"Fear is the brains way of saying there is something important for you to overcome."
As I walked slowly into the water, my mind raced with all the possibilities. What if the current pulls me out too far and I can't get back in? What if a Sea Lion thinks I'm kind of cute and gets too close for comfort? What if the seaweed wraps itself around my leg and pulls me under? What if, on some off chance, a hungry Great White lost it's way and ended up north in La Jolla Cove, at the EXACT same time I pass the outlet and enter open waters? I grew up watching JAWS, I'm well aware this doesn't fair well for the human.
My mind was racing. I had spent the early morning drive down to La Jolla from Encinitas trying to talk myself out of the open water swim I had committed to a few days prior. I don't NEED to do this. I'll be fine no matter what. I'll just take a gander on race day. I mean, I AM trying to take more risks and live more adventurously. I could turn around right now and send a text saying I woke up feeling sick.
Sometimes I find myself thinking this whole living fearlessly thing is a joke. I mean, why not just play it safe? Why not stay tightly wrapped in my safe cocoon where it's warm and cozy? I know what to expect. I know the outcome. I know I will survive. Maybe I could find happiness living a life only dipping my toes in the water?
I know however, deep inside this isn't true. I know that I had already spent so may years living a life that felt safe yet feeling horribly miserable inside. I know that right on the others side of fear, is truth and the truth is, I need to live fearlessly in order to fully live.
"I just need you to know I'm absolutely terrified right now." I said to Adriana as I approached her car. I met Adriana a few days prior when I went to her swim and sporting shop in downtown La Jolla to rent my Tri wet suit. She told me that she hosts free daily open water swims and invited me to go with her whenever I wanted. I knew that was probably a good idea for me to in the water before race day, More then anything though, I knew that the reason why I hadn't thus far wasn't for lack of time but because I was scared. So I did what has become a regular habit for me and said yes before I thought it through.
She looked back at me and cracked a crooked smile, "You should be."
I laughed with the hopes that it would momentarily ease my fears. I stood at the railing and looked out at the sea. "Yeah, she's mighty big and powerful. She's got a whole lot of sass, even more then me! But, I suppose if I respect her, maybe she'll do the same in return." I said in a half statement, half question as we headed down the stairs towards the water.
"Exactly." Adriana replied. "We are just going to go really slow. We can stop and turn around whenever you want." Nice and slow. Got it.
I scanned my surroundings and watched the abnormally large amount of Sea Lions snuggling on shore, flopping around on each other and crying out in their deep guttural screams, telling me, what I imagined was, "DON'T GO IN THE WATER!"
"I kind of just want to go join them." I said in my dry, sarcastic tone as I pointed to the baby Sea Lions frolicking on the shoreline. "They look fun." I gave Adriana a cheeky grin and looked back at the ocean. I took a deep breath and a step forward as the water lapped up my legs. I continued walking in further as I pulled my goggles over my eyes and with a whisper said, "Fuck it" and dove in.
As we swam to our first check in point, I focused on my breath. "Just breath Amanda. Let go. Trust." Something that has never been easy for me but has become a regular mantra in my daily life. At first I found it hard to look around beneath the water. I focused on taking a breath each time I turned my head up towards the sky. There it is, it's right there. Comfort, safety.
When I did Lavaman, the olympic distance triathlon on the Big Island back in 2009, we had the privilege of listening to one of the top Ironman competitors, whom for the life of me I can't remember his name. What I remember most about his talk was when he discussed the swim. He said that whenever you feel yourself start to panic, whenever you feel frightened or scared, turn your head towards the sky and you'll find comfort.
I felt my heart rate come down as I glided along the water. "I can do this." I thought. "I AM doing this." I corrected myself. And then a thought occurred to me, I realized I was missing out on half the fun of what I was doing by letting fear consume me. "It's not very often that we get the opportunity to see what's below the surface Amanda." I said to myself. "Open your eyes and look."
Something magical happens when we look at our fears straight in the face. They don't seem so scary anymore. When we begin to strip away the stories that we've built up around those fears, we start to see the truth; that we have made them into the very thing they are.
I scanned the murky waters and sang Mary Had a Little Lamb to myself, another tip I picked up at Lavaman. Pick a song and sing it as you swim. It calms you down just as looking at the sky does. Why Mary Had a Little Lamb, probably has something to do with the fact my mom used to sing it to us at bedtime when we were little. It was comfort.
