Overcoming My Fear of the Ocean
Updated: Oct 30
"Let go girl", yelled the man who was all smiles while watching me 'white knuckling it' - clutching the ladder that was attached to the boat. I was 12 & my family was on vacation snorkeling off the coast of the Bahamas. This was a first for the whole family.
I looked toward the beach which was far away & back at our guide. "Did you see JAWS?" I asked. He laughed. "There's no sharks here girl! Put your face in the water and look for yourself! It's beautiful," he said. "Don't miss out!"
I swear I could hear the theme song to JAWS rippling out over the water as I dipped my head below the surface. The clear turquoise waters revealed magic beyond my wildest dreams! It was incredible the bejeweled fish & aquatic life there....but the feeling that a shark was somewhere watching and waiting for me to let go was too much. I climbed up the boat and waited for my family.
Last month I sat on the edge of another boat adjusting my mask and looking to Luis, our guide on the yoga adventure I was leading for The Travel Yogi in the Galapagos. He smiled at me. I had pulled him aside away from my students and told him about my oceanic fears. Not only was I afraid of what was physically there in the water...I was afraid of the unknown - subconsciously. My nightmares, since I was a kid, have been in the ocean. Open water. Nothing to hold on to! Facing my vulnerable fears of 'letting go.'
Luis looked at me. I told him I chose to lead this retreat to overcome my fear - and yes...in front of my students! I took a breath and looked at the water. One of the yogis dove in. "Do you need to go last?" he said in a low voice where only I could hear. We had been watching turtles swim underwater...and I was going to join them. "No!" I said, heart pounding & dove in behind yogi Claudia, an avid diver. If I didn't follow the 5-4-3-2-1 rule of just DOING IT, I would freeze!
I heard my breath immediately panting loudly under the water through the snorkel. It was so amplified like ujjayi yoga breath! My mask fell below my ear - I hadn't secured it! I choked on salt water and my mask fell off. I flailed above the water, panicking for a moment, and swam back to the boat. I hung onto Luis's legs as he adjusted my mask. I looked at him, gave him the thumbs up, determined to face my fear. This time I listened to my breath - my meditative anchor to calm my heart.
I chose to dive straight into my fear of open water. I listened to my oceanic yoga breath through the snorkel slowing and calming. I saw my self literally in the perceived fear experience. I saw myself being courageous. Using my breath I also chose to add the mantra: 'You got this baby.! Look at you! You got this!''
It may sound simple, but the breath & the mantra for my scared young self who saw JAWS at 7 years old began to release fear & truly take in the bejeweled magical scenery! I didn't run from her fear. I spoke to her & we did it together!
I stayed close to the boat at first, but as my breath and the sound of my breath began to deepen so did my courage. I swam alone in the clear water. I saw a fish in the distance & swam toward it. The light gray puffer fish saw me coming and turned to study me. I studied him! He was so cute. We floated together...two anxious beings learning to move through our fear. I was with him for quite a while before he swam away to hide. It was right then that I felt the 'let go.'
My body relaxed. I was different. The JAWS theme song never played...only my ujjayi breath reverberated through the water. Over the next two days the yogis & I snorkeled in stunning locations. I had magnificent experiences swimming with an eagle & diamond ray, star fish, a crazy seal, & parrot fish. I swam through schools of bright yellow surgeon & fish that looked like Nemo! I felt sinewy and brand new!
I had a magical experience on our last day swimming with a turtle. She stayed close to me and we swam for quite a while watching each other. We would come up for air & go back down swimming side by side. I will never forget the markings covering her body.
On the last day, I swam with Luis in choppy waters close to the reefs. And....it happened!!! "SHARK!" Luis yelled to me. He motioned to go under the water. I went with him and watched as he pointed to the sleek 15 foot white tip Galapagos shark. The shark watched us warily. Then there was another. And another. They kept their distance but swam around our group close to the reef.
Luis gave me a thumbs up. And kept swimming, pointing out fish. I wasn't afraid. I watched the sharks who watched me. They had a surprisingly regal air about them. Then I swam with Luis & the yogis across the bay. A male bull seal barreled through the group, which was the most intense energy we felt the whole trip. Swimming deeper out - we explored the ocean one last time.
It was that day that I realized I was a liar. I am almost 50. I never took the opportunity to jump into the ocean and confront my fear. My whole life I said I was afraid but it was total bullshit. I WAS A FREAKING MERMAID and didn't know it! I LOVED the ocean! I loved feeling so free in the water...even with a shark.
As I meditated on the plane, leaving Galapagos heading to Ecuador to begin the journey home I marveled at the light coming through the window. The Libra Solar Eclipse was happening while I was flying on the plane! A thought occurred to me right then...."What else am I lying about? What else do I say I am afraid of that is bullshit?!" I wonder.
Facing ones fears can be quite challenging, but also liberating! I heard someone give the definition of fear once: F - false E - evidence A - appearing R - real. If we let fear rule over our hearts, we might miss out on amazing things, like the discovery that one is a mermaid!
Never underestimate your courageous fearless heart!