When I was seventeen, I got the opportunity of a lifetime.
In the cold waters of the deep green Atlantic, in the quiet and all alone, I had the opportunity to meet Fear, and to choose what to do with Her.
My German relatives were taking their summer holidays to a small beach and harbor town, located in the northwestern part of Brittany, France. And I was the lucky, eldest American niece invited to tag along. And so, it was in the town of Audierne that I spent the summer, before my senior year in high school–and where I was initiated to Life, Fear, and the power of Focus.
The Girl Grows Up
I gave tight hugs to my parents at the airport, solemnly promised to practice my German, and was off on my European adventure.
My French vacation had all the makings of a coming-of-age novel. There was the romantic intrigue of the small, centuries-old village, with the cobbled streets and old merchant buildings, and all the history I imagined they held, mixed with evenings out with my cousin to the local disco and pub, where we pulled puffs off Italian cigarettes, tried swigs of French beer, and stole shy dances with handsome European boys.
In the daytime, there were beach outings with the smaller cousins, and impromptu bumpy road trips with the older ones, as we crammed ourselves into a small Red Renault with a surfboard strapped to the top, on the search for the perfect wave for the bigger boys.
Finally at the end of our days, we would all gather again with sun-kissed faces, around hearty steaming dishes, freshly baked breads, bubbling conversations, and raucous family laughter. I recall feeling happy, independent, and even somewhat grown up as I focused on these new and exciting experiences.
And when my uncle offered to treat me to windsurfing lessons during our last week of vacation, I didn’t think life could get any better.
The art of windsurfing came slowly for me at first. There was a lot of set-up involved and technical aspects to remember. The wetsuit was new and cumbersome, but I learned to appreciate how it protected me from the Atlantic chill.
Lesson days, in the shallow bay, passed quickly. I didn’t seem to make much progress, and my eyes would always seek refuge towards the horizon. About a half-mile or more away, out into the ocean, I could make out what appeared to be a golden brown line. My untrained ocean eye fortuitously wondered what that golden brown water could be.
On the last lesson day–whether the practice had paid off, or because the stars were aligned–I found myself standing firmly on the windsurfing board, flipping the sail back and forth as I chose, like it was second nature. The windsurfing instructor gave me the universal thumbs up from shore, as I found myself whizzing along the waves.
With a mile-wide smile and a “Yeehaw” to the wind, I contentedly stretched into the strength of my back muscles as I moved my body, intuitively balancing my weight against the powerful force of the wind. It felt thrilling to be my own master, and I felt accomplished as I maneuvered my sail and my board easily through the waves.
Even as the waves became choppier, I leaned back confidently, feeling as if the board, the sail, and I were one entity.
Fear Steps In
Sometimes it’s when we are feeling our best, even when things are going smoothly, that Fear sneakily creeps up and disrupts our focus.
I happened to glance towards the shore, and I realized with a shock how far away I was. I could barely make out the white shirt of the instructor on the shore, and I realized that the busy sounds of beach and harbor life had gone completely mute.
Except for the lapping and splashing of the waves, I was in utter quiet.
Fear began to knock on my door, so I opened the latch.
Then everything happened all at once. I looked down. In a second I realized I had windsurfed myself all the way out to the golden brown mystery waters. The mystery waters revealed themselves to be a vast expanse of kelp. As I looked around me, I could not see where it began or where it ended.
Fear knocked louder, so I opened the door.
Then I noticed that this was not even a typical kelp bed. This kelp, which my windsurfing board was now slowly gliding over, were the enormous, wavy, leafy tops of massive kelp trees. I could see huge tree-trunk size stalks coming up from the black depths of the ocean and ending in thousands of kelp leaves. I had windsurfed myself atop a gigantic Atlantic kelp forest. And by the looks of it, I was right in the heart of it.
Fear pounded even harder, so I threw the door wide open, and in she strode.
The kelp forest with all of its unknown teeming life beneath it, unequivocally a marine biologist’s dream, was a nightmare for my seventeen year-old self. “Holy crap, I am so far out from land! What just moved!? The kelp, a fish, an animal? The kelp looks alive! What creatures live in these kelp forests anyway? There could be anything down there. How could I have not noticed this until now!? Does anyone know I’m even out here? Oh my God, how am I ever going to get back?!”
Fear was towering and bold and took up the whole space. And then like loyal servants, her Manifestations came right in, on the heels of her sharp stilettos.
In a single moment, every drop of my spunk, vigor, and strength drained from my being. My feet no longer felt stable. I felt awkward and uncoordinated. I could not control my board. And so, into the giant kelp forest I went. With a splash.
I could feel the heaviness of the large slimy leaves wrapping around my body. I was poised to panic.
And then, a thought occurred to me.
“It’s only kelp for Godsakes! You were fine before you focused on freaking out. You were fine before you focused on Fear. Focus on SOMETHING ELSE please!”
So I changed up my focus.
And I focused on rescuing myself.
I concentrated on getting untangled and onto my board, and steadied. I focused on my confident, capable windsurfing self.
And as I released my focus on Fear, her power slipped away. She seemed to shrink and fade. I even thanked her for the lesson. And then she vanished altogether.
I windsurfed my way back to the shore.
Things to remember about Fear and Focus:
It is part of our natural human journey to experience fear.
Acknowledge your fear, and even let it in.
Once you acknowledge your fear, pay attention. You may be ready to shift your focus.
Your focus, creates your reality.
Your focus is your power.
Focus on the solution; focus on your dreams; focus on where you want to be.
Remember that where you keep your sight, your focus, your vision is where you will go.
Where will you choose to direct your focus today?