This past summer, I went with Danielle MacKinnon and a group of lovely people to play with the wild dolphins for a week in Bimini (the closest Bahamian island to the United States). I felt the urge to attend even though I am not a fan of the open water, have never snorkeled and get sea sick standing on the dock. Part of me was screaming inside, “Are you nuts – stay at home and let this trip pass you by”. But there was another part of me that felt sure that I was supposed to be there. So I went. And it was terrifying….at least at first.
We had an orientation about stingrays, sharks, jelly fish and other poisonous fish that we should avoid. There were details about the ocean, the boat and lots of other items that I am sure were meant to inform and educate us, but ended up scaring the hell out of me. I was afraid, plain and simple. In the past, when I was really truly afraid of something I just steered clear of it and created a wide berth around even thinking of engaging in the fearful activity. But it has become clear to me that my ability to have freedom and joy in my life is inextricably tied to my willingness to move through the pain and fear versus letting it create a false boundary in my life.
So here I was heading off on a boat in the middle of the ocean for 5 hours to look for dolphins. I was anything but relaxed and I was definitely worried about what would happen when the moment came to jump off the boat and get into the water. The dolphins showed up to play and it was time to get our gear on and head out into the water. Everyone was getting into the water and there I stood with Danielle. I felt frozen in place. I told her to go ahead and that I would just sit this one out and try again on the next sighting. But in that moment I knew that if I didn’t get in that water right then and there, I would never do it. I would come up with another excuse and I would leave this trip not as someone who conquered their fear but as someone who had a story about why it was just all too much for me and I couldn’t do it.
The moment of decision was here, which person was I going to be? Someone who sat on the sidelines and watched others live their lives or someone who makes the decision to engage with the moment in front of them. In spite of every fear instinct going off in my body I decided to get in the water. So hand in hand, Danielle and I went in together. I was freaking out at first and then something incredible happened. I realized I was okay. The fear was like a paper tiger and everything was fine. In that moment a dolphin swam within two feet of us and looked directly into our eyes. It was such a peaceful moment and it seemed like time stopped.
Over the next day or two I became more comfortable in the water, and being on the boat for several hours was actually enjoyable. By the end of the week I was using my underwater camera and even tried my hand at free diving. I had went from being paralyzed with fear to actually being completely relaxed.
The point of me sharing this story is that we all have areas that are our sensitive soft spots. The places we allow ourselves to justify keeping our life limited or bound in some way. Often we create stories about why we need to maintain these fears or we get totally invested in justifying why we have them in the first place or even who is to blame for us being that particular way. The truth is that none of that serves our highest good. By making our wounds our calling cards we shortchange not only ourselves but everyone who could be served by us showing up fully for life. The greatness that we can all contribute to the world comes from moving forward in spite of our fear not by coddling it. This is not because it isn’t scary or painful or worrisome but precisely because it is.