A few weeks ago, I posted an article here entitled, “Facing Fear with Deliberate Awareness.” Yesterday, I had an experience that provided me with a little more insight into fear. So this follow-up article is not about the vague, unspecific fears we all must learn to eventually rise above, but the kind of fear that is specific, immediate, in your face, and potentially life threatening. Here’s what happened yesterday when I suddenly found myself looking at fear up-close and personal . . . eye to eye.
One of my favorite passions is fly-fishing. My grandfather taught me when I was very young, so I’ve been wading up and down mountain streams by myself since I can remember. So yesterday morning, I put on my leaky waders, grabbed my fly rod and creel, and walked upstream a half-mile or so. I had fished this stretch of the stream many times through the years and have never seen another person there. The closest house is a twenty-minute walk.
When I’m fly-fishing, my attention is reasonably one-pointed on the task at hand. It takes concentration to keep my eye on the floating fly bouncing through the ripples. It’s also necessary to watch the line floating on the water and watch for any movement that could indicate a strike on the wet fly bouncing on the rocks below the surface.
All this is going on while staying balanced in the stream. The rocks are slippery and uneven, and the current is often swift and deep. It’s great exercise and a study in coordination. Plus, I always loved the Zen aspect of keeping the attention in the present moment. Split-second timing is required to actually bring home supper.
This quick overview description of fly-fishing is offered to illustrate how and why tunnel vision happens to someone standing in the middle of a mountain stream with attention riveted on the moment.
That’s why I didn’t see the bear until he was way too close.
I was standing in the stream, close to the left bank. He came up behind me on the right bank. I caught his motion in my peripheral vision when he was right across the stream, even with me.
This is a small mountain stream, maybe twenty-five feet across and about two feet deep on average. Since I was wading in the stream, the bear was about twenty feet away when we made eye contact. Immediately, my body was flooded with an adrenaline rush. My mental clarity was taken up a notch, and time slowed down.
The first thought I had was the realization that he could be right on top of me in two splashing bounces. Two seconds, tops.
He looked right at me, raised up on his back legs and sniffed the air with an urgent intensity. He looked big. He stood tall, about six feet, muscular and stocky from constant feeding to prepare for his up-coming hibernation.
His healthy coat was a beautiful cinnamon color, which flashed in the sun.
Although his color was brown, his long snoot indicated he was a large “black” bear, rather than a grizzly.
I’m familiar with bears (and bear stories) from my fifteen years of living in the mountains of Alaska. I have seen many in the wild through the years, but this was the closest I’ve ever been to any bear in their natural habitat.
I know that bears are very unpredictable, and if “my” bear happened to be a mother bear with cubs nearby, I was in big trouble. Or if the bear had a fresh kill nearby, I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. All these things are flashing through my mind at light speed, as the bear is still upright, looking my way and sniffing the air aggressively.
Bears have poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell. I occurred to me that he now knew all about me, and also knew all about the three rainbow trout in my creel. I was also well aware of his voracious appetite, especially this time of year, before entering into hibernation.
Fortunately, he did not charge across the stream. He was likely full of berries and possibly deer, so the smell of fish must not have been that appealing to him at the moment. Since bears are connoisseurs of fresh fish, it was a major relief when he looked away momentarily and came down on all four legs. I breathed a sigh of relief.
In the excitement of the moment, my line had become entangled in brush, and I actually paused for a moment to try to untangle it. (I was still keeping one eye on the bear.) Then I realized what he was doing. Upstream about fifty feet was a wide and shallow part of the stream . . . an easy place to cross. He knew right where it was and proceeded to cross to “my” side of the stream at a good clip.
When he was in the middle of the stream, directly in front of me, he repeated his routine of standing tall on his back legs while looking my way and stiffing the air. He seemed re-energized by the new olfactory information. Suddenly he splashed down on all fours, and continued to cross the stream in a loping gait.
There was a large fallen tree, so the bear had to go around it to get to where I was. I knew we would be out of visual range for a few seconds. Of course, there was no way of knowing if he would go around the snag towards me or continue going upstream. I decided not to wait around to find out.
It was at this point that I gave up on my tangled line. I dropped my fly rod, removed the three trout from my creel, and threw them on the ground as a sacrificial appeasement.
The situation deserved its own custom made acronym for fear:
Feel Electrifying Adrenaline Racing
A split-second later, my body responded as I embraced the wisdom of one of the acronyms included in my previous article:
Fu*# Everything And Run!
Running was a calculated risk, since wild animals often chase whatever is running away from them. It’s a knee-jerk chase reflex — if something flees, it must be prey to pursue.
(As an aside, mountain lions have a strong chase instinct, so it’s best to stand your ground. Fan out your coat or your shirt and try to appear as large as possible. Your best bet is to try to stare then down. Don’t run.)
