I’m generally afraid of a lot of things…snakes, frogs, fish, turtles, secret unknown lake-dwelling creatures; bears, wolves, moose and dear in rutting season; killers living in the woods, tornados, fire, loss, injury (to myself or my loved ones), failure, and pretty much fear itself. Most of the time I think my fears help to keep me safe, leading me to think ahead about possible scenarios that require forethought in order to come through them alive. Other times they keep me from going into potentially dangerous or risky situations, thereby avoiding the possibility of anything bad happening at all. Sometimes my fears keep me from having joyful, beautiful and fulfilling experiences…and sometimes, they lead me to them.
This week I felt the joy and fulfillment of not only doing things that scare me, but of feeling afraid and doing them anyway—a walk in the woods in black bear country with only a compass (and two walking partners) and a night on a pontoon boat in the middle of a lake.
The walk in the woods meant facing my fear of unknowingly approaching a bear cub (and thus its protective mother) or an eating bear or a young bear looking to test out its dominance (a possibility according to this website), as well as getting lost in the woods forever, never to be found again. (I didn’t even let myself think about the timber wolves that live there; the bears were enough).
Sleeping in a tent on the pontoon boat meant facing my fear of snakes and other creeping, crawling, slimy lake things, mysterious man-eating creatures climbing up onto the boat from the lake floor in the middle of the night and being touched by dock spiders in my sleep. Oh, and sinking, of course. Or being blown over to the far lakeshore to be eaten by a bear.
I did these things for a couple of reasons: a) because the week before, I had gone swimming in Lake Ontario (with some gentle and enthusiastic encouragement) (as mentioned in this previous post) and experienced the fun of being (at least a tiny bit) care free and the fulfillment of not letting fear stop me, b) I hate missing out and feeling left out and letting fear make decisions for me, and c) as uncomfortable as it is, I know how important it is for me to push myself OUT of my comfort zone when I have the opportunity. (I’m finally old enough to know that no matter how well I explain my fears to others, no one is going to do this for me. My growth is my responsibility!)
As I had hoped, I felt that same sense of joy and fulfillment and general well-being after the walk in the woods and spending a night on the lake. I felt good about myself, like I had accomplished something. But I received other priceless gifts as well that I would have otherwise completely missed out on, like watching Mr. Wonderful approach and gaze upon the body of water we were trekking to find, untouched by humans, in the middle of the forest; laying on my back under the black starry sky with my sweetheart, unadulterated by the haze and smog of city lights and life; looking out across the glassy black lake water under the moon; the utterly strange feeling of sleeping on water instead of solid ground and waking up with the lake, slow and gentle.
These are moments that I cherish. These are the things that bring me wealth and add value to my life. Without fear I would have done these things and I would have enjoyed them; they still would have added value to my life. But having to push through a self-constructed boundary adds that much more value and turns them into things that I can remember. So this is a thank-you note, to my constant supporter, Mr. W., and to my fear, for creating opportunities for such brilliant success.
(Bear photo cred: http://kerrimaniscalco.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/bear-hand_1350579i1.jpg)