Mastering a Fear



I read a wonderful quote some years ago to the effect that being courageous isn't being without fear - being courageous is being afraid and doing it anyway.  It has often helped to motivate me when I have been afraid - from conversations with scary people to dealing with unleashed barking dogs or leaping into the Victoria Falls.   I think that doing something we are afraid of every now and then is a good way to grow emotionally - and surprise,  I 'enjoy' being terrified on occasion.

I finally ‘mastered’ scuba diving about 4 years ago, having and expensively tried several times before, but I always panicked and had to stop.   My Beloved and I were on a cruise for 8 days in the Great Barrier Reef and there was only me and one other man who wanted to try scuba diving.   The sea had been like glass until yesterday, so Matt the instructor informed us, and it should continue.   As luck would have it, when we got into the sea, it was raining and cold and the sea was very rough - the other student decided it against it. 


I was determined to ‘get it’ in the seven days, especially as I had the dive instructor all to myself.  We did lots of training on the boat, getting the tanks on and off, learnt how to get in and out of the boat, using the flippers, hand signals and practicing breathing.   Even so, when I stopped shaking enough to swim out to the floating ‘thing’ with him, amongst some very big waves - I was on the verge of tears and terrified, pleading to go back.   Unfortunately, I had forewarned him of this in our many conversations, and he wasn't going to give up on me.  He knew I was a life coach, and he lifted his mask and eyeballed me and said a version of what I say to my clients “Are you REALLY going to master this?  Is that what you REALLY want?  Or are you going to chicken out again?  You told me you wanted this!   We're going down!  Are you ready?” – and with that I put the mouthpiece in, and down I went.  I clung to him like a limpid, and would have given in to tears had I known how to breathe and cry underwater at the same time.   It was excruciating.   Several times I panicked and gesticulated “up” – each time he shook his head, held my hand, and swam on.   My head felt it was exploding and I hated the man, but I persevered.  It was the longest 15 minutes of my life. 


I felt good afterwards.  It was an undignified return to the boat with all the passengers and some of the crew lined up to observe my humiliation.  Even with assistance, I flopped about like a beached whale getting back on board.  I was so thoroughly exhausted that I could not stand upright with the weight of the tanks which were almost as big as me, so someone held them up so I didn't fall over.  I did not know how to walk with flippers, my hair hung over my mask, which had made deep impressions on my face.  Everybody smiled in sympathy and a couple of people clapped.  As The Only Elderly Dive Student I was a celebrity and even managed a bit of a swagger once 'de-tanked'.


I slept like a log.  Unbelievably, I put myself through the tortuous process the next day and did it again, and the next and the next.  For the last three days I was off swimming on my own, and was getting into trouble from Matt for diving too deep and going too far without him.   I swam through underwater tunnels and caves, I sat with a million multi coloured fish around my body, I wedged myself on the floor next to manta rays, floated by sea snakes and saw colours and plants I never saw before.   I discovered a whole new world down there, and time slipped by so quickly.  Every day I stayed down a bit longer, and my longest dive was 45 minutes.  I felt such satisfaction and pride in what I was accomplishing. 


And then on the last day, something amazing happened, which I only grasped the full wonder of later.   Swimming by myself in an upward direction  after deep dive to the bottom of a coral cove, the sunlight playing on the ocean above me - suddenly someone opened a bottle of pink champagne in front of me!   At least that's what it looked like.  I stopped and paddled water.  It seemed to last forever, an eruption of pink bubbles, like confetti, bursting towards the sunlight, thousands and thousands of them.  I was mesmerised.  I could not see Matt to show him this incredibly beautiful vision, and did not want to leave it.   It lasted only a few minutes, but I was teary eyed with the glory of what I had just witnessed.


When we got back to the boat, I told Matt and the marine biologist, who looked at me quizzically, shaking his head, and said  “Are you sure? Tell me what you saw again”.  I told him in again in greater detail.   His face split in a huge grin, and whooped with delight!   "Really??” he shouted.   I was getting his excitement and the importance of this occurrence by now, and shouted back “Yes REALLY!”  He said I had just seen a very very rare spectacle of CORAL SPAWNING!!!   He told me of a photographer they took out for several times a week for two years who had hoped on each occasion to film this remarkable happening – and had never managed to see it.  Neither had the marine biologist, the dive master, the captain, nor any of the crew on board ship.   He raced off make contact with land to tell them of the precise location of what I had just seen.  I had no photos but had just witnessed a rare and remarkable event, a cycle of nature, and my heart pounded with excitement.


I floated on air for a couple of days, and congratulated myself for persevering.  I was so thankful to Matt for not giving up on me, for his generosity and his patience -  I remembered actively loathing the man for doing just that.  I wrote him a card of acknowledgement which made him beam.


And I discovered yet again that mastering our fears often produces unexpected and miraculous outcomes, and I feel so grateful.



Sandra Groom1 Comment