“Just one foot in front of the other…that is all you need to do.”
“Dig your heels in…one step at a time.”
“I’m proud of you.”
These are the words that kept me going this past weekend as my husband and I took some time away in the Canadian Rockies in Yoho National Park. We made plans to spend our Canada Day weekend hiking up to Abbot Pass and staying in Canada’s second oldest mountaineering hut for a couple of nights.
There is something magical about getting into nature…connecting to the big sky, feeling the earth underfoot and finding limits that are unseen within the confines of four walls of your home or hotel room. We love camping, hiking and exploring and Abbot Pass was the perfect fit.
Now, when hiking, I can go uphill all day long. I love the feeling of summiting a space, pulling myself against gravity and finding joy in the climb and ascent. But, as we know, what goes up, must come down…and that downhill descent strikes fear into me like nothing else. There is something unsettling that occurs when the front part of my body faces forward and I must step down. When descending Abbot Pass, making your way toward Lake Oesa, you can feel as though you are literally stepping out into open space.
Add to that two days of fresh snowfall, gusting wind and a giant scree slope and you’ve got one terrified Heather on your hands.
That being said, I knew there was no other way down. I had to face my fear and fully accept that I…could…do…this. It might take a long time, there might be some tears involved (ahem), but I was going to make it down that mountain.
I slipped, I slid, I lost control, I regained control. I dug my heels in, I took one step at a time. I gritted my teeth and took deep breaths. I allowed myself to cry and yell at myself and also to comfort myself with protection mantras that I repeated over and over in my head. I relied on the footsteps others carved out in front of me and I listened attentively as my husband guided me…one step at a time…over snow, ice and scree.
When we finally made it down…I took a moment to assess what we had done and discovered that I was proud of myself for conquering my fear of the downhill.
Fear is no small thing. It has the ability to take over and keep us from a variety of experiences. Whether it is summiting a mountain or flying in Bakasana, our brains on fear can play games with how we react physically, mentally and emotionally in a variety of situations. I recently read this amazing post on fear by David Cain on Raptitude. He talks about how fear can make us perceive all the negative outcomes, while prohibiting us from entertaining the positive ones. In addition, he notes that the majority of the time, when we actually do take the risk and overcome fear, those negative outcomes don’t actually manifest themselves. Instead, we find that the outcome has provided us with a learning opportunity, with a chance to see that we CAN do the things we set out to do with little negative reaction.
Abbot Pass taught me a lot about the power of fear in my own life and how powerful that emotional state can be. Not all fear is bad…we do need it, but knowing when we need it and when we don’t is half the battle.
So go summit that mountain, strike out on that adventure or fly in Bakasana. It just might turn out better than you ever expected. I know my experience did!
ps. Fun fact about me – I also harbour a massive fear of worms. As in, the worms that come out on the sidewalk during a rainstorm or the ones you find as you tend your garden. My husband asked which fear was worse…the downhill or worms. Worms win.
pps. Not that they will ever read this, but to the six gentlemen we shared the hut with…you are inspirational. Thanks for digging in your heels and charting a path to follow.