I have been asked many times about the notion of fear and how to push the doors open and walk in a pasture free from fear. Below are some thoughts, these thoughts are a work in progress.
Many say that they feel fear when on the water. They feel scared, nervous of the rapids they are set to descend. How we deal with this fear is important, for it is the only guidance that we shall ever need.
In order to discuss the fear, first off we need to examine what is fear, or more precisely where it is manifest. Only then can we aim to control this. Fear of things we have control over is ludicrous. This is like saying ‘I am scared of cancer’ whilst puffing on 40 cigs a day. Whist fear of things we cannot control is posited with anxiety. If we cannot influence events, it is this lack of control that we fear, so to say, we fear been out of control. Although again this is looking awry. We let our children stumble from all fours to two, wobbling with each step of exploration. We allow the hooded darkness of inner city streets to grow with crime. We vote for a political system that will fail and yet we bypass this fear. We allow it to hold our hands through our daily lives. We accept this fear. Our true fear is a fear of our own making, not the making of a collected consciousness. When we allow fear to form from a collected ideal, we can no longer accept responsibility for it, its something else, somebody else – will take responsibility for it.
It is foolish beyond belief to be scared of the river you are descending, we made the choice to be on the river, we have control over our own actions. Some evil genius did not capture us and place us on the water. We need to compartmentalise where this fear sits.
We can all accept that rivers are dangerous places at times. We all accept that accidents, injury and death lurk around the corner. This is a rational fear. Fear of our own mortality, its healthy but needs to be kept in check. Driving the car, crossing the road and flying in a plane all present similar risks. The latter groups we have adjusted our ‘inner being’ to accept with dynamic risk assessments. We are well within our comfort zones and accept the possibilities. The former, our river based fear has yet to be ingrained into you dynamic risk assessments.
Allow me this time to elucidate.
Alsek, Turnback Canyon.
The river thunders through this chasm, without pause for breath. Violent and uncontrolled it rages. Leaving the last eddy the only safe net is gone. Fear, the base instinct of fight or flight, takes hold. Now, to be paddling in fear of your life is pure stupidity. The heart and mind are not strong enough to control the base urges and allow the body to function in a way that is suitable to allow proper functioning. Decisions become riddles, muscles tense and responses die. This is no way to be.
In order to function and rise to the challenge the understanding of fear must be bracketed.
If we understand that 1) what we understand as fear is natural to a certain extent and that this so called fear in its raw form closes our senses. 2) Fear of morality is natural but we accept this daily, why is the river different? 3) We live in a place where we accept limits that conditions our daily lives as an acceptance of fear. If we can catalogue these points then fear of what we do fades.
But this is not the end, far from it.
When we talk about fear of a river or fear of a rapid, what is it that scares us? If we are able to bracket the river over previous experiences, where does the fear come from?
At the point that we have managed to control our fear of the situation we are in a position that we must face the greatest fear of all. This new fear is the fear of our self, of what phantoms that lurk deep within that control our outlook on life. The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron in her book The Places That Scare You helps us understand the concept of fear via the noble truth of suffering. Is it not true that our understanding of fear is in fact suffering. A suffering because we lack an understanding of the environment around us. Chodron writes, we expect that what is always changing is graspable and predictable […] Because we mistakenly take what is always changing to be permanent, we suffer. This falls well into the river that we paddle on, the ever changing aquatic world. It forms fears simply because we cannot tame it. We have fear simply because we are not separate from the river. The fear we feel is a realisation that our action are linked to that which is beyond our control.
The river is a mistress in the theatre of our own making. The river, those situations that first seem to scare us, can only be feared if they act on our inner being. Fear acts deep within. It is the place that is dark and foreboding. A place we seldom go. It is the place that we cover up with televison, music, art and our working lives. This is the true nature of what life is all about. The river allows us not just a pleasant leisure activity but it also allows us the chance, however fleeting, to understand who we are without the camouflage and make up.
Each river opens our inner being, each take out can shut the door of experience. If we are unsure about our inner being, this is the point that fear will manifest. Pandora’s box will open and we have no control over the contents. Our world can be blown to pieces, a million emotions and false ideals shattering around us. Dreams and hopes of others, that weight on our shoulders, can drowned within our will. It is the dark places, the challenges of the river that can bring these to the mind.
To fear the river is without reason if we are unable to face the mirror of fear where the river brings out the ‘real’ for us. For myself I enjoy the depths of the ‘real’ that I face when the world collides within the crashing river. Looking deep within opens possibilities and allows me the chance to see who I honesty am, away from the facade of popular image, away from the trappings imposed on me and away from the trappings I brought into the mix.
Embrace the river, embrace the places that scare you, for they will teach you more about yourself than you can over know.
Words: Darren Clarkson-King
Darren offers in-house training in the Himalaya and is a consultant for Nepal Association of Rafting Agents (NARA) making a blue print for an Industry standard.
He also paddles a bit.