perhaps be healed.
Walking the Incan Trail was an amazing journey to the spectacular Machu Pichu, but it also was a amazing journey to my spectacular me.
Editor: Lindsay Friedman