We’d been hiking about 3 or 4 hours in the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa. “The Amphitheater Climb” is an amazing route and fairly challenging, especially for a chick not used to altitude.
It was then that we arrived at “THE CHAINS”. It was probably a good thing that I didn’t know that beyond the first ladder that I could see, there was a second one about the same size, that took you to the top of the Sentinel. No, there are no harnesses. You do it on your own power, no safety checks. It's the real deal.
I was a bit intimidated when I saw the look of the thing, but I knew I was going to do it – no question. It was a strange calm knowing I had, as some of the members of our group decided at that point they’d had enough and weren’t going up – understandably so!
On this trip I was traveling with ten of my very dear friends who I love. What I didn’t know prior to our trip was that some of them have a fairly profound fear of heights. We ALL have fears. In fact I did a quick check and there are well over 100 types of recognized fears and phobias. It struck me that what sometimes brings up a strong fear for some of us, doesn’t faze others in any way. We each have our own dragons to slay and we aren’t always understanding of other people’s dragons, yet there is a lot to be learned from watching others work through theirs.
As I watched my courageous friend face her fear of heights on this hike with sheer drop offs, narrow winding paths that at the BASE is over 8,000 feet on the side of a cliff, I was so incredibly proud of her! She would gather up her bravery, hold on to the side of the mountain and inch her way through her fear over and over again.
This image, of her continuing and pushing through, is forever burned in my mind and heart. In the days that followed, it dawned on me that her inching forward – even though it scared the living hell out of her – is much like any Spiritual path (and we’re all on a Spiritual path, whether we recognize it or not). We're sometimes moving along and feeling okay and at other times, we hunker down and just try to make it a few inches forward, hanging on for dear life.
My personal journey has moved at a slower pace than I would have liked the past couple of years. I have chastised myself from time to time… “Shouldn’t I have this figured out by now?” kinds of thoughts, which just slow the whole thing down that much more. “Shoulds” are shame based and shame stunts our growth.
Just like my friend, at times I have nearly shut down, thought about turning around and going back, felt so damned scared I thought I would die. She inspired me with both her courage AND her fear. I felt love and compassion for her as she would slow down and panic a bit. Yet on my own “path” I’ve not always extended myself that same love, appreciation or grace. I feel appreciation is the magic formula that has been missing in my transformation. As Mairanne Williamson says, the only thing lacking in any situation is what YOU are not giving. I have not been giving myself much appreciation for my movement forward and the difficult parts of the "climb" that I have faced.
When I climbed “The Chains”, something sort of shifted in me. The combination of accomplishing a physical and mental challenge, along with the image of my dear, brave friend showed me that the root of what holds us all back is fear. Fear isn’t “wrong”! It serves a important purpose to protect us from harm. Fear like all emotions is simply information and it’s a choice as to whether we will let that information run the show in our lives or not.
In his new book, Tony Robbins reiterates what many wise people teach… “we cannot control circumstances, other people, events – but we can control what they mean to us." It’s the meanings we put on things that causes not only our fear, but also our suffering.
I’d say my friend decided that the challenge of the hike meant opportunity. Perhaps that’s how she pushed on – not wanting fear to be in charge of her.
At one point we came to a challenging transition up a rock face and our guide came to help her. She said to him “How in the hell am I going to get back?!?” His advice was pretty profound… “Right now we focus on the going up, not the going back”.
Fear is what has tripped me up many times in life. I’m sure you can probably give an “AMEN” to that for yourself as well. Fear of what others think, fear of getting it “wrong”, fear of not being enough or being too much for other people, fear of all kinds of things we have zero control over. The kryptonite to fear is love and appreciation… the two most powerful forces in the Universe. All you have to do is look for something to appreciate. You can’t worry and feel appreciation at the same time. You can’t feel fear and appreciation at the same time. Appreciation puts those negative thoughts to sleep as you focus on it. And if you can’t bring yourself to find something to appreciate about a current challenging condition, focus your appreciation on something unrelated! It’s THAT powerful!!!
The climb up (and down) “The Chains” unlocked a big piece of the hold that fear has had on me. I realized I don’t have anything to fear. Moving forward may not always be as fast as I’d like or it may not appear pretty, but, I’m doing it! Just like my friend who pushed herself to get uncomfortable and go forward, it doesn’t mean that fear won’t show up, but my relationship with it will be different if I love and appreciate myself. When I have, as Danielle LePorte calls it, “deep positivity” that no matter what, I will be okay, then fear takes a back seat instead of trying to grab the wheel of my life.
Another very dear friend of mine has repeated the same three mantras to me over and over again in the past couple of years. These really do sum it all up on the path to standing in our own light…
2. Don’t judge yourself – Drop the judgment and the “shoulds”. In fact, shine a light on those things that you think you “should” be ashamed of – the dark places we all have. Celebrate and accept your “flaws” and make a trophy of what you fear. Shame cannot survive in the light.
3. So? – Even if your worst fear happens, so? You’re going to be okay. Ask “Is it true?”, do The Work on your fearful thought. Also under this category #3, make sure you’re not taking responsibility for something that doesn’t belong to you. I'm just sayin'.
Fear is simply a message. Trying to tell you something about yourself that needs healing. Just like The Chains, sometimes things that look pretty daunting at first, turn out to be just what you need to move to the next level in your life. Love and appreciate yourself and find that deep knowing that no matter what happens, you’re going to be okay. The Universe has your back! It will change everything and a whole new amazing view of the world will open up for you. I've seen it, and it's incredible!
Sandy Edie Hansen
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