Published on April 21st, 2016 | by Catherine Tingey0
Facing Our Fears
Facing Our Fears
Like most of us, I’m afraid of dying.
Hospitals, needles, saline bags, blood, ambulances – anything that has to do with illness pretty much scares me.
Although I’ve been like this for most of my 42 years, I always knew, deep down, that it was a weakness. A universal weakness perhaps, but still a weakness. And that sooner or later, I would be confronted with challenges and I would need to step up and meet them bravely.
Nobody likes to talk about end-of-life issues, especially when they feel like their end-of-life is a long ways out, but for the past 6 months, I’ve had to face more death and destruction than ever before.
Although my business is virtually all private and corporate events these days, I do teach one group class a week – to Seniors – average age 85. Some arrive with walkers and their caregivers, others walk unassisted. Each day I stand in front of my seniors I am faced with how our tissues age, how flexibility decreases and how our energy wanes. It’s a natural progression, the circle of Life.
And my dog, Leo, now nearly 13.5, was given 3-6 months to live and we are on month 6.
How do we stand bravely and courageously in front of our aging loved ones?
How does one not cower in the face of a body that can no longer run, a spirit at half-mast, and an increasing intimacy with mortality?
Something I’ve wrestled with is not over-focusing on the imminent transition. As I write this, my cells too are aging, just at a slower rate than Leo’s and he had a head start, being a dog. Instead of obsessing over what he used to be able to do, rewinding memories and iphone pics, I can slow down and observe where he is today.
I can walk at his pace, with many breaks, pausing to sniff the air and find steadiness. I can even find joy in these slow times.
It’s a big part of what I teach my students – meeting themselves on the mat where they are today. This today has nothing to do with what they did last week, how much they used to weigh 10 years ago, or the headstand they did when they were 20. In fact, none of that stuff in the past really exists.
The moment they step on their mat is entirely unreproduceable, and it’s never coming back again. So why not celebrate it?
The fear of death is the fear of an unknown that is steadily approaching, and cannot be controlled. The human ego naturally wants to order and control our circumstances, stamping out vagaries and uncertainty. And this fear, like all fears, create turbulence in the mind. Reactivity.
The goal of any spiritual practice, especially yoga and meditation, is to build EQUANIMITY OF THE MIND.
That doesn’t mean we don’t experience strong emotions – afterall, being fully awake means embracing both the peaks and valleys of our experience – but it means that our reactivity doesn’t destabilize us or knock us down permanently.
Recently, I had to face my extreme needle-phobia head on. The vet told me I needed to administer subcutaneous fluids (electrolytes) at home. I learned that this isn’t a life-saving measure, but rather one that will make Leo more comfortable as he transitions. When the vet told me this, I really couldn’t imagine how I would ever do this myself.
I pictured a razor-sharp needle piercing innocent flesh, and then my whole body went limp and I couldn’t think about it anymore. This was truly my worst nightmare.
I thought it about for 30 minutes, then called back to schedule the appointment.
I would go in, watch them do it, and ask them to teach me. If I couldn’t muster the courage, at least I could say I tried.
Within a couple of hours, I could see the immense difference it made in Leo. He was alert, engaged and energetic. His whole countenance changed from a creature knocking on death’s door, to a simply Old Dog.
The next day, I set up a comfortable space and turned on some relaxing music. Since then I have administered the sub-q fluids three more times, and will probably do it daily as long as it helps him.
I cannot tell you how empowering it is to face such an ingrained fear, and how perversely grateful I am that life gave me this chance to step up.
The sight of plastic tubing and needles around the house no longer fills me with an ominous dread. I accept that these are simply tools that help Leo be more comfortable. They don’t need to have any weighty significance.
If you have a debilitating fear that is preventing you from living your best life, be on the lookout for a chance to reverse it. You might be surprised at how good you feel afterwards.