When we were kids, there was a cartoon on TV called The Feather Snake. I cannot remember what it was all about, only that the feathery snake was not really a snake to me but more like one of those long Chinese paper dragons full of colours, and a little boy was riding it. For some reason my brother was quite scared of that dragon-snake that I used to find fascinating, and I could not help but think of what the reason was of my brother’s fear as I didn’t find it scary at all.
My main fear, as far as I can remember, was darkness when being in bed. So I needed to leave my bedroom door slightly open to let some light through in order to fall asleep peacefully.
A few weeks ago I was sharing on here my new roller-blading adventure and I must say that my strongest fear at the moment has to do with this. What am I afraid of? I am scared of falling, and of hurting myself badly. It is not so much about the pain itself but about the thought of breaking an arm or a leg and the impossibility of doing the things I am doing right now if I have to have a plaster on for a while. However, the scariest sensation on my blades is going slightly down hill and experiencing the speed. That’s something that so far, I haven’t managed to handle.
My boyfriend-coach looks at me and smiles. He doesn’t understand my fear probably because he doesn’t share it with me. He loves speed, whether it is driving, jet-skiing or sliding down a snow slope on his board. Speed makes the difference to him in a good way, while to me it is the tipping point from fun to panic. I didn’t understand my brother’s fear for that dragon-snake but his was as real as mine is now when speeding only in the slightest.
The truth is that I still want to roller-blade, I want it badly and I am going to do it; I am getting better (slowly) at it and enjoying it more & more each day I step on my wheel shoes. However, that fear of speed is pretty strong and so far I haven’t found a way to fight it. It might be that I need more practise, more time to win more confidence. I spoke to my fear face to face and it told me that I am not ready to get rid of it yet, that it is still bigger than me.
But I am not going to give up, I’ve decided to take it slowly, following my own rhythm. For now at least, I am going to choose flat surfaces only, where I feel safe and more or less in control of the situation. If I fall there, which is very unlikely, it will be in slow motion so the risk of an injury would be minimised. On top of all that strategy I am saying to myself: why do I have to think about an injury? Why should I hurt myself so badly if I end up falling? I am wearing protectors anyway and I avoid potentially dangerous areas, so, why should I focus on the worse case scenario when I can focus my attention on the improvement and the pleasure of what I am doing better?
Fear can be like that long dragon-snake figure: fascinating & powerful, fast & furious, flexible & persistent. If I let it flow, its fierce mouth will end up reaching its tale, creating an overpowering circle that I will find impossible to defeat. And I would be there, standing in the middle, cornered & trapped, feeling very small & unable to proceed. That will be the case only if I grant it power by focusing on the type of thoughts that paralyse me. Therefore, I can concentrate on those that make me stronger & happier, those that bring me closer to my aim.
For instance, a few weeks ago we were walking along the promenade and this blonde foreign man in his seventies passed by sliding gracefully on his blades, with his arms around his back, wearing no protection at all, in his t-shirt & shorts, smiling & enjoying. I was amazed & I said to myself that when I get to that age I will also be doing the same thing. Was he afraid of falling and breaking an arm? Obviously not. He was too busy enjoying the journey, feeling the sea breeze, sensing the sun on his tanned skin and loving his blading.
When we focus on what we want to achieve (instead of seeing only the difficulties to get there) we gain strength & motivation to keep moving forward. We are focusing on what we love and love takes us not only further but also to the places where we really want to be. I don’t want to be stuck in the centre of that fear circle. I want to be rolling along the promenade and that’s going to be my focusing thought from now on, the one that will help me overcoming my fear.
Seeing it like that, my fear is really that careful friend, a little bit too conservative maybe but one that tries to protect me. I thank it for its good intentions explaining that there is no reason to be afraid, that this is just about enjoying life & about loving what I do. My fear tells me then: ‘Understood’. It will still be around for a while, it said, until it makes sure I can manage without it.
The dragon-snake starts shrinking so there is a gap in between its mouth and its tale, a breach that grows wider as I get stronger. I am going towards it, ready to cross over. Outside that circle of fear is life and all its possibilities. I am on my way. I am getting there.
“The sensation of being the only guest
in a grand hotel on the outskirts of the city
—and hearing the somnambulistic
elevator and a scream—
or being in an empty theatre
or in a lonely plaza
of a lonely unknown city
weighed down with suitcases and no money
surrounded by escaped doves
from the studio of the worst taxidermist
that ridiculous melancholy of one who feels ignored
at the parties of younger people
whom he calls late at night
from a bar with the lights already turned off
and talks to himself about the comforts
of being an academic ghost
of an orchestra conductor
I fear, in the end, that I’ve kissed
the lips of a mistaken goddess”
(Poem Fears, from the book Probable lives by Felipe Benítez Reyes)