I recently participated in a fear training workshop while at WamJam 2018 – the Australian Women’s Parkour gathering – in Adelaide this year. Our challenge was to walk along a wall, about 30cm wide, turn around when we reached the end, and walk back. Sounds simple, right? The catch was that the wall was high (by my standards at least)! It was bounded by a roof on one side, which was only about a half meter drop, while the other side fell away to a concrete carpark over 5 metres below.
Before we attempted the challenge, we walked along a section of curb which was considerably narrower than the ‘challenge wall’, but obviously a lot lower, at ground level. We were encouraged to observe what we noticed about balancing; what we could see, sense, feel, experience, within our bodies and around us. Whilst doing this, my body didn’t feel much different to how it felt when walking on flat ground. My heart rate wasn’t elevated, I felt relaxed within my body, and confident to balance along the curb without falling. And I wasn’t bothered by external noises around me – car horns, people chatting, general city sounds. There was no fear present. I told myself to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other – that that was the only thing I needed to focus on once I attempted the challenge.
After this activity, it was time to make our way up to the wall. We climbed a wire fence and pulled ourselves up on to a flat tin roof. At this point I could already feel the changes taking place in my body. My heart rate was increasing, and I could feel the butterflies starting to flutter.
Soon it was my turn to attempt the challenge. As I made my way out along the wall, my legs began to shake with each step I took. I was surprised that I was shaking so much – it wasn’t something I had any control over. My heart rate was elevated, and my breath was very shallow – that is, when I even remembered to take a breath! Fraz, who was running the workshop, called out to me to “slow down”. (I hadn’t realized I was rushing, but it makes sense that I was trying to ‘get it over with’, as that meant less time having to deal with these feelings within my body.)
So I took a deep breath and I slowed down. I tried to remember to just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. But it was much more difficult to focus now, unlike a few moments earlier down at ground level. Up here, on the wall, my senses felt heightened and chaotic all at the same time. The sounds of the city seemed to jump out at me, and my body’s movements seemed magnified. A car horn jolted me, and a tiny wobble of my leg felt like an almost fatal mistake!
“Relax your shoulders, relax your arms!” Fraz shouted out to me. My body was instinctively tight and somewhat frozen. I was trying to remain in the moment, but I just kept thinking about it being over – about getting to the end, and not feeling uncomfortable anymore. And after only a few minutes, I had made it. I was back in safe territory, and my whole body relaxed.
And then…we did it again.
There was a part of me that really didn’t want to do it again. I mean, I can’t say that I enjoyed it. But it stretched me, and there was a part of me that wanted to experience it again. To see if I could feel more comfortable, to witness and acknowledge those feelings of fear, and to keep moving, mindfully, despite them.
And the second time was different. My legs weren’t shaking, I was able to consciously focus on my breathing – to take deep breathes – and relax my body a little more. I felt more in control, and able to move my body a little more freely.
It was interesting to experience the changes between the first and second time I attempted the challenge. It felt to me like I had removed a small layer of fear. I know there would be many more layers; there always are. But it was encouraging to experience that shift. And even if I hadn’t completed the challenge, even if I had stood at the top of the wall, without moving, and just witnessed my fear, I still would have removed a layer.
I know I am always going to experience fear at different times in my life (especially if I keep training Parkour!) Fear is there for a reason – it can keep me safe.
But I think we can so often be tempted to run from the things that scare us. To brush them off, to avoid them, ignore them, rush past them, to move in the opposite direction from them. To do whatever we can not to feel the fear. When what we really need to do is to lean in, and to witness it. To acknowledge it, to feel it, and to move alongside it, despite the discomfort. That is what stretches us, and that is when we grow. And that will look different for all of us.
Sometimes we may be able to move right through our fear and come out the other side. And other times all we may be able to do is just acknowledge it, to witness it and to sit with it, in all its discomfort! And that’s ok. That is often the most important part of the process.