Part of being human means having fears that can prohibit us from achieving our desires.
Part of mastering the art of being human is being able to choose to transcend fear or remain incapacitated by it.
In April of 2015, I decided I wanted to walk across the United States of America, from Michigan to the west coast.
With less than a week of preparation, I headed out with an impressive amount of enthusiastic supporters following my blog, giving me money, cheering me on.
I felt like I had finally found my “thing.” The “thing” that could both yield a rewarding life for me while also being unique and cool enough for other people to be excited and supportive about my choices.
A close friend said, “You’re going to want to give up, like every day. Don’t. I need you to do this. Do it for me. I’ve always wanted to do this, but I’m too scared. You’re braver than I am. I’m counting on you, buddy.”
I kept those words in my heart every day. They were like fire in the depths of my soul, ever moving forward towards the prize.
Well, for about 85 miles. Then I quit.
I was in Three Rivers, just shy of the Michigan/Ohio border.
Why did I quit? Well, I could not fall asleep in my bivy.
Why couldn’t I sleep? Because I was afraid of snakes getting into the bivy.
What if I awoke to snakes inside my shirt and pants?
Instant panic attack waiting to happen.
That was the ridiculous reason I couldn’t sleep, and therefore a major factor in why I took a tragic ride of shame back to Lansing.
Maybe the reason doesn’t seem ridiculous to you. Let me tell you why it is.
In my ninety or so miles of trekking, I didn’t see a single snake, nor a sign of one. I didn’t even have the slightest clue if snakes come out in April in Michigan (now I know that is mating season but back then, no idea).
When I aborted the trek, I felt embarrassed, dejected, useless.
Because I was afraid of snakes that I didn’t even see.
I once heard a counselor tell a client who was mortified that she was probably soon be sentenced to jail:
“You might go to jail, or you might not. Either way, you’re already putting yourself in that cell.”
She didn’t understand then; I’m sure she does now.
And I do too.
Regardless of if I’d made it across the entire United States without a single snake in my pants, I was already up to my eyeballs in snakes within my mind.
I was dwelling in fear, I was in snake jail.
Since then I’ve researched snakes. Stared at pictures and videos, listened to their sssssounds online. I’ve tried to find their inherent cuteness.
This summer I’ve even been out looking for snakes. “How to find a snake” is in my current Google search history.
As I wrote the notes that I am now transcribing to a computer, I’m walking through the woods. Sloppily jotting these words down on index cards.
A few minutes ago, I had fearlessly and casually lifted up a tree branch from the path. Carefully inspected it.
The branch was deemed snake-less.
I felt… disappointed.
Then, I analyzed what I’d felt while lifting that branch: curiosity, fascination, love, anticipation.
Compared that with the feelings that led to sleep deprivation a year and a half earlier: paranoia, fear, anxiety, disgust, heebie-jeebies.
It was an extremely exciting reflection for me.
I’m not sayin’ I’m planning another U.S. walkabout any time soon (though you never know what the hell I’m going to do next, do ya?).
Isn’t it just amazing though, that we possess the capacity to transcend fear rather than complacently remain within it?
What are you afraid of that’s stopping you from your truest and most authentic expression of self? Is it real, or have you locked yourself within a cell that may not ever actually exist?
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