“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
I’ve finally conquered my fear of the ocean, by facing it.
Since I was 13 years old, I developed a fear of the ocean after a near drowning experience. After the traumatic life threatening situation, I learnt to swim but was still very much intimidated by the unpredictability of the sea.
I watched myself, quite unconsciously, overtime, become more and more averse to going into the water. I would come up with a million excuses why I wouldn’t and would resort to simply hanging out on the sand, when I did go to the beach.
Last week, I visited the beautiful island of Antigua, which is known for its 365 beaches. It is an island literally of sand, sea and sun.
As faith would have it, my travelling companion, who is a lover of the ocean, suggested a-round the island tour on a speed boat. I must confess, I immediately felt nauseated and sought an alternative that didn’t involve so much ocean. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the speed boat tour was the only one available at the time.
The day of the tour was absolutely beautiful, the sun was shining, the sky was perfectly clear, and the water actually looked welcoming. As we boarded the speed boat, I felt my heart begin to race. It was my first time on a speed boat and despite my pounding heart, I decided to welcome the new experience.
As we slowly reversed out of the harbor, I began to sink into the moment, temporarily forgetting about my fear and instead felt immense appreciation for the magical and exciting life of the water.
Everything went smoothly as we picked up the other passengers from the different hotels nearby. I took the opportunity to truly absorb the beauty of the world we get to live in. The sights, the sounds, the people and all of nature open and available to me on the open sea.
Then came one of the moments that will change my life forever.
We visited one of the island’s many reef’s called Stingray City. Yes, as the name implies, it’s where several Stingrays assemble to be fed by visitors. Honestly, as we journeyed to the reef, I was repeating my affirmations and breathing deeply, preparing myself for what I intended to do; swim with the stingrays.
As the captain docked the boat, my heart began pounding even more along with my, sweaty palms and doubtful mind. I knew in that moment; I could have stayed on board and sit it out, but I was determined to overcome this fear that has kept me back for so long.
Swimming in the ocean was one thing but swimming with the rays who had venomous potential, was another thing all entirely, which by the way was another fear I had.
I gingerly disembarked the boat and proceeded down the side of the jetty to the shallow part of the reef, where I could comfortably stand. As I walked around, I could see the rays swimming by, brushing against my legs. I honestly wanted to rush back to the boat but instead decided to hold on to my friend, who seemed to be absolutely contented with the fact that he was in one of the places he loved.
I continued my deep breathing, as I tried to relax and enjoy the magic that was all around me. One of the tour guides who was holding a ray, asked me if I wanted to hold her and take a picture with her.
Because I was feeling adventurous and daring, I agreed to it. That experience was hilarious to say the least. I was both afraid and willing to hold the ray. The guide kept repeating,” You have to hold her completely for her to stay in your hands.” Each time I held her, I wanted to drop her and run but my conscious mind knew better.
By the time we were ready to leave, I was more comfortable and relaxed, even venturing to hold the ray once again. This time, I held her close, and spoke to her, while she watched me with her beady eyes. She thoroughly enjoyed me rubbing her belly and I enjoyed the fact that I had conquered my fear.
The day was absolutely phenomenal. I felt like I was on top of the world for being courageous enough, to swim with the sea life and for venturing on a speed boat. But the day of adventure and fear conquering was not over.
After lunch, we sailed to the Atlantic side of the island, where the water was not as shallow as the Caribbean ocean. The captain anchored the boat in waters that were approximately 25 feet deep and invited us to go snorkeling. Once again, I felt the familiar feeling of anxiety surging throughout my body, as the guides gave instructions on equipment that we would be required to use.
And once again, I was determined to not allow this opportunity to experience the reef to pass me by. Armed with my life vest, fins, snorkel and prayers, I dismounted the boat and immersed myself into the water.
Most of the people on board were experienced swimmers and divers and made up the advanced group, who went beyond the boat, while the amateurs comprising of another woman and I, stayed close by.
I felt a bit more relaxed knowing that there was someone else who was as intimated as I was about the ocean. However, not long after, the woman decided she couldn’t do it and went back on board. I was then left alone with the guide and my will.
My first view beneath the water caused me to have a mini panic attack. I couldn’t believe that I could not see the bottom of the ocean and this is where I was. I had to look up and compose myself with deep breaths, while telling myself, all is well.
The tour guide was extremely pleasant and helpful. I told him about my fear and how huge the moment was for me and he helped me through it. He spoke to me the entire time, encouraging me that everything would be fine. I felt comforted by his words.
I grew more confident, the more we swam and the more I learnt how to breathe using the snorkel. Eventually, I was more enthusiastic about looking under the water at the magnificent corals, fishes and creatures that lived there. I was completely blown away by the variety and kaleidoscope of the sea life.
As we swam back to the boat, the anxiety and fear was then replaced by joy and bliss. I was extremely proud of myself for choosing to conquer a fear I had lived with for over 22 years. A fear I had allowed to keep me back from having several amazing experiences and adventures.
While climbing back unto the boat, the woman who stayed, eagerly asked me about my experience. Honestly, in my head, I silently said, “If you’d come, you would have known.” But of course, I know that everyone has to deal with their fears in their own timing. I eventually responded by telling her just how amazing it was and encouraged her to do it the next time she has the opportunity.
This experience with the ocean, was a life altering one for me, which has given me the courage and strength, I needed to face all of the fears I’ve been carrying around.
It has taught me several invaluable lessons and reminders including:
“The fear of facing your fears is harder to overcome than the fear itself.”- Unknown
As humans, we all have fears that keep us bound and limited. Our fears may vary from a fear of commitment, to falling in love, sharing our gifts and talents, a fear of animals, driving, leaving our 9-5 job or opening our own business.
No matter what the fear is centered around, it is a negative, mental projection about the future that is not based on facts or truth. While I agree that sometimes our fears are based on our previous experiences, similar to my fear of the ocean, this does not mean that every other experience will lead to the same result.
The reality is, our fears are as real as we make them to be. Our belief that a situation will turn out badly, is powerful enough to cause our nervous system to go into a state of flight or fight, which then physically sends us into a tailspin, preventing us from pursuing an otherwise pleasant experience.
Overcoming our fears can be done using a step by step process.
Step 1: Acknowledge the fact that your fear is keeping you back and limiting your life experience.
Step 2: Decide that you are ready to move past the fear, to experience more.
Step 3: Become aware of the limiting beliefs around the fear and work on reprogramming your mind by changing your belief. Feed your mind with positive beliefs, instead of accepting the negative projections.
Step 4: Solicit the help of a professional, a friend/family member or community who can support you.
Step 5: Face the fear head on.
As mentioned previously, our fears are mostly mental projections, therefore, if you follow the process, by the time you get to Step 5, facing the fear becomes less challenging because you would have done the heavy lifting in Step 2.
Life is absolutely too dynamic, too amazing and too phenomenal for us to inhibit ourselves with fearful beliefs and notions. The world is our oyster, waiting to be explored and experienced. Give yourself permission to live life to the fullest, free of regrets, free of fears, free of limitations.