A recent backpacking retreat through Olympic National Park has me thinking a lot about the connections between fear and contemplative practice.
To talk business, brainstorm potential wellness partnerships, and celebrate our 40th birthdays, my dear friend of 28 years and I planned this multi-day traverse for over a year. Needless to say, the logistics involved in getting two mid-career mamas of multiple kids, who live 2,500 miles apart into the wilderness for 3 days were intense! Radical prioritizing of our own self-care over and over again was required throughout the planning process when life inevitably crept in and added complications.
Once we arrived on the trail, the realities of the terrain jumped off the map and into my throat. In total we covered over 35 miles, climbing up and down 8600' of elevation. While I was quite confident in my endurance abilities to persist on the ups, the downs quickly brought unexpected fear to the surface. The steepness of the topography combined with the loose, shale-covered trail, a heavy pack that made my center of gravity unpredictable, and a long-time, deep-ceded fear of heights converged in several short, but powerful moments of near panic on our first day.
What if I fell?
How would stop myself?
How far down is that drop?
How far away is help?
How long would it take for help to find me?
What if they didn’t find me?
What if my friend fell and I had to go get help alone??
With my breath caught in my throat and my monkey mind spinning, the only way out was through. The only way to move from fear to presence and maybe even on to enjoyment amid the awesome landscape was to pause, notice, and let go.
My mindfulness practice helped me to simply feel the fear without deeply attaching to it. Yes, I was feeling fear. No, that feeling did not need to dictate an autopilot response.
My yoga pranayama practice led me to focus on lengthening each exhalation, turning on my parasympathetic nervous system and naturally helping my body — and therefore my mind — CALM DOWN.
I continued one step at a time. I was awake and alive for the fullness of each moment. The fear was real AND I could still respond instead of simply react.
Whether it’s an outdoor adventure, a high stakes presentation, or any of the big and not-so-big stuff of life, how might these simple but powerful contemplative practices help you take on and then move through the things that scare you?