Facing a Lifelong Fear

A few weeks ago, I was in the Smoky Mountains for a camping vacation with my spouse. The first morning we set out on an adventure – a hike to the top of Rich Mountain to see the fall colors pouring into the valley.

The night before, I had fallen asleep reading the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s the story of her solo 1100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Now I found myself walking behind Kent, pondering Cheryl’s observation that rattlesnakes are polite – they always warn you. Two minutes later I heard a heart-stopping brrrrrr and saw the leaves moving a few feet ahead on the dirt trail.

Let me just say here that I’m scared of all snakes. Little green garter snakes. Even king snakes who helpfully eat other snakes.  They don’t need to have a pit viperish triangular head to scare the heck out of me.

I blame this fear on a trick my older sister enjoyed playing on me. She would leave an encyclopedia on the floor outside my closed bedroom door. She had carefully turned it to the full-color page depicting poisonous snakes. After knocking and calling my name, she would scoot into her bedroom and listen for my scream.

Many decades later, I saw my fear embodied in a coiled, upset serpent.

I screamed, “Snake, snake!” Where? Kent asked, as he turned toward the rattler beside his left foot. Apparently the sight of the snake impaired my ability to communicate effectively. I could only stab my finger into the air and squeak, There! Right there!

In her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron writes about the part of us that can actually be stirred by stepping into something that’s uncertain and unknown. We think we want to be comfortably cocooned, drifting along. But there is also a part of us – the warrior – that longs to be thrown out of the nest. She asserts that this part of us wants to be challenged.

In the past I haven’t always had the giddy-up to walk into unknown territory. I’ve stayed in jobs and relationships that were way past their shelf-life. But over the years I’ve discovered, through many baby steps, that taking risks helps create a juicier life. Even at the risk of meeting up with a snake, hiking that trail helped me feel more alive.

Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive—the risk to be alive and express what we really are. – Miguel Angel Ruiz

When have you taken a risk by walking toward your fear? What impact did that have on your life?