Monday, March 29, 2010

FEAR: Your Greatest Ally....

"Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway." ~John Wayne

FEAR: The very word drudges up mental images of cold sweats, "Jell-O legs," clammy hands & rapid heartrate. Its been something we've been taught to avoid at all costs. Fear is synonymous with "Go Back!" But what if we've misjudged fear's lessons? What if we've misunderstood its teachings?

In the April 2009 issue of "Outside" magazine, an article written called, "This is your brain on adventure" explored the neuro-chemistry behind pushing the boundry, exploring the edge, & why we need a bit of risk in our lives. To check out the article, go to the following link:


"Paleo" man/woman lived in a state of survival. "Nothing fun about that," you say. However, scientists are beginning to look at the possible way our brain gets "extra" creative when we're forced to face our fears. There's something to be said for safety. No one is questioning that. To be unsafe is silly, even faulty. However, there is a new school of thought amongst neuro-scientists that are beginning to differentiate between anxiety and true fear. True fear doesn't actually appear to be all that harmful to the body. Anxiety does. In fact, in our remote-controlled, escalator-ridden world, scientists are seeing that certain neuro-peptides have become "lazy" or "complacent" in our modern society.

Yes, its of advantage that we don't always have to wrestle a bear to get back to our "cave." At the same time, scientists are growing concerned that we don't always move past our places of comfort either. There is a healthy balance, and it will be an individual search within oneself to find it. I hear people say to me, "You rock climb? I could never do that. I'm afraid of heights." I have an answer for them: I am too. I look at climbers that are so much more accomplished than I am, and esteem to have their bravery. If I know my equipment is sound, that there is redundancy in backing up my safety mechanisms, that my belay partner has double-checked everything, and that I am capable of the climb, then I ask myself, "Almine, what are you REALLY afraid of?"

There is an element of self-preservation which is completely natural. We all have these innate instincts. Tom Brown Jr., America's most renowned tracker and wilderness survival expert, makes a distinction. He says, "My teacher, Stalking Wolf, told me, 'The difference between the Apaches and the white settlers they encountered, is when the Apaches were afraid they moved towards whatever frightened them. The white settlers stepped back."

The subtle art of knowing the difference between a "surface" level anxiety and a true gut-instinct of "move away" takes time to distinguish. According to Tom Brown, the majority of us mistake anxiety for a true fear. He said that true fear is actually rare in the wild.

Cultures, the world-over, have sought out to master their fears. This has taken place in a variety of ways. The Maya used cenotes (underground well-caves) to experience true darkness in the bosom of the earth...to experience fear welling up inside them...only to learn to calm their mind amongst it. According to Geologist and author Gregg Braden, temples of great civilizations were generally used to "isolate" certain emotions. It is there, in these temples, initiates sought out the internal power to master these emotions. For instance, Egyptologist, Graham Hancock, author of "Fingerprints of the Gods," specifically states that the very bottom chamber of the great pyramid of Giza was used by the Egyptian initiates to "master their most innate darkness." He states that the lower chamber (representing the "lower" or limbic part of the brain) has heiroglyphs etched into the walls indicating the word "fear," or the "mastering thereof."

In Chinese medicine, we look at the vital organs in terms of a more holistic approach. You really could liken them to complex systems, that each "house" or "rule" an emotion. For instance, the ancient medical text, the "Nei Jing," or the "Yellow Emperor's Cannon of Classic Medicine" (as its more commonly known) states, "The kidneys are the house of fear." What does this mean? We do know, in western bio-medicine that the adrenal glands (which look like little "nightcaps" sitting on top of the kidneys) pump out cortisol, our "fight-or-flight" hormone. Chinese medicine is based on 2 main intertwined theories: the theory of yin/yang, and the 5-elements. Both of these theories come together to create a complex, yet completely organic whole-system, view of the human being. For every "yin" organ, there's a "yang" organ. The kidneys are considered "yin," its paired organ, the bladder is considered "yang." The kidneys are said to "rule" the deepest fears of our human self: abandonment, survival, fear of the dark, of deep water, of heights, etc. The bladder is said to "rule" more anxiety, such as: "what am I going to do about money this month?," "did I leave my stove on?," etc. When we feel fear, people say, "I have to pee!" This is an obvious example of how when we feel anxious our bladder responds. "Kidney fear" is said to be mastered. "Bladder fear" is said to be ignored. There are a variety of meditation disciplines in the world to assist in quieting the mind. Lisa Rands, Steph Davis, Dean Potter, Chris Sharma...some of the most accomplished climbers in the world use one form of meditation or another to master their minds, and still their thoughts.

I use climbing as a metaphor because heights is such a common fear (the #2, to be exact...public speaking is #1). I ask myself, over and over, "Almine, if you know your gear is sound, and the climb is within your ability, what's the problem?" I then look at my deepest fears, and do my best to move forward. I'm not always successful. Sometimes I can't commit to the climb. Sometimes I can. This is why the Buddhists call the discipline of "stilling the mind" a "practice." Every day is different, and you have to accept that. Be kind to yourself. Mastering our fears is the opposite of what we've all been taught to do.

We all grew up being fascinated by "Star Wars." The graphics, the costumes, the archetypal story. However, nothing in "Star Wars" captured the imagination, of young and old, like the Jedi. Joseph Campbell, the brilliant mastermind behind the story line of "Star Wars" was one of the greatest mythologists the world has seen. His book "The Power of Myth" is an academic classic in the world of anthropology, history and philosophy. Did you ever stop to wonder where this great concept of the Jedis came from? The historical Egyptian "Jeds" were Campbell's inspiration for the Jedis." The Jeds were said to have "mastered their fears in the temples of Anubis. The underworld (the mind of fear) had no hold left on them."

We are enamored with the timeless Jedis, because we too have the same fears that lurk within us: of the dark, the deep ocean, of small spaces, snakes, heights, the list goes on...insert your own fears.

As an Amazonian shaman said to me, "It is your job, as a human being to live free from fear. To live beyond the shadows of the mind. Do your best and practice diligently."

To resist fear is cheating ourselves. It may have some lessons yet to teach us. Be open to yours, and in the way they come to you. Observe them when they come up, without judgement. They simply ARE. They're neither good nor bad. They're your teacher. Use your life circumstances to practice this, and as the Buddhists say, "The fear of death then, can have no hold on your mind."

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." -Nelson Mandela


  1. You are AWESOME...PIRATESSSS thanksxxxx for share ALOHA

  2. Alex,

    If I could ever surf the depths of the N. Shore, and charge big, bad-ass waves like you, "Billabong" surf-diva, then I'd be a happy camper ;-}

  3. Great work Almine! Your blog looks wonderful. I cannot believe how quickly you developed such a masterpiece.

  4. Thank you. I'm having a blast with it ;-}

    p.s. I'd rather be out surfing too *wink* ;-}

  5. I enjoy reading your blog, thank you Almine for sharing. True about fear, "feel the fear and do it anyways" Most people have fears from small to big ones, some are rooted so deep in their subconscious that it takes lots of clearing. It takes courage at first, but then it becomes effortless, taking action when its needed or guided. Climbing for sure can battle any fears people have, I would love to experience climbing one day :) I'm sure I'll have lots of fear at first lol It is so thrilling!

  6. Alana,

    I think climbing is a wonderful way to connect with "the bones" (rock) of the Earth, face fears, and learn to let go. Its been a wonderful metaphor for spirituality for me, as has surfing... ;-}

  7. I like that! Connection to the Earth by doing activities you love in the nature, dispels fear :)