What I learned about fear from a hike through leopard territory
I’m not brave.
That’s what my head told me as I walked across the wide-open plateau of fynbos, rocky mountains stretched up to my right and to my left like some kind of life-sized version of a monkey enclosure. There was a troop of baboons that inhabited those stony enclaves, we were told. Baboons, snakes like puff adders that don’t move when you step on them (they just bite and sit there gleefully while your leg inflates to match their namesake). Oh, and a leopard.
Yes, my friends. A leopard.
Now, you’d think growing up in Australia – with 8 of the world’s 10 most venomous snakes, sharks, crazy insects and all sorts of weird-but-not-wonderful creepy crawlies – I would be immune to the fauna-related frightfulness induced upon many less regularly exposed human beings. And indeed, when I’m at home, I’m pretty chilled. I know they’re there, but unless we’re talking about cockroaches and toads (apologies in advance – my weaknesses are all coming out today), I don’t usually lose my cool.
Well, hiking in Africa is a different story, as I realised through my more-rapid-than-usual heartbeat and cacophony of negative thoughts that went something like this:
There is a leopard in these mountains. A leopard! That’s the second biggest African cat! Oh my gosh. Who the heck goes for a walk through leopard territory? This is a suicide mission! We haven’t even packed band-aids, let alone done any feline self-defence training. If I see the leopard, I will freeze. I will not know what to do, and since I’m walking at the back and I’m the smallest, it’s definitely going to be me that gets taken. If it’s not the leopard, it will be a snake – we’re walking through long grass – I was always told NEVER to walk through long grass. And these snakes don’t even move! Oh no and now I’m looking at the ground because I’m sure there are heaps of snakes but really I should be looking at the mountains because somewhere in there is a troop of baboons and I guarantee one of them is going to steal my water bottle. Why on earth did I agree to this?!?
In retrospect, these thoughts were ludicrous. Of course it was extremely unlikely that we would come face to face with the leopard, the snakes or even the baboons. Yes, the chance was there, but my fears were massively out of proportion with reality.
All of this got me thinking about fear: what it does to us, and perhaps more importantly – what it stops us from. Here’s what I realised:
Fear stops you from seeing the full picture / the big perspective.
When I was hiking through the fynbos, head down, looking for snakes, I wasn’t looking straight ahead. All I was thinking about was what could go wrong – I wasn’t looking at the beauty that lay ahead – in my case, an extraordinary view over the valley.
Isn’t it sad that when we’re afraid of something, our vision somehow becomes minimised? What do we miss, by focusing on the problem at hand? And what’s the greater purpose to our current struggle? Does fire not strengthen the clay; do valleys of trial not magnify life’s peaks?
2. Fear steals your joy
Being afraid of leopards, snakes and baboons occupied so much of my brain space that morning; there was little room left for anything else. Along our hike, there were spectacular wildflowers all around us, there was beautiful, moon-like mountain scenery and a clear blue sky. I didn’t notice any of this until I consciously began to work on drowning out my negative thoughts.
How often do we let negative thinking control our brain when we’re faced with a fear, or confronted with a challenge we don’t know how to deal with? It seems easier, somehow, to focus on the bad than to turn our minds to what can bring us joy. We let ourselves get caught up in these negative thoughts and we miss out on the things that could lift us up. Are you letting fear steal your joy?
3. Fear stops you from being aware of the things that can help you.
As I marched through the long grass, my eyes barely wandered from the path ahead. If I hadn’t looked up and around occasionally, I would have missed the little stripes of blue paint on the rocks, guiding the way to our final destination. I wouldn’t have seen the little piles of rocks that others had left where the path was almost invisible, helping us to find our way back to the trail.
When we face difficulties in life, chances are, there’s someone else who’s been there. If you don’t know them, maybe they’ve written a book, or a blog post, or sung a song about it. Who is around you that could help you through the situation you’re in now? What resources are you not taking advantage of in this season of life, that could push you forward to a place where fear no longer has a place in your inner world?
Guys, I know you’ll be thinking that this blog is getting deeper every time you read it. I apologise, but I don’t. I like words – funny ones and kind ones, mainly – but also deep ones. If you know me at all you’ll know that I’d much rather a conversation about something that’s on your heart than a conversation about work or the weather (though my job and clouds both bring me significant happiness as well).
This blog was always designed as a way for me to share my reflections about the world around me – a way to open a door, if you will, to intrigue your senses so much that you’d want to come in and experience what I’m sharing with you for yourself. But it was also designed to be a conversation about important things, heart things. Things I don’t think we talk about often enough. So, thanks for sticking it out with me today.
To lighten the mood a little, I thought I’d share one of my favourite captures of our 3 days in the Southern Cederberg Mountains – the place where we went on the beautiful hike mentioned above. We had an incredible time there, actually. Once I got over my fears I completely relaxed, and by the end of our time at the Rooibosch Cottage I didn’t want to ever be anywhere else ever again. Nature’s silence – which is not very silent – was a magnificent alternative to the city hustle and bustle and the view of mountains will just never get old. I’m so thankful to have these opportunities to travel. But about that picture – and I apologise if it’s a crude way to end – here are, for your African animal photo collection, two dassies mating! You may not appreciate it, but appreciate the timing – these animals are SKITTISH, so to capture them at all is a feat. To get this intimate moment, well, we’re getting pretty close to safari-quality. And since Tyson and I aren’t doing any safaris on this trip, this is going to be as good as it gets. 😉
Speak to you soon!