“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” ~Rumi
This summer, I drove up Highway 5 from Los Angeles on my way to Grass Valley to visit my friend Carol, a painting teacher, for a week of painting in her studio. I can’t remember the last time I hit the road on my own for an eight-hour drive to nature.
I forgot what it was like to crank up the stereo listening to old tunes, straining my vocal cords to and singing full voice off key.
On my right, I saw semi trucks making deliveries from central California farms. I watched onion peels from the truck beds flit through the air like white winged butterflies. I saw tons of bright yellow lemons piled high, Italian tomatoes toppling onto one another, and potted trees tacked down by enormous tarps waving through the speeding air.
Passing Sacramento and getting off on Highway 49, I found myself driving on a straight two- lane road lined by dense tall cedar trees, into what seemed to be like the center of the earth. Carol calls this the “channel.” Hardly a store, restaurant, or gas station around. I couldn’t help but question my friend’s sudden move into such isolation.
Our plan was to go deep into the painting process, just the two of us, and I was excited for the immersion. Because of the heat, Carol said we’d paint in the morning and the evening, but in the afternoon we would hike to cool down in the Yuba River.
I’ve been a city girl for far too long and was embarrassed by my trepidation to go into the river.
I remember when I was nine swimming across the Mississippi headwaters at Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota. I also remember the picture of me on my Mother’s desk—I was five, at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma, stripped of all my clothes and crouching in the running cascades over river rocks, with arms held wide into the air.
I brought my bathing suit with me but Carol said I wouldn’t need it—it was Northern California after all.
“Naked?” I yelped.
“Yes, silly! No one but us will be there.”
“Have you seen River Monsters on the Discovery Channel? You would be shocked to see what ginormous prehistoric animals live in the river!”
“In the Amazons!” She laughed. “I’m going to make sure we go to the river every day while you are here.”
For years, Carol was always the one to be there to help me through my fears, while holding such a safe container of love and strength while I faced my blocks with painting. Yet, swimming in water is one of my biggest fears—not just rivers, but oceans, lakes and even swimming pools. Damn that Steven Spielberg!
The first night there, sitting on Carol’s front porch we talked late into the night, telling stories and catching up. I asked her if she was the one that came up with the metaphor of how creativity is like a river.
“It’s an old standard,” she said. But it was from her where I first learned it.
When we dare to create it’s like we are in a river. It takes us with it, through rapid currents, streams, and still slow moving pools, past boulders and leading us to the Great Big Sea. Always liking to be near the water but never in it, this metaphor is particularly profound to me.
It reminds me to move past my fears to just jump in, naked and raw. It reminds me of the uninhibited child in me who was open and vulnerable without knowing there was anything to fear at all.
This is why I look for the creativity in all that I do—this river that guides me and takes me along with its strong currents that push me through my blocks.
Here are 5 ways to step through your fear and join the river:
1. Get naked.
Truth be told, I wore my one-piece suit to the river. I was glad because there were actually a lot of people there. But I like the metaphor of getting naked when we meet our fear.
The idea is to take it off—the story of the fear that keeps us from meeting ourselves fully in the moment—to just drop all of it and expose ourselves.
It’s only a thought form after all, and as the old adage goes: “What we fear most is fear itself.” When we drop the story we build up around our fear and meet the present where we are now, we open ourselves to new experiences and allow the river to take us.
2. Jump in.
I admit it—I was nervous! I acted like a schoolgirl when it was time to get in. But I had something to prove to myself (and to Carol), and I knew the only way I could really overcome my fear was to just jump in.
I waded into the shallow end; my goodness, the snowmelt from the Sierras was cold! And a sweet little girl, maybe 10 years old, standing waist high in the running water firmly coached me, “Yeah, I know it’s cold. What you have to do is put your whole head under the water. Then it won’t be cold any longer!”
Who was the adult here? I called on the fearlessness of my own ten year old and lowered my head in.
It’s really that simple, just jumping in. When we do this while facing our fears, our lives are changed forever.
Sure, I dog paddled with a little squeal across the deep end of the river’s pool to join Carol on the other side. But once I got to the river’s edge to lie in the sun, feet playing with the cascading water, I felt remarkably accomplished.
The goal is to meet our creative depths and swim, and if a trout passes by and tickles our ankle then all the better!
4. Get dirty
The next day I looked forward to our afternoon outing to the river, this time swimming out to the middle of a clear pea green pool.
We held onto the top of a large granite rock, half of our bodies dangling off, and gently paddled our legs with the soft current as we talked for an hour. I was no longer afraid. (Only once did I look under the boulder for a river monster…)
I could feel the sand kicking up between my toes. My wet hair was pleasantly grungy, and my skin felt surprisingly silky from the minerals in the water. I was meeting the earth with presence.
With everything we do, any fear we meet face on, the trick is to let go into the wild abandon and meet whatever arises with presence, even if it means getting a little dirty.
5. Relish in the delight of it all.
What we get from meeting our fears is 100% freedom. The rush, the excitement, the pleasure this brings is worth it all.
Whatever that thing is that makes you afraid, it’s asking you to meet it only because it knows the incredible bliss that will come with it.
So let’s get free together by remembering that true freedom comes when we go with the river and relish in the delight of it all.
Photo by pdejordy