Ours is a culture dominated by fear. We fear terrorists. We fear not having a job. We fear not having enough money for retirement or to send our children to good schools. We fear losing our health insurance. We fear being homeless. We fear physical harm, injury and of course, death. Many of the decisions we make are based on fear, rather than passion, pleasure, peace or personal fulfillment. But do we ever fear that our fear is holding us back from being our most happy and alive selves?
Every time I think I’ve stopped living my life in a fearful way, I find some new little thing that scares me to death. I was fearful of quitting a stable job years ago to pursue life as an artist and freelancer, but then I did it, and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences
I’ve ever had and continue to have. I was fearful of living alone in New York City, but I did it for 15 years, happily. I was fearful about making the still unconventional decision not to have children, but once I did, it was unbelievably freeing ( more on this subject later).
When I came to the Florida Keys, I discovered my latest fear I had failed to confront was snorkeling. I always thought seeing scary fish in aquariums was sufficiently adrenalin- producing. The idea of snorkeling conjured up images of face to face encounters with the most malevolent cast of characters–slimy jellyfish, toothy barracuda, man-eating sharks, giant stingrays. It didn’t seem worth going through this gauntlet of life-threatening sea monsters just to encounter a few pretty fish.
My first snorkeling trip was off of loo key off in Bahia Honda state park. It involved a 40 minute ride, about five miles out to the reef. I had thought there would only be seasoned snorkelers– scientists studying the reefs, or Jaques Cousteau types with professional gear and armed with encyclopedic knowledge of every fish in the sea.
But it turns out the crowd was considerably more diverse and full of novices. There’s something about seeing a bunch of four year olds trying on snorkel masks for the first time that makes you feel immediately ashamed of being terrified to get in the water.
Just to be on the safe side I grilled the resident met on board about every possible dangerous underwater scenario I’d encounter. For an additional measure of safety, I inflated the orange life vest so I would basically be snorkeling with a flotation device. In spite of all these safety precautions, I was still a complete wreck once we stopped and prepared to jump ship for what I perceived would be the longest hour and a half I would ever have to endure.
Any fear I felt immediately dissipated once I saw the reef. I felt as if I’d gone through a portal into an entirely different world. All around me a soft city of purple yellow and red coral undulated in crystal clear turquoise water, a color utterly intoxicating and surprising, only vaguely familiar from toothpaste commercials.
We saw an astonishing array of huge beautiful fish: angelfish, parrotfish, grouper, a green moray eel. When I saw the jellyfish floating alongside us, I tried to play it cool, but the five foot barracuda was another story. He had a villainous expression, beady eyes, and bared every one of his sinister looking teeth at me. My heart started to pound, and my flippers started to propel me towards the boat, and I nearly got out of the water. But thankfully, my husband squeezed my arm and gently pulled me back. He gave me the courage to keep swimming, past the barracuda, through to the other side of fear. It’s an exhilarating empowering place, and it’s where I always want to reside.