My family vacations to Rehoboth Beach every year. This year an earthquake shook the beach, and, within days, we were told to evacuate because of Hurricane Irene. Friday afternoon, I bicycled down to the beach and practiced yoga in the surf. Saturday morning I took pictures of surfers having a blast. Saturday afternoon I called a friend in Virginia Beach. He was at work.... Three hours south of Rehoboth’s evacuated ghost town.
Fear Is a Choice
It’s a choice I don’t have to make. That’s not to say I didn’t prepare. All the patio furniture was inside. I once lived in Virginia Beach, and also in Taiwan for one of the worst typhoon seasons in history. My experience living in a hurricane/typhoon culture told me a Category 1 wasn't reason enough to buy nine cases of water and then evacuate the city.
Trees might fall and there might be storm surge, but as Irene approached I listened to countless people who were living not in Rehoboth's hurricane, but in Fear City. In their minds. It’s as if The Weather Channel had piped Fear Kool-Aid through the water system. How do people not see that The Weather Channel is just "All My Children" with Doppler Radar. And if Doppler isn't red enough, they'll use something else...
I’m sure there are plenty of people who now realize most of what they experienced was fear. Not a hurricane. Fear. But boy, it felt like a hurricane, eh? I’m also sure there are plenty of people who still feel the evacuations were reasonable and that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Both sets of people are neither right nor wrong. They’re simply experiencing feelings. Feelings are not facts.
Balancing Fear, Feelings and Reality
I didn’t learn about the difference between feelings and facts from school or my parents. I learned from experience. And I started small: with my yoga practice.
I was afraid of falling, but I was determined to do a headstand. My teacher explained that if I try to go straight up into a headstand I might fall on my head, and that I couldn't have the headstand without the practice. He asked if I were guilty of wanting to have things in life before I worked for them.
What? That sounds nothing like me!
So, he walked me through the eight steps to headstand, and I was balancing on my head in a week. My fear of falling wasn’t a fact - it was just a fear that I overcame with the simple practice of being in the moment. This headstand balancing act brought the mind into reality instead of allowing it to dwell in what could and should be.
When I first practiced yoga I couldn’t touch my toes and never thought I would. My teacher offered that if I’m having trouble touching my toes it's because my hamstrings aren’t open (also, my mind wasn’t able to stretch beyond the silly constraints of fear). He suggested to breathe deeply when in a forward bend.
Wow! I found that I get closer to my toes when I breathe deeply!
And my hamstrings no longer feel like they’re going to snap in half! How cool! Using the breath to be in the moment I managed to open my hamstrings to new possibilities. My fear of falling in headstand and my fear of hamstrings snapping in half are similar to fear of hurricane because they’re feelings generated by the ability to conceive future scenarios.
Right, Wrong and Reality
I'm not saying I was right to ignore the evacuation nor am I saying the City of Rehoboth was wrong for its implementation. I'm just saying that with my yoga practice I've managed to find enough balance to consider and weigh sources of information - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and experience over The Weather Channel - and listen to my inner teacher.
I definitely advise listening to other teachers until you've cultivated your own. If your fear tells you something, please listen - and run it by someone with experience. But also observe it as what it is - fear. It's not fact. Fear is a feeling. Just pay attention to it.