Just Keep Swimming

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.”
John McCain

I found this quote to be profound, the courage to act despite your fears. How do you get to a place where you can function and not quake anymore? Is there a magic method?

Take spelunking – I am petrified of closed spaces, I think my whole family is actually. The thought that I’d willingly go down a dark whole terrifies me beyond words, even dreaming about something like that wakes me out of a sound sleep. Still, people gear up and eagerly jump or climb down dark holes in the earth. Areas filled with critters without day vision, countless spiders and other bugs that never see the light of day either. However, enough awfulizing – about my claustrophobia. If I met with a situation where I needed to go into some hole to save a loved one could I? Maybe and maybe not,  I’d like to think I could act skillfully, but think I’d be lucky to just survive the moment.

I think success in these situations comes with practice – lots and lots of practice.

I have recently been doing a daily yoga practice that pushes me way past my comfort zone.  Looking back I see that this “zone” was more a fear of mine than real physical restrictions. How do you let go of a physical fear? Maybe it is to just practice more.

I know there is a long-standing view in psychology that you need to face fears to release it to get through whatever is there. How does that work? Is facing something once enough? I know many people whose fears are their very identity. How do you reconstruct your whole identity? What new habits do you develop that will remove fear from your persona? I have a fear that when I hike I am going to run into a bear or some other fierce creature whose domain I am invading. Ih’ve had this fear forover 40 years ago as a result of a close encounter with a rattlesnake.  I was maybe 5 or 6 months pregnant at the time and feared for my life as I ran in the other direction. This type of thing imprints on your psyche in a very deep way – I know it did on mine.

Now, 40 years later, I hike most Saturdays with my husband who is a seasoned hiker (think true-blue boyscout) and three young boys. Despite the numbers in our group or my husbands expertise every Saturday, I am sure we will need to run for our lives due to a bear. It does not matter that the bears that live in our region are relatively harmless. I am a major chicken. It goes without saying that I am not cool with the ocean either (sharks and undertows), but I still dutifully face my fear of the woods each weekend, the occasional trip to the shore, and survive.  How? Through practice.

So this brings me to what I imagine Mr. McCain said next which was you soldier on and overcome through faithful practice. My yogi mentors would tell me to practice.  Or as Dory, the oracle of the sea would say – just keep swimming, just keep swimming….