The Edges of Fear

I went for a long swim in the ocean this morning.  I am learning to find confidence and endurance in deep water ocean swimming by working with an individualized coach who specializes in ocean safety.  I respect the ocean and approach it with caution. Part of the program is learning how to swim in rip currents. Being swept by a rip current is probably one of my greatest fears. As we were approaching the water and I expressed my hesitancy and fear, he remarked that he has repeatedly seen that individuals have much more endurance than they think they do.  He said that it is important to exhaust yourself in the water to know that even exhausted, you have more stamina than you thought possible – this is the basis of ocean safety. When most people struggle in the water it is because of panic and fear, not actual endurance.  In order to be safe, you have to know your outer limits.

This of course has me think about how this wisdom is applicable in other arenas.  How does knowing your outer edges of capabilities create confidence and mastery? We all have our limits or edges that we feel reflect our abilities.  Those abilities determine our actions. It is interesting to think about how many of those limits/edges have really been tested and how many are based on our comfort level or our fears? How many times do we stop engaging in something because fear and panic intervene?  There are times when our fears are justified, when our fear protects us from engaging in something that is harmful or signals us to remove ourselves from a calamitous situation. This is referred to as a justified fear.  Many times though, what people experience is unjustified fear.  

Unjustified fear is a fear that is real because of the fact that it is present.  However, with unjustified fear, the level of fear does not match the intensity of the situation.  For instance, if someone has an intense fear of crossing bridges, the level of fear does not match the statistical probability that the bridge will collapse.  This fear is valid because it is present, however it is unjustified.  Our normal habit is to disengage at the peak of unjustified fear; this is where we give up, allowing our fear to win as we change the course of our behavior to avoid the stimulus.  When we disengage, we never discover what is on the other side of fear. This premature disengagement is one of the main reasons individuals struggle to find a life free of old hurts.  In order to grow as individuals, we need to engage with life beyond our edges of comfort and find out what we are capable of beyond our fears.

When we have the courage to face our fears, to swim to the other side of what we thought was possible, we open ourselves up to new opportunities . If we don’t face our fears, we would never find the coffee shop on the other side of the bridge, or have the courage to swim with dolphins.  Through this program I am learning what ocean conditions are safe for me to engage in, and what precautions I need to take in order to be safe. Instead of fearing the ocean, I am learning to understand when my fear is justified and when it is unjustified.  Fears keep us small, it narrows our options, and it controls our behaviors.  When we face our unjustified fears, we expand our capabilities and our life becomes more expansive.   I now know that I can swim farther than I ever thought possible, and because of that, a whole new set of experiences are open to me.