I have been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember. Whether I’m climbing a ladder or climbing a mountain, anxiety clutches at my body and betrays me. My legs stiffen, my hands tremble, my breathing turns shallow and rapid. If I’m walking over a bridge of any height, my whole being goes into some kind of uncontrollable existential conflict. I feel lured to the edge as if I want to jump, while I find myself simultaneously pressing back against whatever solid structure may be behind me.
Is this just some primordial concern about dying? Or is it a learned response to specific stimuli?
What is really going on when we have a “great fear”?
I’m reminded of this wonderful passage written by Marianne Williamson and made famous by Nelson Mandela when he included it in his inauguration address.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
If we assume our deepest fear is related somehow to the heights we are capable of reaching as human beings, then my fear of high places somehow connects to a fear of succeeding beyond my wildest imaginings. Now I have to admit that really big success scares me. When I think about it, I’ve invented many ways to avoid facing this head on throughout my life. I’ve found reasons to put off a bold career decision. I’ve over-prepared or wasted time planning things that are unnecessary before stepping up. I’ve taken more time to gather extra information before offering a big idea. I have stayed too long in relationships that no longer fed me. When other people honor me as a big player already, I know I am still holding back. And I realize that I’m not alone in this.
So what can we do to release our fear of being “powerful beyond measure” in order to reach the very summit of what is possible for us?
I think there is no single answer to the question. Releasing the grip of fear looks different for everyone.
I’ve tried many times to push through my fear of heights. Last week I finally found something that works. My friend Lynne Donnelly, a holistic health practitioner on Whidbey Island in Washington, gave me a twenty-minute healing session in EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping” as it is popularly known).
To test myself afterward, I walked across Deception Pass Bridge, an historic structure that only has a waist-high barrier separating pedestrians from a 180-foot drop to the water below. The results were astonishing. I did it without any physical reaction. No fear. Just a calm body and a growing sense of confidence as I walked. Even stopping mid-way and turning to the rail to look down did not evoke the familiar old anxiety. Wow!
This has changed my life. For me, walking over Deception Pass Bridge is just practice for the main event of playing as big in life as I am capable of playing. Of not letting a fear of heights keep me on the sidelines or have me operating below my capacity.
I have conquered the bridge. Now I am playing for bigger stakes.
What is your greatest fear? How can you free yourself from its grip so you can “play bigger” in life and work? So you can serve more people and take better care of those things you care most about?