While out on a trail run one afternoon, I missed the trail I had taken and suddenly found myself engulfed in ferns, standing and puzzling over where the path had gone.  The trail I was on that day is not part of conservation land or a park so it is not maintained, and through the seasons it changes.  When the vegetation is thick the path is well defined, but when the trees are bare and the plants have withered away for the winter, it all seems to blend in a bit.  In early spring, the time of my run, plants were just starting to come back to life and the trail was littered with branches which had fallen during heavy winter snow.  It was easy to get confused.  

Realizing I'd missed my trail, I scanned the area all around me.  I seemed to be in a little gully.  I ran ahead downhill, stopped, and walked back.  I first felt embarrassed, but quickly realized I was alone, so nobody knew I was having trouble finding my way.  Standing on a mossy log I scanned the area around me, hoping height would give me a better view.  Height was no use, though, and a dizzying feeling of desperation came over me.  The very same woods that almost always seem to fuel me, felt like they were closing in on me.  It felt hard to breathe! A feeling of panic set in as I imagined how long it would be before my husband worried and how embarrassing it would be if people had to come look for me.

Never mind that I do not take my runs in the expansive forests of the Pacific Northwest, that it would be hard not to eventually encounter people where I was since it abuts recreational land and homes, and that I had my dog with me. Despite all of that, for a few minutes I felt completely powerless and out of control. I felt vulnerable and as if I had made a poor choice.  I pictured myself wandering around the woods for hours until night fall.  I felt raw fear.

Fear can come in healthy doses.  Curious creatures that we are, we humans probably would not have evolved too far if we had not feared some things.  Yet as you know, there is always a flip side.  The same healthy fear that keeps us alive can prevent us from achieving our own personal evolution.  We love the safety of familiarity, the feeling of control over our lives only attained from knowing what will happen next.  Why would we mess with that? Why purposefully risk security?

More recently than my trail run debacle, I decided to brave camping with my young sons.  To my surprise, this stirred up some concern and raised eyebrows from more than a few people.  I guess some people feared what could go wrong during a trip like that with two youngsters in tow.  When I left for our trip, I'd been thinking about the topic of fear for this post.  During the trip I realized what I would have missed if I had feared going, if I had never gone because of the "what ifs?" I'd have missed hearing two of my favorite sounds in the world at the same time: the sound of the waves at my feet and my baby's laughter as he played.  I'd have missed showing my little ones seals frolicking in the surf.  I'd have missed my sleeping children snuggled next to me in our tent.  I'd have missed realizing that I can pitch a tent, start a fire, grill a meal, and worm a hook (I'm working on the casting part).  I'd have missed moments that have enriched my life and the lives of my sons.

Truthfully, if I had never gone camping I would not have known I missed those things.  Who knows, maybe I would have experienced all of that on another occasion.  Yet in some situations, not only are we missing out on things due to our fear, but there are things in life we endure (when we deserve better) because we fear the change.  For whatever reason, at the suggestion of  change we feel the raw fear that I felt when I lost my way in the woods.  When presented with the idea of trying something new we feel the world closing in on us, our heads spinning, and our chests tighten.  Fear can be paralyzing.  For a brief moment in the woods- the day of my trail run- I did literally become paralyzed with fear.  It is mostly embarrassing now, since I quickly realized I needed to follow the gully down and pay attention to the direction my dog went, but for those few moments I was truly afraid.  I'll remember that fear in the future when I hit that trail, but I won't lose my way again.  It would be hard to with bright red trail markers every ten feet (you're welcome).  I do not suggest that you or I put ourselves in dangerous situations and ignore our healthy fears, but I do hope you will think twice about what holds you back from your own evolution.  Does your fear serve you, or are there beautiful adventures to be had if you can just move past the fear?


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    Jennifer Loebel