“Contrast” photo courtesy of Phil Dolby (CC)

What To Do When Fear Hits Hard

A couple of weeks ago I was standing naked in front of a swimming hole at the foot of a waterfall in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. The sun beat on the water, reflecting dancing pearls of light beams. Every time I closed my eyes I saw a constellation of all the impressions of the forest and I felt deeply surrendered to life — I was held. Each breath I took I felt my lungs expand wider and my body sink into, “It is ok, everything is going to be ok.” The water was freezing. I slowly slid in until only my ankles were covered. My body feared the next step, which was a total plunge into the cold water.

When I looked around and saw so much beauty, the contrast made me reflect on my life. The truth is, I had been actively climbing out of a depression hole that I had been in for weeks. Depression is a strange lens to view the world. It kills life for no reason. It renders us either helpless or inept. My greatest fear is that I am inept and that the truth I fight for is only in vain. I fear that my work is greatly diminished by a world that refuses to change or be kind (and then I gently remind myself that all profound change happens within us, at least at first).

Often I don’t know I am depressed until the moment I am about to leap out of it and this was that moment. At times, depression can often be an after-thought for me, “Oh, wow, I have been so lackluster and now I am feeling myself again” or “Man, there are so many terrible things happening in the world, and now I am in nature and things are so simple.”

The veil that lifts always reveals a brighter, and overwhelmingly beautiful world — from trees, to the sky, to people’s smiles and their happiness. Something in me gushes with excitement. I can finally celebrate with humanity — find connection to others through our triumphs and joys.

Happiness can be a hard one to digest. Some days I feel so overtaken by the light that life doesn’t feel right — the expansion burns a little. However, the emotional change usually brings a big optimism, “This is the big one. This is the one that is going to last forever — my creative life, confidence, and overall joi de vive is back, or at least it is going to stay much longer.” When this is not the case I have learned how to find my self again after having spiraled out. Again, I am always surprised when I find myself uncovering another layer of seeming defeat.

I have resolved to believe that we are all in a constant state of dying and becoming — birthing ourselves into who we were meant to be. This being human is a journey of the soul. Perhaps, that is why I am always craving to become more.

Unearthing my lens of depression always begins with a spontaneous decision to love, take care of myself, and count my gratitude. My decision to be engaged in my life is then supported by diet, juicing (a whole lot of vegetables), sunshine, nature, mama-ocean, trees, good company, cuddling, float-tanks, acupuncture, analysis and exercise. And it works. Every time I go under, it is these activities that pull me back out.

As I get older, it doesn’t take as long to find my self (or center, if you prefer) as it use to. My early twenties were a series of gypsy-inspired spiritual wanderings — haphazardly prodding at meaning in a seemingly insincere world. It sucks to have the sensitive heart of a Buddhist monk in a world fed by the hustle of others preying on your vulnerabilities. My best resolution has been found in the dichotomy of these opposing forces — creativity lives in dynamic tension. Welcome to the light and shadow. I am most powerful in my transparency.

One day I woke up and found out that I am suppose to write. It was as if a message came down through the heavens and said, “Don’t teach yoga right now, just write — write down everything you have experienced.” Years before this ever happened to me — my friend said she had a dream. In this dream a voice told her that Maggie was suppose to be a writer. I didn’t believe her at the time. I didn’t believe her until my own moment of confrontation with spirit’s message.

“Ok, I will surrender and write, if God helps me with my spelling and grammar.”

I have always considered myself a diarist. I guarded my innermost thoughts and doodled in the margins. And now, I was supposed to write and share my shame with the world? What dear God will I be called to do next? Now, as an adjunct to this writer life I am becoming an analyst (on the way there I coach a little on the side).

I love diving into the depths of the psyche. Also, let’s face it, writing all day by your self, is hella lonely. More than that, I believe conversations rearrange the cosmos.

I know there is always a road back out of despair — a road out of anything that restricts who we are meant to become. Most people just need to listen to their unconscious and let their soul lead them back. It is hard to do this in a noisy, distractible world and that is why having someone there with you in this process is integral. This person can act as a guide, gatekeeper or bullsh*t gauge. They can be a professional, a shaman, a dance teacher, or the old woman next door who looks like a witch. The most important thing is that they know there is more to life than what we see.

Fear is the big F. Fear is a mind f*ck. It wraps around our nervous system, strangling our organs like a tight cloth, and restricts how we show up in the world. We either can’t navigate at all or we puff up our chests filling the void up with self-aggrandizement and pride. Either way, there is no ground to catch us (and it is a free fall). Fear undermines, criticizes, seizes things that don’t belong to it, and is everyone’s biggest enemy. It doesn’t even exist outside of the mind. It created itself somewhere in the retraction of our synapses and then spread.

As I was standing in front of this cold plunge I realized how much fear I had been carrying in my body — inarticulate feelings of fear holding onto me, keeping me prisoner in this dark cloud of closure. And then, I decided it was time to face it. I realized that I needed to face it or risk losing life.

I thought about all of the things I was grateful for and dove-in, a ritual baptism of sorts. While I did not grow up religious — I do value the holy. I believe that something holy has been guiding my life since I was born. Most of the time I listen to it. When I haven’t — the not listening nearly killed me (and I am not being overly dramatic here).

I wanted to show up differently for my lover. I wanted to show up differently in our lives together. I wanted LOVE to conquer fear. At the feet of a waterfall with the freezing cold water tightening my skin, my lover announced to me, and the forest, “This is medicine!” And I plunged my head under again, feeling the ice in every pore of my body.

F*ck I overcame my fear.

I believe, it takes a series of these experiences to break the cage. It is a willingness to dive or leap into the unknown — in the process we become something else entirely. We become who we were meant to be — living life fully with the beating pulse of our heart in everything we do.

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