Fear (in some guise) is something that is with us every day, much as we might wish otherwise.  But facing our fears might be the only way to see the beauty that is staring us in the face?

I started thinking about fear after reading an article on zenhabits about how to face fear and ‘do’. With the (sometimes wonderful, sometimes almost scary) interconnectedness of social media when I ‘tweeted’ about this, a link to a beautiful poem came back to me. It is in the book “Face Dancing” by Neil Gresham.  The book is a memorial to a talented young woman, Rachel Farmer, who died far too young.  She was one of Britain’s top women climbers when she died from a fall at Buoux in 1993 at age 22.

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But the risk must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave.
He has forfeited freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
– anonymous

We are all afraid. What we are each afraid of will be as different as those ‘edges’ that we are each searching for.

Some of us are afraid to run 100 miles. Some of us are afraid to stand still. Some of us are afraid to climb mountains. Some of us are afraid to dive into the sea. Some of us are afraid to try something new. Some of us are afraid of the 9 to 5. Some of us are afraid of things most people would totally understand. Some of us are afraid of things that most people would laugh at, if only they knew.

In our recent race (almost) circumnavigating Manaslu, that beautiful 8156m “Mountain of Spirit”, we each had some fears. For some it was the prospect of running for day after day, day after day. For some it was the unfamiliar food. For some it was the altitude. For some it was trying to keep warm. For some it was non western toilets. For some it was the lack of electricity. For some it was being out of contact with ‘home’. People faced their fears, lived through them, and found that in doing so, they were strengthened to go far beyond where they thought their limits were. They have my utmost respect.

running down from Manaslu Base Camp © Richard Bull

running down from Manaslu Base Camp © Richard Bull

I too have been challenged by each of those fears in turn. But, now over the years, the day to day life of running on those sky high trails has become a sort of ‘normal’. It is where I feel at ‘home’. But, as I said, we each had some fears and I found some of my own. Fears that I have either ignored, or turned and run from in the past. And, unlike my fellow runners, I didn’t quite manage to face those fears head on this time. They are still there waiting for me.

Fear is more often than not, either a fear of the unknown, or a fear of failing, or a combination of both. But, there are no certitudes. As the poem tells us, we have to learn, feel, change, grow, love, so that we can live and be alive.

If we can face those fears, let them pass through us and beyond, then they will be gone, and we will realise that ‘we’ are not our fears. We no longer have to identify ourselves with them, be defined by them.  They simply come, and they go. We can just watch, and be aware of them. But we come to realise they are not what we are.

So, then there is no need to get ‘stuck’, is there? No need to allow ourselves to be ‘defined’ by what it is that we are afraid of?  Well, no, but sometimes we still all need a friend to help us.  And then, maybe then, we can redefine what is ‘normal’ for us, again and again, and again?

3 Responses

  1. legbski said on December 23, 2012 at 10:06

    Really pleased the poem struck a chord with you, amazing really as I just picked it up from twitter when someone from “gear for girls” tweeted it earlier in the year -tend to read it when i need a slap or a bit of inspiration! You have a brilliant 2013 and enjoy your freedom in the mountains … heading out to Le Grand Bornand ourselves tomorrow, can’t wait!

  2. Cie said on December 23, 2012 at 21:06

    A beautiful poem… Your para on fear reminds me of the Bene Gesserit litany against fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune:

    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

    That helping friend is key, be they a friend in an audience when you deliver a presentation, or a trail buddy who’s completed the 100 miler you’re thinking of having a go at. At that point of uncertainty (or fear) they can help to focus on moving forward.

  3. Graham Doke said on December 24, 2012 at 00:39

    Thank you, Lizzy.

    Thich Nhat Hanh said, “It is the duty of a compassionate friend to point out our delusions.” We fear the unknown, so shun it, all the while deluding ourselves that we know the outcome of anything. We do not. Every action is an adventure, every outcome a wonder. So, let’s go explore!


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