I had been dreaming of the warm lucid turquoise waters off the coast of Bimini in the Bahamas for some time and what it would feel like to swim with wild dolphins. My group chartered a dive boat committed to researching everything about dolphins. To the captain, co-captain, and dive master, this is not just a hobby but their life's work and passion.
It was a daily discovery of how dolphins communicate, breathe, eat, play and survive in the wild – an experience I will always treasure. The sheer bliss these creatures emit is beyond words. Sharing space with the dolphins in the ocean's depth felt transformative – almost like floating in a dream you didn't want to awaken from!
Then came the excursion I wanted to run from – not swim towards. A shallow sandy swimming lagoon laden with stingrays. Not just a few stingrays. There were more than I could even count!
We were in their playground. They swam so close to each other that it felt like we were sucked into their web. All I could think of was their poisonous tails with sharp barbs on the end and the fact that they belonged to the shark family. And if I were stung, it would be excruciatingly painful, most likely bloody, and potentially deadly.
As their slimy skin grazed my trembling shins, I began to shake, yet around me, all I could see were my dive mates' happy, smiling faces. (I think they'd done this before.)
How long would I have to endure this? How long could I endure this? Why was I the only one not enjoying this experience?
The voice in my head kept repeating, "I'm terrified of being stung, and worse, it could be deadly."
After what felt like a movie in slow motion, our team leader took one look at my face and offered to swim me back to the boat. Did I tough it out? Nope! I politely reached for her arm, and we swam the distance to the dive boat together, where I finally felt safe.
As I made my way up the ladder and onto our boat, I felt a sense of energy and aliveness. I could no longer see my dive mates. They remained with the stingrays in utter fascination and joy. Then I realized there really was nothing to fear except fear itself.
I clung to my preconceived notions of stingrays, which changed my entire experience. I held onto the dark notions rather than open myself to a new and wild experience. I have since learned ray stings are rare and that they reserve their sting for other large predators like sharks. They are, in fact, very friendly, sweet, gentle giants if only I had looked at them in that way.
Fear is a natural response to danger, whether imagined or real. When we allow our imagination to get the best of us, there is little hope for a positive outcome. You've often heard, "Feel the fear and do it anyway."
So, why is fear good for you?
Because it takes you out of your comfort zone, opens you to new experiences, and makes you come alive! Had I not ventured off the boat that afternoon, I wouldn't have had the magnificent experience of being with wildlife so closely and experiencing my vulnerability. In truth, the stingrays were friendly towards us and trusted us not to harm them. We were, after all, in their territory.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson so aptly says, "Do the thing, and you shall have the power." In other words, when you decide to do something that scares you, you've already generated the energy you need to achieve it.
Fear acts as an immune booster. Adrenaline creates a response in the body similar to exercise, building energy and releasing natural endorphins, helping your brain work more efficiently.
Our brains crave challenges. They want to be activated. You feel empowered whenever you come through a challenge and accomplish your goals. This natural high lasts longer than when you were scared, which is why you feel so good afterward (and explains why I felt energized when I reached the boat and could think more clearly).
Fear keeps you in the present moment – the only moment that matters.
Being fully aware of fear allows you to live life to the fullest. When you fear something, you have a choice – to stay on the boat alone or welcome a rare experience you will never forget.
The bottom line is life is meant to be lived. Fear makes you realize that now is the only time you have.
It is said, "Where fear meets courage is the sweet spot in which mountains get scaled, and rivers are run." But most of all, fear can be the birthplace of change, creativity and innovation.
"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face... You must do the thing you think you cannot do." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt