How could someone be afraid to walk outside of their own bedroom? What could possibly bring on such dread in a traffic jam? There’s no danger – nothing is happening. It’s one thing to be a little uncomfortable socialising, but how could it bring on such fear? Even amongst their best friends and family. There’s no rationale to it. Yes, I feel deep compassion for ‘those’ people, but I just don’t get it.
That was my view from the outside, before I found myself inside being suffocated by irrational fear. Before feeling like I was going insane. Before I felt like I was fucked forever. Three years ago.
The ice cold temperatures of the snow are a merciless teacher of how to control the runaway imagination. Dr Martin L Rossman, among many, point out that anxiety and fear is solely dependent on it. Each time my mind would drift, the frosty winds of Perisher would give me a good slap across the face. It’s no wonder that I felt so grounded, it was the perfect inner-dialogue breaker.
I waddled onto the snow with my lent ski equipment (thanks to Matterhorn Ski Lodge), and decided to see if I still had access to the box of unused skills developed in one weekend, twenty five years ago. Fully aware of the ice’s prankster nature, I turned to my hungover guide, Kenny, for re-assurance as I morphed into an eleven year old. “Just push off and see if you can stop.” he smirked. Having spent a lot of time over the last few years understanding the inner-processes of fear, I bypassed the default tentativeness, and pushed myself down the shallow hill with force. I thought I was flying until a little 6 year old shot past me. I hit the “breaks” and stopped as instantly as what I did years ago. Box of skills – Tick! Lets hit up those chairlifts.
My daddy long legs slipped and slopped to the chair lift line. Not knowing how to get on, I stood studying everyone’s actions. Kenny and I surrendered to the chair lift as it swept us both up and I watched the ground drop beneath me. We’re up. My legs were dangling freely in the air with only a movable horizontal bar between being alive and plunging to my death – or so my mind said. I took a massive breath and soaked up all that was around me. Rolling high and fast over the ski park, a massive rush of exhilaration filled me up, reminding myself that just 6 months ago, I couldn’t have a beer with a mate without feeling trapped by anxiety. I’ve never been too comfortable on amusement park rides either, and there I was down at the snow, a million feet in the air, feeling completely free with a best mate. I honestly felt untouchable. I remember turning to Kenny and saying, “This is fucking living man! Look what’s on the other side of fear!”. A flash of that morning’s meditation “wisdoms” came to me – the notion that I was trying to force happiness out of situations that simply do not rock my world anymore. My ability to be happy and moved by a moment should not be doubted. I was flying on the back of proof.
Through the eyes of self-doubt, every single person on that mountain seemed like Eddie the Eagle. But through the lens of logic, most were only a few slopes ahead of me. The mini-movies of breaking my neck, or worse, my fingers, were too easily pushed aside with compassion, as I concentrated on watching the more advanced skiers take on the mountain. As a kid, I was often absorbed by fear until experience told me otherwise, but thanks to the latest firmware upgrades, it was as simple as focusing on where I want to go. Yeah, I was aware of this tree and that rock and that slope, but I was more focused on the lines that these guys were carving. The rest was surrender – another tool I’m now familiar with.
Down baby! Zig zagging my way down the hill. I caught myself resisting the speed at first and saw it as “tentative surrender” that would lead to trouble. I let it go. The zig zags just got a little wider and at times, I was pointing straight down. Speed became my best mate. I skidded to a holt and looked back up at what I just did. Huh! The skills I had learned over time to manage internally triggered anxiety are exactly the same ones I just used to get me up and down the slope. In the past, it would have taken me 2 or 3 runs before I felt this level of confidence. This changed everything.
Kenny and I spent the next 5 hours charging up and down the slopes. We definitely ended up in places we shouldn’t have and had a few good falls, but none of it mattered! The habitual exaggerated worries were set aside for something that was far more rewarding. The moment! Again, seeing the other side of fear, corrupted the “monkey mind’s” justification process. I’d only have to point to this experience when the monkey says, “dude, you need to listen to what I’m saying if you want to be more prepared!”.
Those working in contemplative practices (meditation, yoga etc.) have always said that the techniques taught can be used in situations beyond those that the student intended them for. I started studying this stuff to get rid of anxiety, but received so much more! It’s all connected.
Fried, we battled the winds back to the lodge and I passed out under a warm blanket of content. Moments before I began to pay back my sleep debt, the cheeky monkey showed me a picture of the night’s gig. I couldn’t sleep, but the day’s events kept things emotionally light. Another experience to rattle the proof pillars of self-doubt – and another step to claiming back the joys of performing.