Fear is a wonderful thing, designed to protect us from risky scenarios, from danger. Sometimes we seek fear, with high adrenaline sports, theme park rides or horror movies. Sometimes fear seeks us… that moment we suddenly realize all the traffic on the highway is stopped and we need to suddenly brake, or we forget something important at work and need to rush to a deadline.
Eight days ago from the writing of this post I should have been scared. Somehow I wasn’t. I was decelerating on my motorcycle in readiness for a merge a few hundred yards away when, without warning, a cage (motorcycle term for car) turned left in front of me, blocking my way, with mere feet to play with. Fear sought me.
Fear sought me, and I dodged it. I still remember the clarity of mind – the need to apply both brakes, the need to decide WHERE to impact because the IF wasn’t an option. With clear mind, I recall the impact, I recall exchanging words with the driver, I recall looking in his eyes as I hit, and I recall looking up at the sky thinking “Holy shit!! I’m okay”.
“I’m okay” lasted almost no time at all but I’m glad I had that brief second. I won’t describe what I saw when I looked down at my body but it wasn’t good. I saw a different life than the one I had planned and fear sought me again. Anger replied.
Things moved quickly, and my left leg was very soon gone. All the time, when talking with the medical staff, I picked out all the positives from their words. I didn’t hear “You are losing your leg” but instead heard “You are only losing your ankle and foot”.
Three days, and two surgeries later, I am learning to operate on crutches in Occupational Therapy. Its going swimmingly, including uneven terrain, doing day to day things in the kitchen etc, going up and down small flights of stairs.
And then fear seeks me out and catches me. I am at the top of a full flight of stairs, ready to descend. I’m shaking, paralyzed with fear, and squat to make the first step. I waver backwards and forward, caught by the therapist. My heart is racing – I can’t remember the last time I felt this scared. Tentatively I make one step at a time. With four to go, fear is no longer interested and releases me. I make the last four steps.
One of my favorite movies from my adulthood was The Matrix. There is a scene in this movie where Neo is ready to meet the Oracle. A young child is “spoon bending”, and says something along the lines of “Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible” and then “Try to realize the truth. There IS no spoon”. Later Neo recites this before a confrontation with Agent Smith.
Ever since seeing this scene, I have used that phrase as a way to calm my mind and overcome fear. I will recite this out loud, box breathe for a few rounds, recite it again and then proceed.
So back to the stairs. I ascend. Easy. I turn around and see a steep descent with a racing heart, and close my eyes. “There is no spoon”, I say. I box breathe for two rounds, I slow my heart, I open my eyes and repeat – “There is no spoon”. This descent is perfect. The fear has gone and a challenge has been overcome
Mark Divine is a Navy Seal with great writings on resiliency of mind. His book “The Way of the Seal” introduced me to box breathing and other techniques. The following two books are excellent resources
- The Way of the Seal: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed
- Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level