One thing I've learned is that in order to stretch myself out of my comfort zone and grow, I need to regularly and consistently do things that scare the crap out of me. Just last week I posted a blog about my experience visiting 22 convicted murderers in San Quentin prison. That was scary, and an incredibly moving experience. This summer I went camping in the Australian Outback to learn from an Aboriginal healer. Packing for the trip I kept wondering, why am I doing this? Why am I traveling half way around the world with a sleeping bag shoved in my suitcase to camp in the middle of nowhere with what could be a crazed man? My husband reminded me that there are over 26 deadly critters in the outback. "You better not die out there," he said. And yet, he supported me to go, because he knows that when I follow my heart it's for an important reason. And it was an incredible trip.
Experiences like these are my rites of passage, initiations into a greater sense of self. Indigenous cultures around the world have teachers and healers who regularly lead people through such journeys in order to help them evolve on their path.
Several years ago I did a Vision Quest. I was terrified of spending three days alone in the woods. I was fearful I'd be attacked by a mountain lion, but mostly I was afraid of having to be by myself for three days. An extrovert, I thought the silence would kill me. But I learned that the forest is all but silent, and that I like being by myself.
The actual activity is not as important as doing what scares me. I know that if I'm afraid of doing something, it's an indicator. The fear I feel is different than the fear of walking down a dark alley. I'm not talking about doing stupid things. I'm talking about the things that you know you want to do, or maybe have always wanted to do, but are afraid. For example, this month I took on the challenge of finally committing to paper the book I've been writing in my head for years, starting with 50,000 words in November.
Every time I sit in front of the computer to write, I feel the fear in my gut. In that moment it's like I'm jumping off a cliff, taking a risk - but the risk is with my ego. Am I being too vulnerable? What if people don't like it? What if they judge me? Do I really have anything new to say?
The ego wants us to have all the answers, have it all figured out, do it perfectly and get the good grade. By thumbing our noses at our ego we lessen its power over us. Stepping into the unknown and learning that I can live to see the next day is incredibly liberating. And remember, doing the scary thing is not comfortable. If it were comfortable, it wouldn't be a stretch.
Now go do something scary, and then come back and tell us how it went!