“Fear makes strangers of those who would be friends.” – Shirley MacLaine
Egypt. Everyone told me not to go. “It’s dangerous,” they said. “Why would you go there, right now, amidst everything?”
“News only reports the horrible things,” I replied, “I can show you news reports of plenty of awful things going on in my own city that I would never have even known about.”
Each time I gave this response, I felt a bit more fear arise inside me. “Was I being arrogant? Were we really putting ourselves in harm’s way by going there?” Being a fairly seasoned traveler, I have gotten familiar with my “pre-adventure fears.” Before a big trip, I tend to think of all of the horrific possibilities of what could happen to me while I’m in the foreign land, all of the images I’ve seen on the news and all of the scary stories I’ve heard, roll up into a jumbled fear ball in the pit of my stomach. Then, once I show up, I am reminded once again, that the new foreign place is filled with people, just like me, trying their best with what they’ve got.
But the first day of this trip felt different. When my husband and I showed up to a deserted mosque outside of Cairo and realized it was closed, I didn’t find it intriguing or exciting when the gunned guard offered to take us inside anyway. When he suggested he take pictures of us, I reluctantly handed over our iPhone while subconsciously saying my last goodbye. This was the first time that my “pre-adventure fears” started to arise in real time. No one knew where we were. If our gunned “tour guide” wanted to rob or hurt us, no one would know; we wouldn’t be able to do anything. I felt helpless.
I guess for many people (or at least my mother in law), fears or judgments in a situation like this might be commonplace, but I was surprised by them. Was I scared because he was speaking Arabic – the language of the Al Qaeda, the people who we are programmed to fear? Was it because everyone had warned me? Was it their voices I was hearing in my head? Or was my fear legitimate – was this man really going to hurt us?
I was relieved when an Egyptian friend came to meet us. It was amazing how instantly my fears disappeared. Same situation, same guy, so what was different? Connection. She could talk to him. She joked with him and as he giggled, he showed us the secret spots on the premises. It was amazing to be reminded that there was a sweet, playful boy within this gunned Arab guard.
Later that night while were safe in our little hotel, I couldn’t help but notice how loud it was outside. It was the middle of the night, yet there must have been people everywhere. I couldn’t make out what was going on, it just simply sounded unruly. Again, I felt fear. I looked at my husband sleeping soundly at my side, and wished he was awake to hug me. Then all of a sudden the power went out. The Egyptian heat started to permeate the room, and the silenced air conditioning left me only with the sound of my pounding heart. My mind was racing. “This country just had a revolution, people don’t trust their government or police, and if the power went out everywhere, there could be chaos.” No one is here to take care of us. “We aren’t safe.” I tossed and turned as one racing thought fed another. Fear took over my entire being. Sweat ran down my cheek as I pulled the blanket tighter under my chin. The feeling reminded of me of being alone in my room at night as a child, awake in the dark, fearful that someone would come in and hurt me. It felt foreign yet familiar, real yet imagined. Startled by the air conditioning jolting back on, I took a deep breath and again felt relieved. “No revolution tonight Jazzy, you can go to sleep now.”
Luckily these were the only fearful moments I had on my Egyptian adventure. Once we connected with the group of people we were traveling with, and had a local person to show us the ropes, it felt as if a bridge was created from my isolated fear island into the country, allowing me to really connect with the people and culture like I was hoping to do. I soon learned that the loud nights were simply celebrations of Ramadan, and that I could playfully smile and connect with any of the gunned guardsmen I encountered.
Although the situations I faced in Egypt may have been more extreme than those that we typically face day to day in our country, I really think my fearful moments are just enhanced examples of the authentic human experience. Here are some of my takeaways that I hope may help your daily life a bit…
LIFE IS LIKE A STAIRCASE:
HORIZONTAL LINES = Comfort Zone
- Predictable and safe
VERTICAL LINES = Unknown
- Opportunities for growth
- Often unstable, unknown, and uncomfortable
- Often illicit fears and resistance
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW:
- Life is a process
- When we move towards the unknown we naturally have a fear response
- Fears are thoughts, not reality
- If we listen to the fears, we stay stuck in our comfort zone
- If we acknowledge the fear and move forward anyway, we get to deal with reality, which almost always is easier than being stuck in our fearful thoughts
- When we deal with reality, we grow, learn and connect until we find ourselves once again in a new comfort zone…and the cycle continues forever and ever!
On a personal note, the act of simply submitting this article to TDL elicits a fear response in me…fear of rejection…loud and clear.
So here I am, once again…confronting my fear, deciding to move into the unknown despite it. I’m opening my heart, and sharing my story with the hope to connect with you lovely, amazing people in the TDL community. I move forward with trust that this space will someday become my new comfort zone.
I’d love to hear stories about any shifts you all have made or are planning to make outside your comfort zone…
Jasmin Terrany is a Columbia University trained psychotherapist, who invented Life Therapy™, the combination of Psychotherapy & Coaching + Mindfulness & Meditation. You can learn more about Jasmin and her Skype based therapy practice at www.JasminBalance.com.