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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