When we are afraid

Heights scare me.

It’s a truth I get confirmed every time I stand at more than two metres above the ground. Last week I was on a panoramic tower at an amusement park with my son. I thought I could do it, as it looked safe and was completely closed by one big window. And he really wanted to go. But as soon as we started moving up, I realised it was a bad idea. No way to go back, there were many people with us, and the climb was automatized. As we were sitting there and moving up, I grabbed my son, telling him to stay seated and composed, as moving too much could be dangerous (not true). At some point, I have also put a whole arm across his chest (as a sort of safety belt), and he immediately reacted by removing my arm and asking “daddy, why are you doing this?”.

Why was I doing it?

Of course, I was seeking control. When we are afraid and when things start to slip away, we seek control. We want to make sure that the world is comfortable and predictable, and the way we try to achieve that is by taking control on what we have power on.

It’s a natural reaction, and yet one that has at least a couple of problems.

First, it prevents us from experiencing the situation: I have no memory of what I saw on the tower, no clear idea of what I was feeling and where, and not a single more tool to try to fight the fear should I find myself in the same situation again.

Second, it prevents others around us from experiencing the situation: my son was bothered by my behaviour, he probably enjoyed the ride anyway, but I am not sure he would like to go again with me, and to be honest I cannot blame him.

For as difficult as it is in certain situations, letting go is the best thing one can do in the face of fear. Appreciating the fact that the present moment is scary for you, understanding how it makes you feel, taking a deep breath, and completely taking in what is going on.

Train with small things first, then pass onto the bigger ones. It will be liberating.

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