I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
In a great gift to myself during holiday time away from the Findhorn Foundation community, I signed up for a vision quest with two major objectives: to reconfirm my vows to Mother Earth and to confront my demons, facing my darkest fears.
Why, I wondered, had I recently suffered some severe asthma attacks, one of which scared me enough to visit a local Scottish hospital where I was put on a ventilator machine to assist my shallow, laboured breathing.
Rather than medicating the symptoms, I decided I needed to explore the underlying causes for my breathing challenges and a claustrophobia that had always made it uncomfortable to be in any confined space – even my snug-fitting sleeping bag!I expected to examine these secret fears during the four days and nights of solo time in the wilderness that are at the heart of most modern 11-day vision quests. Instead, in what seemed like a flash of inspiration to me, it was suggested that before our departure from Cape Town for the mountains, I bury myself in the sand on the neighbouring Fish Hoek beach adjoining the home of facilitators Judy Bekker and Valerie Morris.
Other questers were invited to engage in individual tasks ranging from finding the fun again by playing games on the beach, creating an artwork from driftwood, shells or even litter, or perhaps climbing a tree in the local park to gain a different perspective on life.
Instead of a bit of childlike playfulness, my assignment triggered considerable anxiety and the clear realisation that I couldn't do this alone. I invited Simone Dale, a charismatic 34-year-old facilitator-in-training and leadership development coach, to help bury me and then hopefully assist in exhuming me from the Earth.I felt rising panic as she packed the sand tightly around me, compressing it firmly enough to totally restrict movement of my limbs, while still allowing me space to take shallow breaths. Only my head projected from the sand and it was buffeted by a fresh wind that sent sand flying, clogging my ears and nostrils and getting into my mouth. Calling on my meditative experiences, I invited calm and the help of Mother Earth and the natural world to provide insights and possible solutions.
Simone was also reassuring: "I'll be nearby, if you need me." I'd shown her how my asthma pump worked and closed my eyes, handing over to a trust and faith that had deepened during my time at Findhorn.
Gradually a great peace spread over me, like a comforting blanket, and four significant childhood memories flooded my awareness.
My first asthma attacks had coincided with my time at nursery school in Durban when I was punished for being too talkative, the teacher taping my mouth over each morning and forcing me to sit still and watch while the other children played. It was cruel and excruciating.
Then there were three potentially life-threatening incidents in water. In one, my delight at grabbing at an octopus in the shallows turned to fear when it wrapped tentacles tightly around my arm and retreated deeper into a rocky lair. Moments after calling out to my Dad that I'd caught an octopus, I realised to my horror that the reverse was true and I couldn't prise myself free.
Perhaps more scary was the time I stepped onto a slick, muddy surface, not realising that a river flowed beneath it. I immediately sank and was sucked relentlessly towards and through a pipe that channelled the flow beneath a road bridge. Powerless to resist, I found myself being suctioned through a dark world devoid of any airspace.
But more was to come. On another occasion I was in the surf and was pulled relentlessly down and out to sea by a treacherous current. I kicked and clawed desperately for the surface, but to no avail, until a great peace began to overtake me. The transition from panic to peace was a totally beautiful otherworldly experience. I was drowning but why had I imagined this would be something terrifying?
Once again my Dad the Hero came to the rescue and strong hands lifted me from the ocean, coughing and spluttering while lamenting my departure from that magnificent place of love and peace. I'd liked it there!Fast-forward to Cape Town a few days ago and I became aware that I was indeed one with the Earth and all life, feeling calm and connected while noticing a pulsing and a series of contractions through my body. It reminded me of a loving massage and I decided the slow, steady rhythm was the heartbeat of Mother Earth herself. What a blessing!
All fears around my predicament had evaporated and I decided that if ever I was in a place of terror and confinement again, or perhaps facing the ultimate transition from this life to the next, I had only to remember that near-drowning experience and the wonderful peace that had enveloped me then.
Nature had worked her magic – I felt refreshingly light and bright as a smile tugged at my lips and I cheerfully called out to Simone: "I'm done! Can you please help me out of here."