Since bears are so unpredictable, they may chase you and they may not. If they decide to chase you, run downhill if possible. Their front legs are shorter than their back legs and they are awkward and slow trying to run downhill. On level ground, they can run twenty-five miles per hour, so you won’t out-run a bear. If you can get up a tree in time, that may save you, depending on how crazy the bear is. He could climb after you or shake it, or try to knock it down.
If you ever find yourself in a close encounter with a bear, and he charges, it’s best to drop to the ground, roll into a tight ball (protecting your guts) and play dead. Remain motionless and hopefully he will lose interest and walk away (so you can clean your shorts and go home.)
All of this information crowded my mind as I hit the trail in what seemed like slow motion. I knew better than to focus my attention on worst-case scenarios. I certainly didn’t want to help manifest any of these “big bad bear stories” by my continued attention on them. If I was going to put the Law of Attraction to work, I wanted it to be working for me and not against me. So, I acknowledged the information as helpful reminders of the potential danger of the situation . . . and then deliberately changed the direction of my thoughts and imagined being at home . . . safely.
Bears are susceptible to loud noises, so you can often scare them off by making racket – striking pots and pans together, for instance. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any such noisemakers with me in the middle of the stream. Besides, it would have felt silly (and futile) yelling at the bear.
It would have been rude to interrupt him when he was checking me out so thoroughly with his nose high in the air. I was busy trying to smell like a friendly, enlightened human . . . and not like “lunch.”
If this were happening to St. Francis of Assisi, the air would be thick with fragrant, unconditional love. The bear would approach with a tender snort, to recline at his feet, and butterflies would flit about harmoniously.
That didn’t happen to me. (I still have a lot to learn.)
Safely back on my doorstep and out of breath, I could further appreciate the beauty of this wild creature, and the fact that there are still at least a few places on earth where they can be seen in their natural habitat. In the heat of the moment however, my adrenaline provided me with a certain urgency to not linger long enough to enjoy the butterflies or find out whether or not the bear was snorting tenderly.
Personal Development Benefits in the Real World
So, what does all this have to do with personal development or inspiration? What did I learn from the experience?
I learned that the kind of fear designed for pure self-preservation is still alive and well and functioning fine within me. My adrenaline is still very effective, and my fight-or-flight response is still top-notch. In fact, I remember marveling at how fast I was still able to run through the forest, even with soggy waders, oversized boots, and a flopping creel. (Not twenty-five miles an hour, but not bad for a fifty-five year old.)
The main gift I got from this experience has to do with awareness, deliberate choice of thoughts and consciously choosing to stay centered rather than succumbing to panic.
In those moments of perceived life-and death uncertainty, my awareness was keen and sharp. (Adrenaline helps.) I was present at every nano-second, watching the scene unfold before me, as if from a third-party viewpoint. I was watching the bear, and I was watching my body’s reaction to it, and I was watching my thoughts. I was able to maintain a degree of detachment from the situation while marveling at the wonder of it all. This kind of split-second attention kept me keenly alert and was a much more useful response than panic.
Panic is fear run amuck. When the bear and I first locked gazes, I experienced surprise and then fear along with the burst of adrenaline, but I did not allow the fear to run away with me. Instead, I chose to view it as an alert signal to be extremely vigilant and aware. Therefore, the fear was a momentary response to the potentially dangerous situation, and then the fear gave way (as it should) to more appropriate responses. Namely, calmness, clear-headed thinking, awareness of the present moment, and a sense of detachment that was effective in keeping any potential panic at bay.
I was not thinking about being brave or being a coward (even as I was sprinting along the forest trail.) I had already seen the undesirable pictures in my imagination and decided to focus my attention instead on the goal — being safe at home. There was no panic in my actions — I evaluated the situation and chose the response that appeared to hold the best chances for the outcome I desired.
Panic can make any touchy situation worse. All reason, patience and presence evaporates when panic takes over. I was pleased that the ideas discussed in the previous article about fear really helped me when I needed help most.
Happily Ever After
Here’s a real-life example of the pay-off of choosing a life of deliberate personal development: The ideas discussed in the previous article entitled “Facing Fear with Deliberate Awareness” really helped me.
How? Because I had deliberately thought about these things, I had come to terms with fear in my own way, in my own mind. I had already consciously explored the phenomenon of fear and knew where I stood. And that really helped me out there in the real world when yesterday I faced fear, eye to eye.
While reading, did you choose to hear the relaxing instrumental music linked at the beginning of this article? To learn more about it, click here.
Listen FREE to the songs below . . . chosen to enhance the ideas in this article.
I’m Goin’ Fishin‘
The zen of fly-fishing has always worked wonders for me to recharge and regenerate. This is a tribute to my grand-fater, who gave me a wonderful gift that has kept on giving for a lifetime.
Preacher and the Bear
Way of the World
A Million Miles Away
Songs by Tupelo
Facing Fear with Deliberate Awareness
Being Present through Sensuality
Reverence of Life Through Nature
The Law of Attraction
Articles by Tupelo
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