“Parasailing! Are you crazy?” the inflection in my voice said everything. Sitting at a café on the beach, we were watching people ascend into the sky over the great blue ocean. “I’m scared of heights….not to mention sharks!” I continued. I don’t know how it happened, but 10 minutes later I was in the queue and there was no turning back. And the voice inside started. They don’t look very experienced. I’m not sure if it’s safe. It’s a bit windy too. Maybe tomorrow might be a better day. Fear had taken its grip and I could feel myself pulling away. Had it not been for my over-enthusiastic friend, I would’ve been long gone. Trembling in my seat, I looked for reassurance from the operator. Maybe if I had all the information, I could relax. “Is it safe? Has anyone ever fallen ? What happens if I land in the ocean?” He brushed me off with an annoyed tone “in my 30 years experience, there has NEVER been an incident. It is perfectly safe.” So I stepped up to the rope, they hooked me up and away I went.
And as I went up, I marveled the expanded view of the horizon. It was a magical sight I’d never experienced, because fear kept us apart. I looked for the fear, expecting it to visit. But it never appeared. Connecting with this glorious view drew me out of my head and that voice of fear was now silent. There was nothing except the stillness of the air, the sound of birds and …..SNAP! Just as the rope reached its full extension, it happened. The thing I feared most. That thing that hadn’t happened in 30 years. It happened to me. The rope snapped and I began my descent into the ocean. But as I did so, something unexpected happened. I let go. There was nothing I could do. I wasn’t in control. All I could do was relax and enjoy the ride. So I did! And what a great ride it was. The operators came speeding along moments after I hit the ocean. “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” they said. Laughing like a child who’d just gotten off a rollercoaster I replied “I’m not panicking. Can I do that again?”
What an unexpected gift I received that day! I learnt to let go. Who knew that when you let go, you could be surprised by how perfectly things unfold. And furthermore I inadvertently discovered a way to overcome fear. Stop focusing on it! When I disconnected from the horror movie playing in my own head and connected with what was around me, the voice of fear was silenced.
Fear can be your greatest teacher. It’s useful to remember that its purpose is to keep you safe. It’s your friend. You need to thank fear for pulling you back from the edge of the road when a car is speeding around the corner. But your brain’s fear mechanism is also very diligent and will raise a red flag not just at physical threats to your survival, but threats to social belonging, status and your comfort zone. Don’t try something new, you might fail! Be careful about expressing your real opinion, you might get rejected! Quick grab that or you might miss out! If you always followed the warning of your fear response, you would miss a lifetime of learning, growth and magical experiences.
Fear is a sign to pay attention. But there is a second step. You must determine what you need to pay attention to. Because it may mean pay attention and quickly shut the door so you are safe again. But it may also mean you need to pay attention to something inside of you that needs to be unlearned or healed. That day, my fear was not a warning of a life threatening risk. It was a warning that if I continued to live my life trying to control every step, I would be headed down a path of stress and worry.
So next time you feel fear, realize that it is a gift. Take a moment to say “thank you brain”. It’s doing its job to keep you safe. But then ask yourself “what do I need to pay attention to here?” That’s where you begin unwrapping the real gift.