I write about fear a lot. Partly because I have spent a good portion of my life not participating, not living a bigger life for fear-sake. The other part is I now work with folks as a life coach and one of the principal things that gets brought to the table over and over is fear. Many times it comes incognito, under what we say is wrong, broken, and missing with our lives. It is this gelatinous layer that lies beneath what ails us. What can be trickier are the occasions fear appears in mist form like an old monster movie, it drifts in as free-floating anxiety that attaches to everything and nothing. It can be paralyzing, we have this light terror of what exactly, we don’t know, that cause us to wake at 2 am and lay there dissecting our lives in sentences that start with “what if”. That is never good. But if we stop, that is an important word right there, STOP and take a breath we can then go through the grocery list of fears we carry around with us and see where it fits. If we can assign it to something going on, if we can name it we can then attach it to the trigger and in doing so take control back. That doesn’t mean we aren’t afraid it means we know where the fear lives and that way it does not permeate everything.
Fear can be used as just another tool in our bag of tricks if we choose. As an example I use fear as an indicator, not in warning me away from things but rather as something to look closer at, move towards. Unless it’s a loaded gun and I am not talking metaphorically here, no fight or flight scenarios but rather emotional fear. I know that sounds redundant but events over the last few days brought me to a place to think of fear in context of having sub categories and one that came to light is emotional fear. The best example I have of emotional fear is something I wrote about recently: when I signed up to read one of my short stories at a book launch party. I was absolutely terrified to the point I made myself sick. The fear was unmistakable, raw and very real but not primal, not physical. Those flavors came this past weekend.
My friend Lisa’s husband, Sam, grew up Jeeping, exploring the lore and the land of the desert especially the area of Anza Borrego. As you can imagine Lisa has done this for many years with Sam. As a kid my friend John went off-road exploring with his family as well but had not been for damn near 35 years. I was a virgin, and really I don’t get to say that about too many things. For those of you who just spit your beverage at your screen, serves you right and people who live in glass houses… but I digress. As for Saturday the moon was going to be full, there were mud caves to be explored, some ghost stories and missing kids to investigate and crazy big rocky treacherous hills that needed to be climbed, we signed up for the lot. “Little did she know…” is all I can hear the narrator say.
There is no better teacher than someone who is passionate and knowledgeable. When they take you on a journey of discovery and show us their love as they see it, it is incredible. This was true with Lisa and Sam on our desert adventure. I have a number of friends who are not trained teachers but are some of the most gifted ones I know. They teach what they know, love and have a passion for in doing so they tap into our natural curiosity. That is how we learn best when our teacher is engaging, full of energy and on fire. At the end of the day I was filthy, dusty, bumped and bruised and had not had that much fun in a very long time. I had also not bumped up against physical fear since spring of 2006 as my best guess. In fact I had forgotten all about it.
That spring I had an occasion to tag along with my beaux, his brother and nephew, all accomplished skydivers, to a drop zone. I had always wanted to try skydiving and at this point had hung around drop zones all over the country while my beaux jumped. While he jumped I took photos and made sure I knew where his car keys were in case things went terribly wrong. Skydiving was a bucket list item for me and I decided to try it. The timing of my jump was attached to my younger sister being in the hospital with leukemia and me having just given a stem cell transplant that was not transplanting. I thought I could do an even trade with God if he saw fit to take the cranky older sister and let the younger stick around a bit. He didn’t as you all know, but I had to try.
My foray into skydiving was the kind of fear where you think about your life and that this might just be the end of it. There was terror yes, but there was also exhilaration, excitement and full throttle adrenaline. I am sure there was emotional fear about my spaz-o-matic body, and all that goes with hand, eye and full body coordination of which I lack. But the overriding feeling was visceral and very grounded in my body. The dive was awesome to sound like a southern cali girl. I loved the free fall more than the gentle float down of the canopy to the landing, which I hear is opposite of most folks. I guess the weightlessness and the wind did it for me. You don’t feel like you are falling you just feel. I loved the rush of fear and joy that flooded my body and made me feel alive. I didn’t love it enough to become a skydiver but would do it again in a heartbeat.
The same thing happened to me on Saturday. There was a little wisp of fear winding our way in the dark labyrinth of the mud caves, but it was that tiny fear of the unknown, the untried and the Indiana Jones syndrome. As the day in the desert progressed we went further into the backcountry climbing over hill and dale, just like Roy. Towards the end of the day we had trudged narrow rocky passages and climbed a good sized sand dune that would have made Lawrence of Arabia weep. There was a plateau in the distance across the desert floor. We crossed to it and began to climb mountain goat territory over boulders, through gaps, listing to the side all the while being regaled with stories of how they tipped over here, and flipped over there. My body had started a high hum of fear on the sand dune and by this time I was a teakettle ready to blow. I was absolutely terrified that we would go tumbling over or down the rock grade and that would be it. As we got close to the top I stopped looking out the windows as it was too much sensory overload. Just as we scaled a particularly precarious spot the teakettle blew and I let out a little yelp, involuntarily, mind you. I had hoped it was just in my head. It was not, which was confirmed a nanosecond later. It seems that I whimper when I fear for my life and limb. Who knew? When I was skydiving it was all lost in the wind, in a jeep of four well, I was not so lucky.
John was the first to comment about my whimper of fear. Sam confirmed that, yes that was what it sounded like and yes; it had come from Kyra in the back seat. There was much laughter and gaiety as to my yelp or plea to the universe to save my wrinkly yet still soft hide. Sam laughingly told us that this was not even the dangerous stuff; Lisa confirmed that it was true and added a few stories. I was a wimp it seemed when it came to off-roading. But in my defense I hate heights and don’t even look down at the hillsides in a car on a skinny road. I only look straight ahead on the winding Highway 1 even when I am not driving. I was good with being a wussy because I was having the ride of my life, however spooky that ride was–even if that meant closing my eyes sometimes to get to the end point.
At the top of the plateau we stopped and unloaded from the jeep, me on jello legs. I took a deep breath and looked out on the huge disc of the sinking sun dipping behind the rough terrain. There was a cool breeze whipping at our clothes as we stood in the golden, still warm glow. The view was stunning; I don’t think I will ever forget the beauty around us or feeling the hum in my body. It was an electrical current of joy. To have it delivered in such a heart-pounding trip made it all the more sweet. I learned so much that day, while being thrown around the back of a jeep, about my compatriots and myself. I got reacquainted with physical fear again realizing how big life can be and how thrilling the edge is in every sense of the word. What trust and safety mean among friends. Don’t eat carrots on the bumps unless you want them in your lungs as well as your stomach. By sharing what you love with others lets you fall in love with it all over again. And sometimes fear does not come in under the cover of darkness but under bright desert light in a red jeep with a few smart-asses up in front and it’s all good.