FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real
A couple weeks ago, I shed most of my clothes and willingly walked into a room heated to 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40 percent.
A wall of heat hit me like a tidal wave, while the stench of body odor made me nearly lose my breakfast.
My friend guided me through the crowded room and told me to stay calm, relax and breathe.
She had a mat already waiting for me, with a soft bath towel spread over it, and a full water bottle and a Gatorade set close by.
I could feel my heart racing as I positioned myself on the mat, for I was about to begin my first experience of Bikram Yoga, otherwise known as hot yoga, fire yoga … the pinnacle for all yogis crazy enough to endure such conditions.
Looking around the room, I had never seen so many lean and taunt bodies. And then there was me, with my soft and “squeezable” middle, left over from pregnancy, two times over.
Sure, I’ve done yoga before, but it was the gentle kind, the kind where you go to relax – and not the kind where you subject yourself to 90 minutes of hot torture.
But my yogi friend swore by it, so after months of hearing her go on about its benefits, I decided to give it a try, but only after throwing out a couple of last-ditch excuses the night before.
The Bikram Experience
So there I was feeling hot as hell, a bit embarrassed, and well … a little scared. What if the heat caused me to faint? That was my biggest fear, given that I had nearly fainted a couple times during intense exercise a few months before. Even though a cardiologist had given me a clean bill of health, concluding dehydration as the cause, I still worried that it could happen again. But this time, I prepared my body for the workout, making sure to hydrate the day before. So with a deep breath and plenty of fluids by my side, I dove right in. Here’s how it went.
The first couple of poses lost me, but by the third one, I felt myself getting into the flow.
By the fifth, I had forgotten about the heat and was well into my groove.
With every stretch, I felt myself get stronger and longer.
My lungs expanded, welcoming the warm air.
With every sweat bead that ran down my face, I felt my fear melting away. And that’s what was happening – fear was leaving my body.
In the end, I felt invigorated for pushing through all 26 poses – twice. And it didn’t kill me. Yes, it was challenging, but no more so than my 60-minute spin class. I got through it and made it to the other side of the unknown.
Fearing the Unknown
My recent experience with Bikram yoga made me think: how many times in our lives do we avoid trying something new out of fear of the unknown? How often do we let fear control us? How often do we let it shape the choices we make – or not make – in life?
Sure, fear plays a valid role.
We can track our “fight or flight” response back to the stone ages, where fear played a necessary part in helping our ancestors survive.
Fear is, in a sense, a primal instinct. We know to look both ways before we cross a street, or to flee to safety when there’s a fire. But how much is too much? Can having too much fear paralyze us from reaching our dreams? Can fear hold us back from making positive changes in our lives?
Take the man stuck in an uninspiring corporate job, who secretly longs to start his own company but is too scared of failure to make a go of his dream.
Or the woman in the loveless marriage who chooses to stay rather than face the prospect of being alone.
Or the mother who longs to be a novelist, but doesn’t believe her ideas are any good.
This is how fear lives. This is how fear feeds. This is how fear breeds, in each and every one of us. And it’s time we let it go.
For some of us, fear is a pacifier. We cling to it to avoid having to step out of our comfort zones. We lug it around like a ball and chain, letting it hold us back from believing in ourselves or making healthy changes in our lives.
The thing is, fear has no real power. It is only as powerful as the energy we give it. When we think about it, worry about it or obsess over it, fear takes on a false sense of importance, and soon we open the door, allowing fear to step in and control our lives.
Perhaps Marcus Aurelius said it best:
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
What if today, right now, we all stopped buying into the whole facade? What if we stopped believing in fear and started believing in ourselves?
Betting Against Fear
About 7 years ago, I did just that – but barely. After much contemplation and prayer, I quit my flashy corporate job – the
one with the comfortable salary and great benefits – to make a go of things on my own as a freelance writer. I had already written a novel and had the idea for LITTLE 15 swirling around my head, so I figured that working for myself would afford me more time to pursue my dream of becoming a published author.
This, by far, was the SCARIEST DECISION I’VE EVER MADE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. I obsessed over what could go wrong, like … what if I couldn’t find any clients to give me work or make enough money to help support my growing family? But somehow, someway, I found the strength to stay true to my spirit and resign from what I knew deep down wasn’t my passion. And almost immediately, the freelance work came rolling in.
Doomsday Fears Debunked
During the course of those years, I had my fair share of ups and downs, but none that ever materialized into the doomsday sceneros that often hovered in my mind. And finally, last month, the plan that my husband and I concocted more than seven years ago at our kitchen table finally came to fruition: January 3 marked the official release of my debut novel, LITTLE 15, and the rest as they say, is history.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a whole slew of new fears now, always slithering through my mind, planting their venom anywhere they can. It’s not easy – I can go from jubilant to “what the hell am I doing” in a single day. But I’m getting better at not letting it consume me. There was a time when worries kept me up at night. Now, it’s different. Now I can pretty easily drift off to sleep. But is has taken practice – and the constant reminder to believe in myself. Nowadays, when I feel the hot breath of fear breathing down my neck, I write it all out in my morning pages, then leave it in my journal and get on with my day.
That’s when a tremendous sense of joy and peace hit me, and I realize that I’m living my dream.
Me. An author. Published. With readers. And … oh may I dare say it … fans.
I don’t let fear bully me any more. Yes, it still gets in my face, but I’m a lot better about not buying into all its drama.
And that’s what fear really is. Drama. An exaggeration. An overstatement of the truth. False evidence appearing real.
Here’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson had to say about it:
When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.
And Bikram yoga? Will I ever do it again?
Yep. In fact, I’m looking around for studios in my area. And already I’m dreaming of the heat.
Now, Your Turn
What fears are keeping you from pursuing your dreams? How are they holding you back from being true to your spirit?
Until next time …