Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
~ Mark Twain
Cut to scene: Late night, somewhere near Ubud, Bali. Driving home for the first time on a scooter I learned to ride (shakily) that morning. No streetlights, no tourists. Words of my kind Balinese host echoing in my head, “Very important to remember, turn left at the temple.”
Anyone with more than a few hours experience in Bali would have recognized the complete uselessness of these directions. Me? I just smiled, dismissed his concerns I would be killed on the treacherous Balinese roads, and faked enough confidence to convince him to hand over the keys.
Let’s backtrack: In London, I found a yoga teacher and more in Tara Judelle. I followed her to Bali for three weeks and three Anusara immersions which were made affordable by staying offsite in a house instead of a resort. I have a bit of a thing against staying at resorts in general. It may be a vestige of my Australian colonial guilt, but being waited on hand and foot by people paid much less than I could ever imagine leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Little did I know that the resort, Bambu Indah, is the one exception to the rule. Bambu Indah has organic permaculture gardens fueling the kitchen, a visionary owner who makes incredible contributions to the local community and it is staffed by family members who love working there.
The idea was to avoid being a tourist and instead immerse myself in Balinese culture; learn a bit of the language, make friends with the locals and be part of the real Bali, not the postcard-friendly, hippy-dippy, white, Western, eat-pray-love facade that has taken over the world. So far, so idealistic.
Cut back to late night, somewhere near Ubud: Twenty wrong streets explored, escape from various dogs successful, and a multitude of concerned Balinese shaking their heads at the street name I cannot pronounce. They were all wondering what the hell a 25-year-old Australian girl who can’t ride her scooter is doing staying by herself in the middle of nowhere. And me? I was cursing myself for my over-confidence, my jump-in-the-deep-end-and-fuck-the-risks attitude, my dependence on Google maps and my refusal to stay at the beautiful resort.
So many temples for possible left turns, and they all look the same in the dark. I feel an unfamiliar panic (me? panicked??) rising fast from deep in the pit of my stomach. I swallow it, and focus on trying to read street names in the dark while avoiding driving off the road or into oncoming traffic, and ignoring endless beeping as scooters and cars swerve around me.
Twenty minutes later I’m fighting back tears of fear and frustration, trying to supress panic, trying to remember what I learned in yoga today—the poses are just gimmicks; beautiful, challenging gimmicks to test our reactions. Can you stay calm if I ask you to hold a headstand? Can you keep ujjayi breath while in twisted parsvakonasana?
And then it hits me like the gecko-bombs that rain on us from the bamboo roof of the studio—maybe all of life is a gimmick. Maybe life is a beautiful, challenging gimmick that tests our ability to maintain peace, happiness and equanimity. This may be easy to do when you’re lounging by an eco-friendly pool or calling room service to replace your broken light bulb. It may even be easy to do when you fall from a handstand, because you’ve learned how to fall.
But this…this fear felt real, from the bitter taste in my mouth to the bottomless pit that seemed to have opened up in my belly. If all of life is a gimmick, then this fear was my real yoga; my mat was just a practice ground to get me through the night. So I stopped. I breathed. And I softened. And I realized, in that moment, there was nothing to be afraid of.
The next person I asked for help not only knew my street, but based on my (lack of) driving skills, insisted on escorting me home. As I closed the door behind me I cried tears, not of fear, but of gratitude—for the kindness of strangers, the bed I would sleep in that night and for my safety. But most of all, I was grateful for my yoga practice, for teaching me that whether I’m scared of hanumanasana or of unfamiliar streets, fear is a choice.
I asked to be made uncomfortable, to be challenged, so that I might learn something from my travels. In the future, I will remember to be careful what I wish for because the world has a funny way of delivering. When challenges arise (as they tend to do), I will remember that instead of fear, I can choose trust.
I will also, hopefully, remember to carry a map.
Bess Prescott is a reformed corporate insolvency lawyer and itinerant yoga teacher on a twelve month adventure to see the world (usually upside down from a headstand), get uncomfortable, meet cool people, walk edges with them, go skinny dipping, be afraid (and do it anyway) and learn a bit more about this yoga thing. You can email her at email@example.com.
Editor: Jennifer Spesia
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