On the Mountain's Edge: 5 Steps to Mindfully Master Fear
By Georgina Miranda, guest contributor
I have a little ritual when I climb literal mountains. I share this with you now, as many of us have been climbing metaphorical mountains of our own day to day in these uncertain times with new obstacles being presented in our work and life around every turn. It’s natural for fear to arise and we all have the power to overcome it. The key is to overcome or move past the fear, otherwise, we can find ourselves in a state of paralysis or heightened stress. From this place, it’s even harder to move forward and make sound decisions.
As I approach any climb, I look up to the mountain and ask her to be kind. She owes me nothing, after all, and really it is a gift to be able to enjoy time with her. From then onward it is one step after another until I reach the top. I have done this from local climbs in California, Washington State, and Colorado to when I climbed Mt. Everest and the highest peaks on each continent. It’s part of my process of arriving, getting present, acknowledging any fears, and then trusting myself and letting go of the outcome.
While it is easy to pinpoint fear as a negative, it has the opportunity to help us grow, learn new skills and habits, and gain more trust in ourselves. As a coach and consultant, I’ve seen a lot of leaders, entrepreneurs, and freelancers having to face their worst fears all at once during this pandemic. One of the biggest gifts climbing gave me was the gift of presence amidst fear and extremely challenging situations and environments. It's a challenge many of us are facing daily — to stay present while we cope and manage anxiety, fear, and the overall uncertainty in the world.
All photos courtesy of Georgina Miranda
Acknowledge the Fear
Awareness drives change. There is no sense in pretending you are not afraid if you actually are. Being able to acknowledge all of your fears will help you ultimately overcome and move past them. I often recommend people to write them all down. As in meditation, we are observers of what arises, but do not place focus on it. We take the same approach here.
There were two climbs in my life where I feared losing my life before I actually went on them due to the risk involved and previous history of the mountains. I took time to acknowledge the fear and make peace with it. I had a decision to make, either to let the fear stop me from trying, or be aware that there was some fear in me, yet I was willing to move forward and trust myself in the process.
How Can You See Things Differently
Just last week I caught myself in a precarious situation climbing a 14er in Colorado. In order to avoid a rockfall coming at me, I ended up a little off the route and in a situation with no protection, very few stable holds for my hands and feet, and a very big drop below me. My heart started racing, I felt flushed, and a thought came, “how am I going to get myself out of this?” The trick to getting to a safe place was to look at the situation differently. I had to immediately acknowledge my fear of the drop below me, but then shift my focus to a place of safety. I looked around for a better way through and to where I could reconnect with the route. I saw myself back on the route and through the situation and that was what I kept envisioning in my mind as I made my way.
How often are we caught in fearful situations and what we see is the fear playing out in every worse scenario? What if we could shift our focus and what we saw to what we actually wanted to happen? What if we could take a moment of pause and ask ourselves, “how can I see this differently?” You have now given your mind the opportunity to allow new creative solutions to flow in. You have also given yourself a moment of pause, which can promote a response versus a reaction to the situation at hand. Our response is always going to be more sound and powerful than a fearful reaction.
Focus on the Next Step and Breath
In mountaineering, there is something called “pressure breathing” and “rest stepping.” It was my first introduction to the power of breath in 2008, as I was experiencing altitude sickness while climbing Russia’s highest peak, Mt. Elbrus, standing over 18,000 feet. It would be the perfect combination of the two that would help my body adjust to increasing altitude and keep me centered and moving in a balanced, healthy fashion. The combination of this perfect duo can keep you going for hours on end with short breaks in between while climbing. It shifts your focus off the big challenge ahead to this breathing technique and allows you a mini-break every few steps by alleviating the weight and pressure off of one of your legs at a time. Breath management has power in the mountains not only to help manage the altitude, but also to manage your mind and keep you present. Another technique I usein tricky situations on the mountains and when fear sets in, as it did last week, is to start counting my breaths or steps. It immediately zaps the spiral of unhelpful thinking to focus on the present moment. I keep counting until I feel the fear subside and that usually happens naturally.
When facing massive metaphorical mountains and challenges in life, we can apply the same principle and shift our focus off the challenge or fear and to our breath and the next mini-step we can take forward in the situation. If your mind is flooding with harmful and anxious thoughts, I offer you this: sit, pause, close your eyes, and start connecting and counting your breaths. Count on the inhale for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, hold for 2, exhale for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Keep doing this until you feel a shift inside yourself. I use this technique of breath counts with clients before I provide a distant reiki healing session, before we start a one-on-one coaching session, before I start workshops, and before yoga. It allows people the opportunity to arrive and be present. It empowers them to know they do have control over their internal, despite the craziness that might be going on in the external. I like to share this technique, as it’s simple and available to us at any moment in everyday life.
Celebrate Little Victories—Just Be
Western culture has programmed us to focus on big wins and the art of doing. Yet the beauty of life lies in the art of being. As I mentioned, climbing gave me the gift of presence and with that came the early learnings of entering a state of being. Meditation was what really helped me fully grasp this concept. As we shift from fearful thinking to focusing on the present with each step, each breath, pausing and letting more responsive action flow through us, we start to get a glimmer of this state of being versus a race to do more to solve the problem. Here is our opportunity to celebrate every little victory over our fear. It keeps us in the present.
So if I make it through a scary section on a climb, I can take a deep breath, smile, and celebrate. No matter if it is not the summit, it’s a little victory of overcoming fear at that moment and making it a little further on my journey. We can do the same throughout our day as we navigate the unknowns being thrown at us. As we make it a little further that day, that week, that month, or this year, we can also acknowledge what we were able to overcome and celebrate our little wins. It will be a series of little wins that will help us through our big challenges.
Build a Practice
Staying present and controlling our internal takes practice. Be kind to yourself as you build your practice. Just like I train my body to climb, I actually train my mind more so. I practice meditation daily, yoga, and spend a lot of time in nature. I find ways to zap the spiral of thoughts that in many cases aren’t helpful in the long haul. The more we stray from the present, the more exhausted we become. We also go back to the routine of doing versus being and further from our flow state.
Never has there been a better time to build a healthy practice to control our internal mind and energy. It’s one of the most empowering things we can ever do for ourselves and it will help us to continue to navigate up and over the mountains life presents us. Our ability to be present and aware in the scariest and most stressful situations will also benefit everyone around us. Fear drives fear. Presence drives presence. Leaders today need to be present and aware and have their internal under control in order to make sound decisions from this place versus one of fear and scarcity.
In these uncertain times, remember you can control your internal self. The more you can remain in the present the more you will be able to navigate the challenges life throws your way. Your breath is power and you always have availability to it. You also have the opportunity to see each challenge with new eyes each moment. Let presence be the gift you give yourself today.
Georgina Miranda has helped people and companies transform for over a decade across the world. She is a social entrepreneur, adventure athlete, international speaker, writer, transformation coach, consultant, yogi, mindfulness and energy practitioner, activist, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. She partners with people and companies to enable transformation from the inside out by uncovering and connecting to their wild truth and brilliance.
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