There’s a really interesting video on YouTube where Will Smith talks about confronting fear. He walks through a battle with fear he experienced before skydiving for the first time. He describes himself lying in bed the night before feeling complete terror. Then, the next morning, when he realizes all his buddies still want to do it, his fear multiplies. He gets on the plane and holds conversations to mask his true state. Then, the door is ripped open and he realizes he’s never been in a plane with the door open until that moment. Complete. Utter. Terror. The time comes for him to jump, and his instructor pushes him out on the count of two instead of three. Instantly, he no longer feels fear. The fear is gone. Instead, it was replaced by bliss. The moral of this story is that fear is completely made up. It’s useless, a waste of time, an energy drain, and hides life’s true potential. Fear prevents us from reaching bliss.
I probably watched this video 5-10 times before leaving for my trip. The day before my flight to Cancún was characterized by uneasiness and dread. I was completely terrified, filled with fear because I was about to do something I had never done before. I was worried about leaving home. I didn’t want to miss my friends and family. I was scared to travel solo. I was petrified of being mugged or robbed.
My first major confrontation with fear came in San Ignacio, Belize. The first night I arrived we traveled to this place called “The River.” It was a local swimming spot where two rivers join to form the Belize river. A wooden plank bridge with a waist high chain-link fence spanned across one of the rivers before the meeting point of the rivers. A group of local teenagers were taking turns jumping off the bridge. They climbed over the chain-link fence and jumped off small 3-4 inch pieces of wood. Instantly I was enticed. I wanted to jump, too. Just as soon as I got the urge to jump, though, fear hijacked my thoughts. I immediately began telling myself you can’t do that, what if you fall, what if it’s not deep enough, don’t do it, it’s not worth it. Typically, this is where most people would stop. Typically, this is where I would stop. This time, however, I thought back to Will Smith’s story about fear. I also recalled a book I read my first year of university called Who Moved My Cheese? The book encourages readers to adapt to change as fast as possible. In particular, one page has always stuck with me since first reading it. It clearly marked What would you do if you weren’t afraid? I think about this statement all the time. It encourages me to go one more step forward outside my comfort zone. Then one more step. One more step. So on and so forth until I can’t even relate back to my initial fear. Finally, I committed. I decided to jump. I carefully crossed over the chain-link fence. I swung my left leg up first, pushed up, held on for dear life, swung the other leg over, and planted myself. I twisted on the thin platform. Finally I was ready. Toes already hanging off the edge, I jumped. The sensation I felt was exactly what Will Smith described—total bliss. Since I am an adrenaline junky, I wanted more. I was starving for more bliss. I jumped again and again.
Quickly after, the locals started jumping off the side of the river bank next. We watched them get running starts to jump over a 5-6 foot bank into the water. Myself and my buddies wanted to do it. We arrived and promptly realized how challenging the jump really was. Miss left and I hit the bank. Miss right and I land in a submerged tree. Run too slow and I don’t make it to the water. My mind immediately started repeating the fearful thoughts from only five minutes prior. This time, my fear was not as easily subdued. I watched two more locals jump and then one of my friends. Finally, I battled my fear and jumped into the right spot. I surfaced and wanted more, so I jumped again.
The very next day, I rented a car in San Ignacio with three other Americans. We traveled to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Our second destination in the park was a waterfall called Big Rock Falls. After swimming around in the pools at the base of the waterfall for some time, I laid my eyes on a perfect spot for jumping. I scaled the rock wall to reach the point. Oddly enough, I wasn’t scared of climbing the walls. But, once I reached the top, I paused. In this moment, I was frozen by fear. Luckily, I was followed by my friends to the spot so I felt inclined to jump first. About three meters above the first jumping point was another cliff. I was instantly drawn to it and found myself scaling the walls again to reach my new destination. At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “Spencer, you’re stupid. Quit jumping off perfectly stable ground.” You’re probably right. I reached the top of this jump off point only to fully realize how high up I really was. I sat up there for a good two-three minutes. My mind was propelling through a myriad of different fears and doubts about the jump. I was up higher this time. I knew I needed to land further into the pool or I would hit the rock embankment. Fed up with my fears, I questioned myself What would you do if you weren’t afraid? The answer was jump. So, I jumped. The experience was so blissful that when I hit the water I forgot to kick back up to the surface. I almost ran out of breath before finally breaking through to fresh air.
I encountered fear yet again the night before hiking Acatenango. I had watched so many videos of people struggling to hike up the inactive volcano before I left for my trip. These videos showed me how tough the hike really was. Then, during my trip, I met many people who spoke a similar story in terms of the hike’s challenge. My fear towards this adventure was increasing. This time was different, though. Despite the challenge, those who completed the hike shared the bliss they experienced when reaching the summit. I was beginning to get a small taste of the reward that awaits hikers at the top. Upon arrival in Antigua, I shared with the hostel workers my want to hike Acatenango. The general response was a questioning laugh or a fasicious good luck. The night before, doubts were running through my head. You’ve never done anything like this before. You’re not prepared for this hike. Less than 24 hours later, I was standing 3,750 meters in the sky at base camp. The fulfillment I felt in that moment is inexplicable. My fears were forgotten and replaced by bliss.
I felt fear yet again a few days later. Let me be clear—before spending a week in Utila, I sucked at diving. Absolutely terrible. I had zero knowledge of fish, coral and other ocean creatures. I had never been able to control my buoyancy. I couldn’t even clear my mask if there was water in it (arguably one of the most important and easiest skills a diver perfects). Therefore, I was understandably fearful upon my arrival in Utila. I was afraid of donning equipment and getting into the water for the first time. During my first full day on the island, I took a refresher course over basic skills. I panicked the first time I took my mask off, inhaling seawater and bolting for the surface. I failed. I let my irrational fears consume me. The next day I went to the doctor on the island to get cleared because of my asthma condition. I passed, but the doctor walked me through the various ways I could die scuba diving because of my asthma. It really wasn’t any different than typical lung over expansion injuries for divers. However, I was more susceptible to breathing complications because of the restriction asthma places on the lungs—especially at lower depths. He walked me through animations of an air embolism and a pneumothorax. It’s sufficient to say that I was questioning why the hell I was putting myself into this situations. Reluctantly, I responded to him I understand the risks. Fear continued consuming me for the following 2-3 days in my Advanced Open Water course. I was so uncomfortable underwater that I was breathing more air than anyone else in my class. So much so that they had to give me a larger tank. I was finishing with same amount of air left as those with regular sized tanks. Because of my fear and lock of confidence underwater, I was one the fence about signing up for the PADI Rescue Dicer course. I asked my Divemaster, Jess (who is a world-class instructor for anyone interested in diving in Utila), if she really thought I could handle the course. Both times she said yes, but I didn’t believe it. Being as rational as possible, I signed up for it anyways. Two days later I was finished and felt like a completely new diver. I had brand new confidence underwater. I was helping Open Water divers set up their equipment during their first days on the water. My fears no longer consumed me below the surface. Instead, I was fully able to enjoy the experience of being 10-30m below the surface. Furthermore, I graduated from my bigger tank back down to a normal sized tank. I was finally breathing normal underwater. Now I’m in San José, Costa Rica several days later worried about the next time I will have the opportunity to get back underwater. It’s been a 180 degree change for me in only one week’s time. My insecurities of diving have finally been replaced by the bliss of diving.
Fear is exhaustive. Fear is baggage. Fear is constraining. Fear is abstract. Fear is useless.
Bliss is rewarding. Bliss is rejuvenating. Bliss is uplifting. Bliss is tangible. Bliss conquers fear.
Whatever they are, don’t let your fears prevent you from experiencing the most blissful things in life.