I almost chickened out doing a bucket list adventure which was right within reach. No, it wasn’t skydiving or bungee jumping (those will never ever be on my list). It was hiking up a river in sometimes waist-high cold water, on uneven rocks and boulders, in a magnificent gorge in Zion National Park (aka, The Narrows). It was on my must do list for years, long before two knee surgeries and the onset of my knee arthritis. This was not a knee friendly hike. Enter Fear 1: Would my knees handle the terrain?
Once we got to the park, we were cautioned without solicitation by at least four people – two rangers, two women who rented us our hiking gear and a hotel employee – about the dangers of flash floods in the Narrows. There were signs that illustrated warning signs of an impending flood yet with no instructions about what to do should one hit. (That’s probably because there wasn’t much you can do. Getting to higher ground in a canyon would entail scaling a cliff). Enter Fear 2: Will a flash flood take out my family?
The information board rated the likelihood of a flash flood as possible, a downgrade from yesterday’s probable. We could go with those odds. It also listed the water temperature as 53 degrees. Enter Fear 3: Will I be miserably cold?
Combine iffy knees, flash floods, and very cold water…. anxiety was overtaking my excitement. Yet off we went.
And I’m so glad that we did. The hike was magnificent and the beauty unparalleled. The weather and my knees held up and the cold water was actually refreshing. I watched my younger daughter swim in every pocket deep enough to dunk, showing me what pure worry-free joy looks like. After several hours, when the clouds got thicker and the water a bit murkier, we smartly turned around.
So here are my lessons from Narrows. Lesson 1 is that Fears are Easily Cultivated and Fed but Rarely Manifest. (A Penn State study found 91% of worries are false alarms). They can begin with even just a few words (FLASH FLOODS!) and rapidly morph into dark images and thoughts which are hard to shake once envisioned. Their intensity can root in our body, overtaking our adrenal system and logical mind.
Lesson 2 is that Fears of “What ifs” Can Stop us in our Tracks or Hijack the Journey. Thankfully, in this situation, neither did. But fear has held me back in the past. I’ve avoided social situations for fear of not being perceived as impressive or liked. I delayed leaving a career I excelled at but had long outgrown for fear of what would or would not happen next. Even worse, I have at times tried (and fortunately failed) to thwart my daughters from pursing their own adventures because of my fears for their safety and happiness. And the list goes on.
Lesson 3 is to Do What you Love and Do it Fully. Watching my daughter Maya gleefully play in the water with a huge smile on her face was seeing first-hand what it is like to fully succumb to what you love and experience pure joy in the process. It was gorgeous!
Having fears in life is normal and necessary. We all have them to varying degrees. But when fears of what ifs prevent us or our loved ones from fully living, that is a huge price to pay. May you all consciously and mindfully embrace your narrow fears and tread in the unpredictable and beautiful waters of your lives.