I must not fear.
Fear is the mindkiller.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
(Frank Herbert, Dune)
"We live in uncertain times" is a catchphrase that has been used quite a bit in recent times and that can induce feelings of anxiety in social creatures. An evolutionary survival mechanism, we are susceptible to warnings. Investigative journalism that used to rely on facts has been distorted into sensationalized reporting of events based on fear. Fear mongering, which offers no solutions.
Truly "uncertain" times are long gone, especially for those of us who won the geographic lottery of life. I can state with certainty that I will eat today, more than once, I am also certain that I will not be eaten. At least 3 billion people do not live with the certainty of a daily meal. I try not to worry about bad events that might happen to me until they do.
When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I went on a school trip organized by a teacher, who would be considered a mainstream environmentalist today. She convinced the school's authorities to allow us to go live with forest rangers, not quite set up to be a camp. For a week we lived in a cabin in the middle of a forest, without most of the comforts of modern civilization. We were taught how to identify animal tracks on the ground and tree species by bark and leaf.
Evenings were spent playing games or listening to ghost stories by flashlight or campfire. On the last evening that we were there, the ghost story was not read from a book, but told by my teacher. She told us of the history of the forest we were in and that there was a myth that a deranged mind was on the loose, who abducted children. Since this was the last night we were going to do something different. After the sun had set, we were driven to our destination and given instructions by one of the rangers, who told us that this was our final "test". This was the test: There was a path in the forest leading to a lake and we had to walk toward it. One by one. In the dark. Alone. Without a flashlight.
I watched with nervous excitement as my classmates were each sent along this path at timed 10 minute intervals. There was an equal amount of nervous laughter and bravado, someone started to cry and did not participate. Then it was my turn. I started walking. I could hear the cheering and joking as I left my class mates behind.
I was not scared. I was walking on a graveled path, I have never been scared of the dark and I was too old to believe in ghost stories. I expected that the scariest thing that would happened to me was one of my class mates popping out of the woods, yelling "boo."
I walked in complete darkness, not moon- or starlit, but pitch black darkness. After about 10 minutes, I noticed that I still could not see any lake nor could I hear any of the students that were ahead of me. I should have been able to hear them by now, I thought. It was not just dark, it was silent. I had heard the occasional twig crack, but no rustling in the undergrowth, no animal sounds. Forests aren't completely silent, even at night, are they? Had I walked off the path by accident? What if I had gotten lost? What if they had left without me and had not noticed? What if that story was not a myth and there really was a crazy bad guy? Where was the lake?
Fear. My mind was racing with "What Ifs", my eyes were wide, but I could not see a thing, my heart was pounding, but all I could hear were my own footsteps. I wanted to panic, I wanted to run and freeze at the same time. I wanted to be anywhere, but in this dark frightening forest. I thought of yelling so that someone could find me, but what if the bad guy heard me? What if I got so disoriented that I walked into a tree?
That made me laugh. I took a deep breath. I did not know it at the time, but I reasoned myself into calmness. My teacher would never let us come to harm. I remembered that I was disappointed when I discovered that there was no wildlife bigger than a rodent in the area. If anything did happen to me, my dad would mobilize the entire world to find me and my teacher would be in sooooo much trouble.
I am calm and calmed by nature. There was nothing to be scared of. Walking by myself in a forest in the middle of the night was cool. My parents would never let me do that. I actually ended up enjoying myself during the rest of this "test of courage". Eventually, I walked into a small clearing turned parking lot, where my teacher and my classmates waited quietly. She indicated that I should do the same. Instead of whispering we all mimed our experience to each other until everyone had arrived.
At the time, it was an exciting experience to be shared and told. As an adult, I am grateful for the profound and valuable lesson she taugt me that night. Don't believe in scary stories. Don't allow irrational fears to take over mind and reason. Knowledge is power, fear is not. No matter how frightening a situation appears to be, keep walking and just breathe.
Thank you for this precious and incredible gift, teacher.