Fear of Falling
Most of us have experienced that unforeseen moment when fear rears its ugly head, hitting us in unexpected ways. This might happen when an unpleasant thought pops into our head, as we walk into a particular situation, or if we attempt a new activity. For me, fear almost knocked me down twelve years ago during what started off as a relaxing hike in Arches National Park. Yes, in the midst of our amazing family adventure in Moab, Utah, I had a moment when I thought I might actually die… right there on the spot... in the middle of a path, traveled daily by hundreds of people. This overwhelming sensation happened as I rounded a curve on the trail to the double arch, you know, the one Harrison Ford flew his plane through in Raiders of the Lost Arc? The ground beneath my feet shrank from a massive twenty-foot span to a mere two and a half foot walkway. As I looked to my left, I saw that the ledge suddenly dropped off, and the earth lay hundreds of feet below. I lost my breath. I wanted to slink onto my stomach and slither backwards, towards the safety of a wider trail.
But, I was momentarily frozen, and I knew that there was no way my family would turn around. Terrified and totally irrational, I yelled at my children to stay to the right, to hug the rock wall. Both boys and my husband looked at me like I’d lost my mind. And, I think I might have. Luckily, my husband took my hand and guided me the rest of the way around the curve, until it was less narrow, until I felt safe.
In hindsight, I have no idea what triggered this reaction. Was I hormonal? Did I have a strange premonition or perhaps a bad dream? I’ve never been acrophobic. In fact, the year prior, I climbed, in ski boots, to the top of a mountain in the Rockies in order to ski the back bowl… at an elevation of 12,400 feet, where there are plenty of scary drop offs. Before the “Arches episode,” I had no idea that heights were even a concern for me, let alone the fear of falling.
As you might imagine, my “freak out moment” certainly put a crimp on our hiking trip, as I became super cautious, hesitant to allow my young children to venture on trials that I deemed dangerous. Unfortunately, I didn’t come to terms with it then. I think I just stuffed the fear, buried it deep inside. My apprehension of falling off a cliff hasn’t resurfaced, most likely because I’ve avoided those environments, but I know that the fear remains.
Perhaps many of you can identify with this story. Maybe you’re claustrophobic or you dread speaking in front of people. These are common fears shared by many. However, fear shows up in multiple ways. My example illustrates it in its obvious form, but many times, it appears in a more subtle fashion. Fear disguises itself as other emotions, such as anger, jealousy, shame, or guilt. And it’s tricky, often one of the biggest, unnoticed culprits in our lives. It can monopolize our minds and dictate so many of our thoughts and actions.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the role fear has played in my life and how much it’s influenced what I do, as well as what I don’t do. Thinking back to my childhood, through my teens, college years, and adulthood, I have to admit that fear’s motivated a great deal of the choices I’ve made. Why is this? What exactly are behind our fears and why do they hold such power over us?
There are multiple books written on this topic, and in no way would I ever proclaim to know all of the answers. But, I do realize one thing… the surest way to defeat fear is with love. I agree, this sounds preposterous. How can love defeat fear?
Actually, it’s quite simple when you think about it. Only two true emotions exist in this world… fear and love. And, although many of us don’t believe it, we have the choice as to how we approach and deal with what life hands us. Most definitely it’s more natural and easier to respond with fear. After all, when something presents as challenging or even dangerous, shouldn’t we be fearful? Of course we must practice caution. But, maybe ask yourself if there is another way to approach this situation. Could a shift in perspective, a change in how you look at the circumstances allow space for love? If so, what might that look like?
Let’s assume that you’re driving home, paying attention to the road and minding your own business. You’re at a stop sign, looking in both directions before proceeding. Then you suddenly feel your car surge forward… someone has rammed you from behind! Quickly you look in your rearview mirror, and you discover that the driver of the offending vehicle is a young girl, and she her cell phone in her hand. Great! She hit me because she was texting and driving!
You’re shaken, but it doesn’t appear that you’re hurt, so you open the car door to ream out this kid and assess the damage. As you make your way towards her car, you see she’s hysterically crying. So here is when you must decide… do you allow your fear (disguised as anger) to dictate your actions, or do you choose love? Yes, your rear bumper is badly dented. And, you know that with no fault insurance, this is going to cost you. This entire situation makes you want to scream at her, teach her a lesson or two. But what good will that do? The damage is already done. What if you took a different course of action? Is there a way to use love instead? Could you comfort her, help her call her parents, and then gently share your message about texting while driving? Might that be more impactful than screaming at this scared kid, chastising her for something that she already knows is wrong?
When I think about it, my husband could have expressed his frustration with my irrational behavior on that trail in Arches National Park. After all, my reaction was pretty out there. But he chose love instead. What if I had not berated myself for my conduct and had shown self-love? If I had compassion for my fearful response, whether rational or not, maybe I could have worked through that emotion instead of suppressing it, embarrassed by how it made me feel.
We’re all human, and it’s extremely difficult to control our actions in ideal situations, let alone stressful ones. But, if we make it our daily practice to employ love over fear, maybe, just maybe when it really counts, when someone needs us, we’ll be able to choose love. And then our actions will make a difference, help another grow, as we move towards becoming the better versions of ourselves.