I’m trying to live a life that feels free. I recognise that we are only really imprisoned by our fear and so to feel free I have to work on being fearless. So I have to work out what I’m afraid of and then systematically put myself in situations that allow me to face the fear.
I am afraid of small spaces with little oxygen underground, I’ve always said I’d never go pot-holing, and yet this week I crawled into the side of a mountain in Morocco and scrambled, squeezed, climbed and slid into the belly of the hill.Not long after I’d lost sight of the light of day and the cool clean mountain air, to be replaced with darkness, torch light and warm, low-oxygen air I had my first (and only) moment of panic. I looked at my friend, “I can’t do this, I need to get out NOW!” I told him. “You can do this and you’re with me, just follow me, I’ll look after you.” I knew I wanted to do this, I didn’t want to turn back, and so I took a moment to notice what was happening. My unconscious mind was noticing the change of environment, the increase in atmospheric pressure, caused by the thousands of tonnes of rock over my head, the change in air-quality and the reduced availability of oxygen. It was feeding this information back and my conscious mind was interpreting these signals as a reason to make a snap decision, to react and get out. But if I applied my intelligence over these signals I was able to control the impulse to get out, and to be able to stay. One breath at a time. And so that is how I got through the rest of the cave. One breath at a time. Every time I found my mind wandering to the possibility of a rockfall or of suffocating to death, I returned to this breath, and then this breath and then this breath; noticing that in each breath I was OK. Still OK. Still OK. It’s the exact same process you go through in Yin yoga postures. Your body freaks out at the new information from intense sensations, in the hip for example, and it tells you to move, to get out of the posture. And yet you apply your intelligence to say, it’s OK, you’re safe, stay with the breath.
After we got out, my friend asked which was my favourite bit of the day, and I said the ascent out of the cave. Knowing I was on my way out, I practically skipped, well as much as one can skip when you can’t stand up and are having to climb and roll and crab-crawl to get through a tunnel. So what was I afraid of? Dying, probably. Afraid of taking a stupid risk and ending up regretting the decision. But if I died in that cave, I know I’d have no regrets. I know that to die facing your fears is the only way to live, because the alternative, a life lived riddled with fear, is, in my opinion not a life I want to live.
After we came down the valley, covered in clay, we came to the rock pools to wash the dirt off. there were some pretty high jumps off the top of the cliffs to take. I’m afraid of cliff jumping too, but I decided to save that fear for another day. We camped out on the side of the valley that night, ill-equipped for the cold, so a sleepless night under the stars ensued.
Later the next day, reflecting on the experience, my friend asked what my thoughts were, and I replied that I noticed how cut-off from the Earth we are. How not long ago, camping out, sleeping rough, building fires, being in caves, scaling rock-faces, carrying heavy loads, finding fresh drinking water and collecting firewood were all part of daily life – in some remote parts of the world they still are. I noticed how I have been brought up as a creature of comfort and although I can ‘[wo]man-up’ for a day or two, I soon want to be able to walk down a road without having to think about where I put my feet, incase the slightest lapse in concentration sends me plummeting to my death.
I also recognise that so many people live with fear as part of their daily existence, genuine, life-threatening fear caused by external circumstances (usually involving men with weapons) that I am fortunate to be able to control my fearful experiences so I can learn from them.
“Do one thing every day that scares you”? Well, maybe not EVERY day.