I spent most of my life believing I was fearless, but the day I found myself standing at the top of a cliff, roped in and ready to go rock climbing for the first time, I discovered otherwise.
I was friggin’ scared sh*tless, and it was a whole new level of fear.
My husband happens to be a climber, and he is well-trained. So for the first time, a year ago, I found myself at the top of a very high cliff all roped and geared up, ready to go. We were going to abseil down from the top, and then climb back up. I was excited and nervous.
I love a new adrenaline-inducing hobby!
Then my husband said, “Walk back to the edge, and sit back with your feet out against the wall.”
I walked back, and when he said, “Okay now sit back,” I froze. I couldn’t do it! Sit back into nothing?! That goes against everything I know. Logically, I knew I was roped in and had a brake, and I was roped to him too, but my mind was fighting it tooth-and-nail. I was creating fear. I kept saying, “I can’t.”
I stood there debating for a moment in my head. I wanted to do it so badly. I wanted to let go, trust and just sit back into the air like I wasn’t afraid. God, did I want to do it.
But my mind was stopping me. It was holding me there paralyzed in fear.
Then I heard myself saying, “I can’t.” And instead, I told myself, “I can.” I thought about the conversation we just had on the ride over about walking through fear. I thought about all my meditation practices and Buddhist teachings on fear. I resolved to do it.
I looked up into his eyes as he calmly said, “Yes, you can. Do you trust me?” I took a breath, nodded and allowed him to coach me over that cliff, inch by inch, until I was standing against the lip of the cliff, with my butt sticking out into nothing, ready to repel down.
After all, I wanted to do it, and I knew I would be pissed if I chickened out. So I took the breath. I trusted. I loosened up my death grip on the rope so I could start to slide backwards and walk down the face—and that’s when it happened.
My worst fear. As I leaned back, I slipped, lost my footing and technically fell off the lip. It was the worst and best thing that could have happened. The moment I decided to trust and stop being in charge, the moment I let go, figuratively and literally, was the moment I fell. The idea my mind had worked up to stop me from stepping out of my comfort zone happened. It was the thing my mind had created as the scariest possibility, and when it actually happened, it was fun! If that makes any sense. It seems our minds have that power.
I fell about two inches, because I was all roped in. The fall showed me that the reality of what I had created in my mind was not even close to what my mind was making it into. I know I can’t be the only one who has allowed fear to stop them from stepping outside their comfort zone.
As I dangled there, I laughed, and my husband stuck his head over the side to check on me, expecting me to be in a panic. I laughed because I realized how close I had been to not going over the edge, out of fear—and because the “worst” thing happened, and it had proved to me that it is okay to trust, making it the best thing. So my biggest fear of the moment had manifested itself and taught me to trust. To trust the ropes, trust my husband and trust the plan.
In an absolutely beautiful and human moment, I got a lesson in trusting and working through fear. Never before had I been able to be present with my own irrational fear, and work my way through it, observing as I went and making a conscious choice not to let it derail me. Never before have I been able to accept help and coaching the way I did that day, without getting mad at myself for needing it. My ego has always gotten in the way. I guess that’s what our egos do.
Never before have I had such a glaring lesson in letting go and how it makes life so simple if we just trust.
All of the Buddhist teachings I had been contemplating about impermanence, mindfulness and being present—they all hit home for me in that moment as I saw the absurdity of how I had been living my life.
I realized that it is perfectly okay to feel scared when we are taking a risk. Whatever the risk is—physical, financial, emotional—we all feel differently about which risks scare us and which don’t. The key is not to let, “I’m scared” turn into fear. Scared is a feeling—fear is a control tactic of the mind that tricks us into feeling safe—but safety is an illusion.
This freedom is the gift of my Buddhist influenced meditation practice. And I want to share with you the wisdom and words of my favorite teachers that keep me going when my fear kicks up and I want to stay in my comfort zone.
Hang these where you can see them, carry them in your wallet or purse—or even better, write them in your journal so your mind can absorb them as you write:
- “The only way to ease our fear and be truly happy is to acknowledge our fear and look deeply at its source. Instead of trying to escape from our fear, we can invite it up to our awareness and look at it clearly and deeply.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
- “We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
- “Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” ~ Pema Chödrön
- “Being without fear, you create fear. The renown of fear cannot be feared. When through fear you examine yourself, you trample on the egg of fear.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
- “There is nothing to fear except your untamed mind. Fear and anxiety only manifest in an untamed mind.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche
- “But the real antidote against fear and suffering is purifying the cause at the root. It is necessary to find the root, then you can apply the antidote. Simply taking a pain killer when you have a headache only offers temporary relief. Suffering is not one’s real nature; it only comes from temporary conditions and from consciousness. Seeking reality is the way to overcome fear and pain. There is no use converting or forcing someone to do this or that, which only creates more fighting and can lead to a war – more headaches, more fear. So, it is better to try to appreciate, acknowledge, and integrate what the real truth is, what the real medicine is to purify fear and suffering.” ~ Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche
May it be of be of benefit, and may you turn your fear into fearlessness.
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Image: Flickr/Adam Kubalica
Editor: Travis May