To support my personal and spiritual exploration, I brought a lot of books with me on my Kindle and the first one I chose to read on this adventure was Life of Pi. For those not familiar with the story, it is a fictional tale of a boy on a journey from India to Canada who finds himself shipwrecked and stranded in a lifeboat lost in the Pacific, just him and a Bengal Tiger. As I continue to read life of Pi, I am discovering a wealth of knowledge and advice on life, ones outlook, and about overcoming even the greatest of obstacles. As I continue my journey around the globe, I am discovering first hand how imperative it is to face your fear, most often fighting our greatest obstacle and strongest opponents, our "selves".
Countless times along my journey, both in the planning stages and even as I sit in transit to Varanasi, there have been times of overwhelming doubt and a paralyzing sense of fear. Many times I have been able to face it, shining the light of truth upon it, continuing to move forward despite the voices of negativity in my head. Then at other times I have given in, waving my white flag, focusing on current comfort and ignoring the adventure and the countless possibilities hidden in the unknown.
One fear based moment that occurred recently comes to mind, my trip from the southern coast of Thailand to Bangkok. Having spent three blissful days in China with the Leija family, I was finally on my own, heading to the Andaman coast of Thailand. While I've flown alone before, I've never really traveled without a sense of purpose in destination. Outside of my desire to island hop and my first nights stay booked, I had nothing planned. I was lucky to meet two Aussies, Troy and Katherine, at the airport, got together with them at their hotel later that day, and ended up spending most of my time in southern Thailand with them. I met a lot of other people along the way, but Troy and Katherine were my crew and looking back I can say that, out of fear, I stuck to them like glue. Would I do anything differently? Not at all. But the problem came when I booked an overnight bus to Bangkok last minute. The combination of a rash last minute decision based off a self-imposed feeling that I had to travel more, along with many days of sun and sweat, brought me to my breaking point. Sitting on that bus, minutes from leaving the station, I lost it. In a moment of desperation, I called my family for $2.50 a minute at 3am PST, who graciously helped calm me down, guided me back to my hotel, and assured me that everything would work out alright.
Chapter 56 in Life of Pi hit me like a ton of bricks. I could attempt to explain all that the author conveys, but instead I will share his poetic words and then explain how they have enlightened and inspired me.
When talking about the fear involved with facing a tiger alone in the middle of the ocean, the protagonist exclaims,"Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed good soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread...
"Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you've defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.
"The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks if fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you." (Life if Pi)
That passage describes my situation perfectly. I was fearful. Fearful of traveling alone. Fearful of the unknown. Fearful of myself. I was completely reliant on my limited human reason, which at that moment was flashing "system failure," and was not trusting in the One who holds the future in the palms of Hhis hands.
The Bible says "fear not" 365 times, one for every single day of the year. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is. But how often do we listen to that simple biblical advice? Not often. Rather, we often choose the easy way out, the path of least resistance: fear and anxiety. I continue to do it time and time again, and I would venture to guess that many of you do as well.
In my studies of Mental Health and Psychology, I have found that there is really only one way to cure anxiety, by facing it. Xanax is not a cure, it is symptom relief. Alcohol is the same, but sold over the counter rather than a doctors prescription. The only way to overcome your fear is to face it head on. Ask any of my friends and they are sure to tell you of my belief in "exposure therapy." Why am I so passionate about it? Well, outside of its proven effects found in countless empirical peer reviewed journals, I can attest to it on a personal level.
So much of my outlook on life has been fear driven, and many of my choices have been fear based. I can't tell you what event brought about the change in my outlook, what moment fostered a desire to fight against my greatest adversary, but it happened, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Having struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember and trying every medical "treatment" under the sun, I decided to try something different. Rather than running, I chose to stand. Rather than cowering I chose to challenge. Rather than giving up, I decided to fight till my last breath. As the author points out in the following chapter, "It is the irony of this story that the one that scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I dare say even wholeness." The very same goes with me, the moment I stopped running from my fear was the very moment I was free from it, the same moment I found out who I was and what I was capable of.
For those who struggle with acute generalized anxiety, I do not say these things to make light of your situation, nor can I guarantee that what I did will work for you. Only you can account for what you are gowing through, and only you know what you are capable of. That being said, I would always encourage you to test the limit of what you believe your abilities to be, to take risks, and never stop fighting for yourself. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do one thing everyday that scares you."
As I continue this journey, I continue to push myself further and further away from my comfort zone. I know the truth, that He is in control, and that He is not a God of fear. I am going to follow the advice of Terry Cole who said, “Our natural human response to fear is to avoid it. I am asking you to look straight at it, feel the feeling, and lean into it instead of away from it.” After all, we were not made to cower, rather, as Pope Benedict reminds us, "The world promises you comfort but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness."