Overcoming Fear & Fighting to Stay Positive
You know the saying - "A picture is worth a thousand words." Here's a thousand more to help tell the story from my point of view.
I recently had the honor of being LA Yoga Magazine's profiled teacher. The editor decided to get a photographer to take photos of me not doing yoga, but rather, riding a mountain unicycle. I had never met David Young-Wolff, the photographer, and his wife/assistant, Pam. We all agreed that I would pick a place to ride that I was familiar with, and David would pick the spots to shoot. I figured Pasao Mirimar is one of the most scenic and steep fire roads in the Santa Monica Mountains. I ride it a lot, and the views are incredible, so we all agreed we'd shoot there.
Fast-forward to the shoot. We're about halfway up a steep incline (and we're all lugging the equipment and chatting) and we found a great spot to shoot. So we set up, and the first part of the shoot is me riding uphill, vs downhill. Both completely different animals. Uphill sucks, downhill is a blast; however, don't let it get to out of control because riding a muni (mountain unicycle) downhill can feel like trying to stay atop a bucking bull.
I ride the uphill a bunch of times and then we wandered up the single track and are now looking down a steep incline with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. David walks and slips and slides his way around this steep sandy loose terrain looking for a good place to shoot the downhill photos. It's a struggle to walk, let alone ride this hillside. He finds a place where the trail shoots between two bushes and then drops off to the left into a water rut and asks, "Can you ride this?" The single track is steep and tilted to the left with water ruts in it, and bushes and obstacles abound. It is one of the most difficult sections of the trail and relatively challenging for me. This also happens to be the exact place where I had the worst accident ever riding my muni. Three years ago, on a rainy day, I decided to go for a ride all alone. That ride at this exact location is where I ended up blowing out my ACL in my left knee. I literally changed my life at this spot. It took me well over a year to recover from this, and in many ways I was still holding onto the physical and mental trauma of the moment.
So here I was, stalling, trying to process what to do. Part of me is thinking "f@ck this, if I screw up, I am gonna get hurt, and maybe hurt David or Pam!" Another part of me is thinking that I have avoided this exact place for the past years purely out of fear. Since the injury I would often approach this section but then would back away and go another direction at the last minute. I would often justify this by saying that "I needed to be careful because I'm getting older."
Back to the shoot. I finally concluded that I would try to ride the top and just go to the point where you can't turn back and step off. Once I commit to the area between the bushes with the water rut, I pretty much have to nail it, or I am in a heap of trouble. I ride to the point of no return a few times, each time being forced to bail off the muni.
I keep on trying to nail it and give David and Pam the perfect shot, but to avail. After 4 or 5 tries, I begin to realize it is all mental. I come to the conclusion that I have let fear defeat me. I am so concerned with falling and blowing out a knee or hurting them that it is not possible to ride this line. I am standing at the crest, heart pounding, about to tell David I can't do it. Then, at that exact moment of giving up, I glance up in the beautiful blue sky, and a pair of Red Tailed hawks are circling in the distance. It took me away from my thoughts and fears for a moment. If you know me, you know I can get distracted by sounds, sights, and smells a bit more easily than others. I can be "in the moment" fast; however, I can forget what we were talking about because a cool looking bird flies by. Well, I had my moment with the hawks, and during it, I realized how beautiful and in control they were just riding the wind. No fear, just going with the flow. I realized I was being held hostage by my fear, and it is most likely having a deeper affect upon my life than I had recognized.
Avoiding this part of the difficult path and not facing my fears was more significant than nailing this section of trail and/or missing a photo. Those both will be meaningless when I am in the grave someday. I realized I needed to ride this line just to give my soul the confidence it had lost years ago when I got physically and mentally hurt at this very spot.
At that point, I decide that I need to commit to riding into the fear, past the pain, and out into freedom and bright blue skies. In control, but not too in control. Basically like any good yoga asana should be practiced. In the moment, looking for space with the breath, but not done with ego or fear or any negativity, but rather in touch with the heart, nature, and essentially all the energy surrounding the situation -- all with a positive attitude. In this case, a stunning trail, filed with life, sunshine, two hawks, and two kind people who have no idea how hard this is but are smiling and waiting patiently. So I get one foot set on the pedal, locking it in place and jump up on the seat and quickly get my other foot on and begin to descend.
As I approach David and Pam I slow a bit, checking my momentum, and decide to go for it. As I commit to the line I have chosen, I lose sight of David and Pam and feel completely dialed into the act of trying to ride this difficult line. As I buzz by them, I can only hear the clicking of the camera, and their movement as they pull back, making sure I don't take them out. Then when it is clear, I dismount and walk back up hill to see if they got it. David is grinning as he says, "I think this is it, check it out, looks like a great picture Charlie." I look at the picture, but don't really see it, because I am still processing the fact that I just rode the exact line of trail that I had avoided for 2 years out of pure fear.
I feel great, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It sure feels good to get rid of a piece of fear in your life. Ridding your mind of something that should really never have been held onto anyway. Life has its ups and downs -- always has, always will.
Don't let fear lead to inaction. It is a slow death. Fear helps in times of survival warning you of danger. This is the positive side of fear. When fear begins to inhibit your ability to take action, it now becomes a negative influence within you. It no longer serves you, but instead causes doubt, which can lead to inaction and possibly failure. Your thoughts will make something scary or not. What you think and portray will lead to action or inaction. Crazy thing is, most of what you worry and fear actually never comes true. My humble advice is to stay positive. This is a battle that you must face and deal with each day. Fight to be positive. Choose to be happy. When negative thoughts flood your brain, STOP! Breathe. Control your thinking. Think positive. It is difficult. I fail constantly, but I try. Each victory builds upon itself, and over time, you, and not your circumstances, control your inner smile. Be healthy, be happy.
Peace & Stillness,
"Worry gives a small thing a big shadow" - Swedish proverb