Fear is a powerful emotion. It can keep you from experiencing life. How long have you been afraid of a particular fear? Where does it come from? Have you ever tried to change the way you see your fear?
When I was younger, I had a fear of snakes. Me! Ms. Outdoors! There was something about the way they moved, their apparent “sliminess”, that tongue! As a child, I would steer clear of them as far as I could (a.k.a. run like heck!). I remember my Mom not liking them, my siblings trying to run them over with the mower. So, it seemed natural to fear such a creature who could elicit such a response to the people I looked up to.
Until one day-a perfect day, MANY years later-strolling in the woods with a dear friend. His face lights up as he bends down and turns to me with, you guessed it, a snake in his hands. I felt ill. Yes, I’d seen snakes (plenty!) since childhood. I never bothered to get too close despite the hours upon hours in the great outdoors. This one was now eye level, WRITHING around his arm, appearing SLIMY, flicking that TONGUE!
Slowly my friend talked me through the experience, encouraging me to feel for myself, that no, she was not slimy but smooth and dry like silk. Her entire body was all muscle, pure strength to be admired. That she was simply smelling me with her tongue. Trying to understand HER environment. Even her smell (musky but not offensive) was truly beautiful. I found myself seeing her in a new light. As a friend, not a foe. As time passed I understood how she and her kind, are truly vital to our environment.
This was years ago. More than I care to admit. Now I find myself carefully admiring, not fearing, that snakes’ relatives.
So, what happened? How did one simple encounter change my whole view on a previously feared creature?
First of all, I was safe and in good company; I was with someone who did not feel the same way toward snakes. Someone gentle and kind who took the time to share the experience.
I was not rushed or forced to face my fear but asked to trade it for curiosity. Seeing the beauty of this creature, the light in her eyes, the shimmer of her skin; the pure wonderment of it all.
Understanding her vital role in Nature’s food web. Without her existence, so much would be different.
As a mentor, I strive to create a similar environment for each child. Sometimes even for the parent. Fears for us from our loved ones (well-intentioned to keep us safe) sometimes keep us prisoners. Every child has the ability to trade their fears for curiosity. I see it daily. In the one’s I teach during the day to the one in my home whom I teach every day. Fear of heights. Fear of the dark. Fear of failure. Slowly, we embrace the fear and peel back the layers. Slowly creating safety, security, understanding. Sometimes it takes more than one exposure but curiosity gets the better of everyone and before you know it they are climbing trees, playing in the dark and trying new things.
And with new found curiosity the whole world is a wonder.