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What to Do When Fear Has You in a Choke Hold and You’re About to Say “Uncle”

photo: Tsutomu Takasu on flikr

I hate fear.

I know, we spiritual types are supposed to embrace all aspects of our experience, even the hard stuff. But fear still pisses me off.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had great success with flipping fear on its belly and finding the excitement underneath. But I’ve also had fear pin me to the floor, hold me in a vice grip, and leave me trembling with defeat.

And I’m not afraid to admit it.

Speaking of fear, let’s talk about zip lines for a minute, shall we?

For the record, I think they’re awesome.

This probably has something to do with the fact that I’m an adrenaline junkie. Actually, it’s more specific than that. I love the feeling of falling.

As an example of my exuberance, check out this picture of me and Melissa at the Haunted Tower at DisneyWorld:

As you can see, Melissa, on the left, was truly terrified. If I remember correctly, at the moment this picture was taken, she was digging her fingernails into my thigh. I, on the other hand, was also feeling a rush of emotion, but mine would be more correctly characterized as fear cut with exhilaration.

So when I found out, on a recent spiritual retreat, that there was a zip line on the property, I immediately said: Sign me up.

The zip line was staffed by perky little zip-line girls. They were assigned to helped us with our helmets and harnesses. They were all about twelve-years-old.

Okay, they were probably more like twenty, but they all looked twelve.

Here’s a picture of me and my gear, after the twelve-year-old was done with me:

photo: Melissa Phillippe

And here’s me and my friend Lisa, right before we went up the tree.

To get to the zip line, you had to climb a ladder with rungs placed increasingly far apart. The zip line was part of a ropes course, and the hard-to-climb ladder was one of the challenges.

I have legs like Gumby. And by this, I do not mean that they are green and made of a suspicious rubbery substance.

photo: highlimitzz on flikr

But they are very bendable.

Because of this, the ladder was pretty easy for me to climb. It was harder for my friend Lisa, though. Like most of the women who did the zip line, she had to pull herself up by placing a knee on each rung, then hoisting herself upwards.

Even though I could have shimmied up the ladder like a squirrel on crack, I chose to stay with Lisa. I patted myself on the back for my empathy, my kindness, my show of moral support.

How lucky Lisa was to have me with her!

Once we got to the top, I peered over the side of the platform. We were way the heck up there. The people on the ground looked like munchkins. I didn’t care. I was having fun!

Given my love of falling and overall thrill-seeker reputation, I elected to go first. One of the twelve-year-olds led me over to a small step on the edge of the platform. Suddenly, everything started to feel a little more precarious.

The main platform was one thing. There was room to move around, room to feel bold and brave and victorious. The little step was another story altogether. It was just a teeny tiny step. With nothing around it but air.

With smooth efficiency, the twelve-year-old locked my gear onto the zip line. And then she said it. 

“Jump.”

I panicked. What? Jump?! You’ve got to be kidding me! 

I looked down. The munchkins were cheering me on. Or maybe they were writhing in horror. I couldn’t tell. They were too far away.

“You’re ready,” said the twelve-year-old. “Jump.”

But I couldn’t. I was frozen in fear. The idea of stepping off that platform seemed absolutely ludicrous.

It didn’t make sense. I had wanted to go on the zip line. I was thrilled when I’d heard they had one on the property. Others had done it and no one had died. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I move?

I’ll tell you why. 

Fear.

I know that fear is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real, and that’s all well and good. But I’ll tell you what – it’s also an acronym for Forget Everything And Run.

Although, in that moment, I couldn’t even do that. Running was not an option. For one thing, I had the twelve-year-old to contend with. And for another, I was wearing a harness and a dorky yellow helmet. I wasn’t about to become a running Gumby in a school-bus-yellow hardhat.

I had to deal.

So I did. I took a breath. And another. I checked the munchkins on the ground and decided they were happy for me. Either that, or they were warning me that the twelve-year-old had a knife and was about to murder me on the spot.

I took another breath.

I tried to remind myself why I was there. I was there was because I’d had a vision. I’d known that this was something I’d wanted to do. Sure, that was harder to remember now. But somehow, deep inside me, I managed to access a kernel of that original impulse.

Go, it said. Do it! You want this. Make it happen!

So I did.

I said hello to my friend “Jesus Christ,” and I stepped off that tree and into the air.

The rest is mostly a blur. I remember that I flew down the wire. I remember that I tucked my knees into my chest because they said it would make me go faster. I remember the munchkins were cheering.

And then it was over.

photo: Lisa Barry

Will I challenge myself again? Absolutely.

Will fear try to stop me again? Probably.

But next time, I’ll remember what happens when I come up against the edges of my comfort zone. I’ll remember to expect those voices that freak out and tell me to retreat. I’ll remember they’re part of the process.

