Author: Sarah Andrews (@atxsarah)
In the U.S., where I live, there are a few things that I typically avoid. Things like undomesticated animals, remote forests, and dizzying heights, just to name a few.
In 2008, before embarking on a trip to Nepal, I spent many sleepless nights worrying about the steep trails I might or might not fall off of, the monkeys that might or might not attack me, the woods I might or might not get lost in. But after spending three weeks exploring Nepal’s beautiful scenery, I came away feeling much stronger about my ability to adapt to new and initially scary situations.
Here are a few lessons Nepal taught me about overcoming fear.
1. Crowds – I abhor really large gatherings of people. At concerts, you can usually find me in the nosebleed section, grooving solo to the tunes via JumboTron. Once, at a major festival, a friend asked if I wanted to get closer to the stage so we could actually see the bands in person. I looked at her in horror and replied, “Oh God, no.” But traveling in Asia (and this isn’t specific to just Nepal), I came face to face with a whole new concept of personal space. At first the lack of things like lines and lanes sent me into a small panic. But one day, as I was riding a standing-room-only bus, my cheek pressed firmly into the ceiling, I caught myself feeling … calm. Busy watching for my stop, I forgot to worry about asphyxiation or whether the other passengers would breathe up all the air.
Lesson: Focusing your attention away from your fears, even for a few seconds, can do a lot to help dissipate them. Don’t feed the fear and it might just go away.
2. Undomesticated Animals – Once I had to drop off lunch for an elderly woman who was unable to get off her couch. When I approached the screen door, she told me to come in and put the meal down on her coffee table. Easy enough, I thought. But as I reached for the door handle, I noticed something moving across the floor and froze. Several chickens were strutting around the living room, inches from where I was standing. I like the idea of birds, and I enjoy seeing them in paintings and photographs. But in real life, being in enclosed spaces with them puts me on edge. It took a couple minutes, a lot of guilt, and a few admonishments (in both English and Spanish) from the woman, before I found the will to fling the door open, race in, drop the food on the coffee table, and then flee the house as if on fire.
At first in Nepal, the constant parade of sheep, chickens, and mules meandering into my path and brushing up against my shoulders made me forget how to speak. But as I saw how confidently and deftly our Nepali guides handled the animals, I decided it was time to grow a pair. And by the end of the trip, I was shoving livestock out of the way with gusto.
Lesson: Sometimes you just have to grab the water buffalo by the horns, literally. Just acting confident can be very effective at making you feel confident.
3. Isolated Areas – If asked a couple of years ago whether I would rather sleep in a subway station in New York City or alone in the woods, I would have picked the subway station without hesitation. Give me the threat of an armed robbery over the lone sound of my breath any day. It’s not so much that I have an aversion to peace and quiet. It’s more like that old saying – If a Sarah fell in the woods, would anyone hear it (and come to her rescue before she’s descended upon by wolves?) But while trekking and living in remote areas of Nepal, I started to realize how amazing and precious it is to be in peaceful, untouched places.
After the initial paranoia of all the things that could happen wore off, I began to relish being able to walk down a dirt path and see nothing but natural beauty all around me. Clearly, travelers should be safe and smart about their journeys, taking precautions, planning well, and not going off to isolated places completely on their own. But urban minded folks should also know that there is great joy to be found outside the hustle and bustle of the cities.
Lesson: There is strength in silence. Quieting your mind and environment and making time for reflection teaches us that there is so much less to worry about than the busy world tells us.