HOW THE JUNGLE TAUGHT ME TO DEAL WITH FEAR
Fear: a crippling emotion that prevents you from moving forward or the very instinct that keeps you alive?
The curious thing about fear is that it is almost never about the present, instead it usually relates to something bad that may happen in the future. In fact, I would guess that most of us waste at least 30% of our lives fearing something that never comes to pass. When the bad thing we fear doesn’t happen, we quickly forget about it and move on to the next fear. It’s as if we must keep our glass of fear at least half full. Let’s face it, if you’re looking to be afraid there are more than enough possibilities to fill your entire life with worry.
My first trek into the jungle was all about dealing with fear. Still a boy, I rode my horse out of the last tourist town before the Lacandon jungle began and it seemed that every local I passed warned me about the jungle Indians, or jaguars who would surely kill or at least rob me in the night. So when I got to the edge of town, I panicked, my stomach tightening into a knot so hard that I sat on a tree stump for over two hours before I gathered the courage to continue on. What pushed me to make that decision to continue? It was just another form of fear: the fear of failure. I had not only fantasized about the jungle, I had already put quite a bit of effort and time to get there. But now that I had arrived at the edge, I was overcome with anxiety and unable to continue.
On that tree stump my fear changed from what could happen to me if I went into the jungle, to what would happen to me if I didn’t. I became more afraid of being fearful then the actual fear itself. My own lack of ability to deal with my emotions had become scarier then the possible, “Lions, tigers, wild savages and bears oh my, ” that I may or may not face.
As fate would have it, just an hour down the path from the tree stump, a drunk Indian suddenly leaped out of the bushes and proceeded to try and knock me off my horse and rob me. Without thought my body reacted on instinct and with a, “High ho Silver!,” my horse bolted as we escaped our attacker. When the adreneline rush finally subsided, I was still afraid, but had now begun to build a new confidence in myself through breathing through the fear to maintain my ability to react instead of crumble. Fear was becoming my teacher.
That night I set up my nylon tent and crawled inside. But the moment I took a breath to rest, the fear returned. It felt as if the entire jungle was just waiting for me to fall asleep and pounce on me. I turned on my lantern because it gave me a false security and the light and the thought of the paper thin nylon fabric of the tent somehow made me feel protected from the jungle outside. But then I heard something stirring in the trees around my camp. All my confidence in my equipment flew right out the little flap of that tent and my body seized up in a state of panic.
Frozen again with fear, I listened intently, my heart thumping away in my ears as I realized in horror that there really was something lurking around outside. I grabbed my machete and flashlight in defense of the unknown threat, but then it dawned on me that I was not really protected by the flimsy nylon wall of the tent and was in fact much more vulnerable to something pouncing on me as I sat like prey inside the tent.
So I gathered my courage, not by forcing it, but instead by dancing with the butterflies in my stomach. Then I leaped out of the tent to face the fear that I was sure would take my life. Upon exiting the tent in a great burst I proceeded to shine my flashlight into the wide eyes of three Indians who were now themselves frozen with fear. I couldn’t figure out why they would be afraid of me, a lone kid, until I glanced behind me and noticed that the nylon tent, illuminated by the lantern, looked pretty much like a glowing alien orb.
In that moment, if any one of us had reacted to our fears the situation could have gone very bad. But none of us did. Instead, I smiled, something they immediately understood, and they smiled back. I got some peanuts and an orange out of my pack and offered them up, to their delight. Then we all sat around a campfire, still a bit nervous, but we weren’t afraid anymore. Fear is the source from which inner strength is developed and massaging the release of that knot in my stomach was the beginning of my understanding of will power.