And I’ll ignore them. Just like I did that day on the zip line.

photo: Lisa Barry

I’ll also remember that, once I got on the ground, my favorite part of the whole thing, even more than zipping through the air, was the exhilaration of stepping beyond my fears. Trusting the part of me that had the vision in the first place.  

Oh, and my friend Lisa, the one I “helped” up the ladder. She jumped off that tree like nobody’s business. Without an ounce of fear. I guess she didn’t need my “help” after all.

photo: Melissa Phillippe

When have you let fear hold you back? And when have you allowed yourself the thrill of moving past your comfort zone?

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18 Responses to What to Do When Fear Has You in a Choke Hold and You’re About to Say “Uncle”

  1. Squirrel December 6, 2011 at 8:02 am #

    good morning, z! happy tuesday!

    i applaud you for zip lining. the only time i had the opportunity to do anything like that was several years ago and i don’t think it was a zip line. but there was a tall tree involved and i was so paralyzed with fear i couldn’t make it up the ladder. i was about half-way up when i decided against it. not a fan of heights. actually, i don’t have a problem with heights, as the old saying goes, i’m not afraid of falling, i’m afraid of the abrupt stop at the end. i’m fine as long as i have the illusion of control. throughout my childhood, i was never a risk taker (unless i was in control, thus taking out the risk) until i got a lot older. now, i take risks regularly. perhaps not zip lining, but i frequently go out on a limb without safety equipment and trust that the universe will catch me if i fall. it is very exciting. and when i’ve had enough excitement, i rest… usually… except when i don’t… but that’s another story altogether. 😀

    have a fantastic day, z! <3

    xos

    • Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Good Morning, oh Squirrel!

      Yeah, the ole Abrupt Stop at the End is the tricky part. Never fun.

      One of the things I didn’t say in this post was that sometimes my intuition tells me that I’m NOT supposed to do something. Like with you and the tree/ladder/thingie. For me, there have been lots of times when my gut says – Oh no, we’re not doing that. And I’m glad that I have that inner compass. In this case, zipping was the way to go.

      Glad that you’re getting enough rest. 😉

      XOZ

  2. Georgia December 6, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    OMG, this made me LOL for sure “For one thing, I had the twelve-year-old to contend with. And for another, I was wearing a harness and a dorky yellow helmet. I wasn’t about to become a running Gumby in a school-bus-yellow hardhat”, especially knowing how you run like Gumby.

    Oh how the ego (elf) is always at work, even during the most fearfull of moments, eh?

    When I went to do the Visioning process with Michael Beckwith, I had a vision of diving off the ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I am also an adrenaline junky, the scarier the rollercoaster the better, there is that point of no return….where someone / something is obviously in control of my life (like ususal, but somehow more real at that moment) that is such a complete letting go.

    I don’t plan to dive off the GGB, without somekind of way to bounce up or float away. Yet, it will be interesting to see what manifests as that vision….

    Love and Blessings in the highest,
    G

    • C.I. December 6, 2011 at 11:15 am #

      I think you needed rubbery Gumby legs to toss over that chasm between rungs! (Very funny pictures indeed, fear personified, classic smiling faces) BRAVO, like one definition of courage: You’re afraid, but you do it anyway!

      My son symbolically gives me a Haunted Tower ride when he decides to drive an 800 mile round trip in 24 hours with a 1 hour pit stop to drum with a rock band at the end point (0 sleep allowance).

      How do I get past the heart-in-throat sensation? Visibly freak out in his presence, then later ask his Dad to talk some sense into him. We can then both declare “we’re doing the best we can”.

      On a more regular basis, I try to remember Tolle’s words: Observe the runaway fear, look at it in your body, where and what are the sensations. Sometimes it takes days, though, to come back to one’s senses after being taken down in that vice grip.

      Thanks for having Fun with Fear, playing with the concept, and your self-disclosure on many levels! Shirley (“surely” from “Airplane”) you selected Z for Z-A-N-Y. xoxo

      • Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 11:33 am #

        Fear is indeed a tricky one. There are many ways to go with it. Sometimes it does indicate a real need to stop or turn around. In my case, my Gumby legs chose to jump out of that tree. Your example with your son is a different kind of Rocket Ride. I appreciate your reminder of Tolle’s words. Sometimes, like you say, the ride lasts for days. Taking the “observer self” along for the ride certainly helps. But we still have/get to go through the feelings. Oh boy!! XOZ

    • Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 11:55 am #

      Hi Georgia,

      Georgia off the Golden Gate Bridge (GOTGGB)!! Given that this is obviously not a desperate act, I’m sure that it means something Very Awesome. And adventurous. It will be interesting to see how it manifests in the coming days/months/years!

      To Infinity, and Beyond!!

      XOZ

  3. Angelica December 6, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    I have a new acronym for FEAR — Feeling Excited And Ready!!!

    How exciting!!

    • Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 11:56 am #

      Ooooooooh!! I love it!!

      Thank you, Angelica. I’m using that one. . . .

      XOZ

  4. Cecilia December 6, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    One, we twenty-to-twenty-one-year-olds are quite capable of saving lifes, let alone merely strapping a person into their zipline gear!

    Auditions scare the crap out of me. Or at least, they have. I don’t feel prepared (I usually am not). My heart pounds, and if I’ve hydrated myself slightly less than a backyard swimming pool, my mouth goes dry. I hadn’t been on one since July or August, and didn’t really think about going back, until several friends encouraged me to. On a powerful boost, I submitted myself for several, scheduled two, and –

    was
    cast
    in
    both
    of
    them.

    Screw fear! I’m making my NYC debut in February, and fear can suck my big fat courageous –

    Well. You get the idea.

  5. Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Dude. I always knew that you were a Rock Star. Just sayin. . . .

    That’s an awesome story on many levels. It’s awesome that you have such wonderful friends to encourage you take a chance. It’s awesome that you took a chance. Or, in this case, chances. And it’s awesome that you got the frickin parts!!!!!

    I am SO proud of you.

    Livin’ the dream, baby. Livin’ the dream.

    XOZ

  6. Aileen December 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    Z, stop telling MY story, will you? :-) I remember standing on that same platform, thinking, “Mom has a fear of heights, not me, so why am I suddenly afraid?” And then when I stepped onto that teeny tiny little splinter of a platform to step off into the unknown, I panicked. I wanted down. I wanted my mommy. And when I looked down to find the step to climb down and out of there, who did I see climbing up that ladder below me? My mommy. Darn. I couldn’t chicken out anymore because my mom was facing her fears, and if she could do it, so could I. Right? Sure. I think.

    What I found was that I was stronger than my fear and went back up that ladder as many times as they would let me. Thank you for being a part of that experience my dear Z. I’ll see you on the platform again I’m sure. XOXO, A

    • Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

      Hi Aileen,

      Good to know that it was YOU I channeling when I wrote this. I knew it was someone, I just didn’t know who. . .

      I’m also happy to know that someone knows exactly what I’m talking about. How small was that little step?! It was tiny! It was like a postage stamp! A postage stamp that an ant might use. Tiny, it was!

      Look forward to zipping again with you!

      XOZ

  7. Jo Lauer December 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    Fear has the unfortunate advantage of shoving me forward, like a bully pushing me into oncoming traffic. I’ve done stupid things before, that only by the grace of God have turned out okay. Afterwards, I’m a mess–my body shakes, my teeth rattle, I’m nauseous, don’t even get me started on what happens to my bowels…

    Zip-lining in Belise was an exception. It looked like, and was, so much fun, it hadn’t occurred to me it could be dangerous.

    • Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

      I’m continually amazed by all the fun things our bodies do in reaction to fear. It’s certainly a wonderful example of the power of the mind to mess with the body.

      Zip-lining in Belise sounds fabulous. I could see why you forgot to be scared!

  8. Fran December 6, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Well, Z, not inside my head on this one, I have no desire to zipline, jump from airplanes, gosh, even roller coasters freak me out, now. I support your efforts and bask in your bravery!! and say, thank God It wasn’t me on that platform, don’t know how they would have gotten me down, but I certainly would not have been able to jump.

    • Z Egloff December 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      Hi Fran!

      No zip lines for you?!

      I have to say, jumping out of airplanes is where I draw the line. At least, that’s why I’m saying today. Melissa has done it and said it was just fabulous. For whatever reason, it’s not calling me. I like being a little closer to the ground.

      Sorry to know that we’ll never be zipping together!

      XOZ

  9. Whitefire December 10, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Hey Z,
    Funny!
    I’d been on belay, rapelled off rock walls. I’d also jumped, from a 12″ pad attached by a pivot atop a 60′ swaying tree I’d climbed, toward a bar 6′ away and 2-3′ higher with no problem. So why’d it take me 20 minutes to jump off a zip line? My destination was beyond the trees! (Can anyone say control please?) I could not see or guarantee my future. Yikes!
    Good to recall. I’m getting this is about my recent life – fear of a not-for- absolutely-fricken-sure outcome.
    Thnx for your awesome blog.
    Oh & I want to see your running gumby legs sometimes.

    • Z Egloff December 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

      Hi Whitefire –

      It is interesting to look at what we’re particularly afraid of, and then see the metaphorical significance. In my case, roller coasters are easy because someone else is in charge. You step in the little car and off you go. On the zip line, I had to be the one to actually step off the platform. Though I’m sure this has no metaphorical significance in my life. Oh no! 😉

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

      XOZ

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