Yesterday I was talking to someone about fear. It was a meeting with someone from Zimbabwe, who was coming to talk about taking sober tours to Fiji. He was talking about the shark diving that they did in that area, and I perked up. I mean, perked up more than just the idea of a tropical island paradise would perk me up. Sharks are one of my biggest fears (shocker, I know). Its so deeply primal that it makes my Parasympathetic Nervous System go into hyperdrive just thinking about it. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the fight or flight response, a byproduct of our cave dwelling ancestors. It has long since outlived its usefulness- we no longer need to get the rush of body chemicals that will stimulate our muscles to move faster or go beyond our normal limits to survive. In spite of our not needing it, it is still activated by things that are not life threatening- like speaking in public, for instance. Or thinking about sharks. In addicts, it would be why the saying “pause when agitated” is so important- before we act out of our ‘old brain’, where our choices for action are limited and survival based. It doesn’t allow for making distinctions- its fighting, or its running.
FEAR IS THE ABSENCE OF LOVE
I used to say that I would rather go swimming with sharks than speak in public. Thats a fairly dramatic statement, but also easy to say, as I wouldn’t really ever have to choose that option over the other. When I was in hypnotherapy school, one of the courses was public speaking. I couldn’t do it. I froze up. I dropped out of school for 6 months and went to therapy- real talk- it was that traumatic. I couldn’t really understand why my reaction to it was so severe. My therapist put me in a group that she lead, and on my first night, I was sweating so much that I actually put pantyliners inside the underarms of my shirt. Yes I did. I can’t believe I just confessed this. I was terrified to be the new person in the group of 8 women, I was terrified to speak to them. I was so self conscious that all I could do was think how they would judge me, or dismiss me.
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
So- the sharks. I was talking about facing fears, and the spiritual aspect of it, and how if we were to create this sober trip to Fiji, I would want to go and do that. I also DO NOT want to, but its the not wanting to that is making me want to. This fellow was asking me why I felt that way, about facing fears, and we had a cool conversation about it. We talked about the value of becoming fearless. and how it changes your life. He didn’t mention until much later, after that particular conversation had been over for an hour, that he was the USA Grand Champion on Fear Factor. HA! He really knows what it means to tackle those pesky fears and show them who’s boss. I loved that we had that whole conversation and I didn’t know that swimming with sharks for him, was cake walk. I had a whole new level of respect for this guy that I don’t often have for a lot of people. He lives a life not dictated by his fears, but open to any possibility. The way it should be lived.
It isn’t that we should just go look for dangerous things to do that could harm us- that isn’t the point. Its the myriad little fears, anxieties, neuroses, habits, hang ups, etc., that keep us playing small, that plague us. Its when we are over identified with who we are as a way to avoid pain or discomfort that is really dangerous. For example, I have swaggered around being super stoic my whole life. I have not been one to show my feelings or display anything that might be construed as weakness. By over identifying with this, I cut off a slew of experiences that terrified me to my core- intimacy, vulnerability, real connectivity with other people. Letting myself be held up by my community- my fear of these things being rooted in not being lovable, not being enough, being rejected. When I was able to recognize my fears, I was able to see all the barriers I built to avoid said fears. My entire life was built around them- most all of my major life decisions came from fear of (and trying to avoid) emotional discomfort and pain.