As we approached our goal, the small round white buoy about a quarter of a mile out, I reach out and slapped my hand on the bobbing circle and smiled as I turned back and looked at the shoreline. We sat there treading water as we looked back at what we had just accomplished.
"I wish everyone could see this." I said to Adriana. "More then anything, I wish people knew that right past fear is the most incredible thing ever -- that feeling of really living. The belief that anything is possible" Adriana smiled at me and we headed back towards the shore.
As I drove home, full of hope and excitement and a readiness to take on the world, I thought about the things that still scare me and plotted and planned how I was going to overcome them.
Some of the greatest things we will ever do in our lives often happen right past our biggest, deepest fears. The interesting thing is, once we do that very thing we are scared of, we realize it wasn't as big of a deal as we made it out to be. We can get so consumed with the what if's and playing it safe that we miss out on a lot of magic and wonder beneath the surface.
I thought about some of the other fears I've been holding on to, ones that are deeply ingrained in me. I got really curious as to why I find myself craving protection and safety from the very things I want most and wandered off into the dreamy world of fantasizing about what it would be like to have the very things I want. Then I thought about how I would move past the fear and into creating the reality I want.
I want to live a life that feels aligned with the truth that is in the deepest part of my soul and I never again want do something because I feel this need to fit in or be 'normal.' I want to run with the wild and brave and have the confidence to stand up for and pursue my dreams and do what I feel called to do, even if it triggers my own and other's fears.
I want to speak my truth and live it with the deepest sense of integrity. I've always believed that actions speak louder then words and I hope my words always are aligned with my actions. And I hope my actions are based on living fearlessly and being brave. However, in order for me to do all of this, I have to identify my fears and get really comfortable with them and that isn't always easy.
I realized that trying new things isn't the issue for me. Looking at that kind of fear is the easy part for me. I'll always be jumping into the next big thing. A 22 mile day hike up Mt. Whitney with a 6500 foot elevation gain? No problem. Sign me up. A half Ironman? Sure! Why not! Traveling to unfamiliar cultures and navigating my way around? Yes, please!
As I drove home I realized that the fear that really holds me back from truly living isn't the kind that comes with taking the risk of swimming in the depths of the dark waters of the ocean but rather it stems from being frightened of navigating the depths of my heart and bravely acknowledging past pain and hurt, and choosing forgive and move forward into vulnerability anyway. What really prevents me from living the life I truly dream of has less to do with trying new things and everything to do with feeling scared of whats lies inside of me.
I'm reminded of this quote by Marianne Williamsome.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us."
And never have these words meant more to me then once I discovered the missing piece of the puzzle of my fears. I'm not frightened of doing the physical things; big, brave and courageous things that push my body in crazy ways. What I've come to learn is that my biggest fear is I'm terrified, absolutely frightened, of being seen. Really, truly, deeply seen.
I know I will always continue doing the big and risky things like climbing mountains and swimming in dark waters and pushing my body to it's limits but the fear I need to face now leaves my breath staggered and my heart racing. It leaves me feeling vulnerable and naked and grasping for air.
This fear is its own beast and one I have little experience with. It's navigating dark open waters of a different kind and leaves me feeling like I can't catch my breath.
I know however, that until I can face this fear head on, I'll never truly live an authentic existence. I know part of my purpose is right past this fear. My deepest fear is never allowing myself the opportunity of being open and vulnerable. My deepest fear is that I'll never fully let down my guard with another and let them love me. My deepest fear is that I won't let those that care about me in all the way. My deepest fear is that I'll live behind the protection of my computer and the words I write and share on paper and never be able to speak them in person. My biggest fear is the pains of my past will continue to haunt me and run on repeat in my mind, convincing me that I will never be enough. My deepest fear is that I'll one day take my last breath and feel the disappointment that I let labels and identities run my life instead of allowing my light and love from deep within seep out and be shared with the world.
That is what my deepest fears really look like.
There is however, a greatness here as I share this with you and that is I now know the truth and once you know the truth and you have shared it out loud, it's almost impossible to forget. It's almost impossible to live life unaffected by what you've learned.
I have come to a reckoning I have never come to before and as scary as these waters are to swim, I have to take the chance. I have to bravely move forward, knowing that moving past these fears will open up a world of magical wonder of it's own kind. It may not be easy but I also now know that at any time, all I have to do is turn my head and look towards the sky and breath. But I must keep moving forward.
I can do this too. I AM doing this.
And here begins the greatest journey I will ever take. One that involves peeling back those walls I spent so many years building up.
Who will join me?