Take 60 seconds and write down the peak moments in your life. Chris Guillebeau, on whose excellent blog that suggestion came defines a peak moment:-
… as a fixed point in time that has strong, positive memories. You summited the mountain! You achieved something monumental! Things will be different now.
Apart from the obvious landmarks, like getting married or having children, most peak moments are time when we stepped well out of our comfort zone. I wrote about one of my peak moments (although I didn’t label it as such at the time) when swimming beneath the Azure Window in Gozo a couple of years ago.
If you do the exercise, how many peak moments were accompanied at some point by strong feelings of anxiety or even fear? I can report from memory, 25 years on, that getting married generates much anxiety for the main participants!
Lets Scare Ourselves
As I write this we approach Halloween and there is the usual glut of horror films on TV. Personally I’ve never enjoyed the genre; likewise I’ve never enjoyed the adrenaline rush people get from riding roller coasters.
But just as our peak moments lead to extra adrenaline pumping around our body, as we prepare to fight or flight from danger, we do seek it as well by deliberately submitting ourselves to fear and terror.
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. … I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Fear can be fun. Being scared can give us an amazing high. Its a way of jolting ourselves out of our ordinary world and living on the edge. Whilst the likes of Chris Guillebeau have organised their lives to seek adventure, most of us don’t. To feel more alive we need to use more mundane methods to generate these more intense feelings.
Lets Scare the Children
As a side note, its interesting that we generally encourage children to embrace these scary moments – not that they need much encouragement! Rides at fairgrounds cater for all ages, many children’s stories have plot lines that seem to have been borrowed from horror films.
Or should that be the other way round? Charlie Higson in the Times 29.10.10 (sorry, no link available) writes
So many fairy tales are based around this idea of monstrous adults trying to devour plucky children. Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel…(And if that’s not a classic horror film set up what is? The mysterious house in the woods, the seemingly kindly person who turns out to be deranged. This is Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre….)
Charlie also gives an interesting argument that Snow White is a pretty effective horror film for children! But I digress…
Fear of Heights
So fear isn’t just something that, as in the case of Tony Blair, can dominate our lives in a very negative way. We also seek it and use the same body physiology to have peak experiences. Can we somehow combine these two extremes?
I enjoyed reading Tyler Tervooren have a go at curing his fear of heights in The Fastest Way to Cure a Fear. His solution was jumping out of an aircraft at 11,000 feet. I’ve no particular fear of heights myself, but that is an experience I’m not looking to copy!
What was most telling was his conclusion:-
And I didn’t “conquer” my fear – I’m still afraid of heights – but I did confront it. I proved to myself that my fear is irrational and even though I still feel it, I can work around it. Getting on a ladder won’t be nearly as scary anymore.
Is our fear of heights irrational? Even falling from a ladder can result in serious injury. I know if I chose to step out of an aircraft the way Tyler did I would go through the same anxieties as him, although perhaps not as extreme.
For some people just being in an aircraft can induce fear. When we travelled home from holiday in Egypt last June the lady across the isle from me was being comforted by her family as we came into land. She was visibly shaking and gripped, I assumed, by a fear we were about to crash.
You can argue that a fear of flying is irrational as basically flying is statistically proven to be a safe way to travel. However, if your thinking dwells on flying itself being irrational – a large, heavy, tin box unsuspended thousands of feet up – then statistics won’t help.
Being in Control
When we sit to watch a horror film, when we strap ourselves into a roller coastline, or, like Tyler step out of an aircraft at 11,000 feet we are choosing to do so. All those gut wrenching moments in the video are done by choice – undoubtedly after much practice in less scary situations. Whilst we don’t know for sure what will happen or how we will feel, there is an element of control in what is happening.
What is different about Tony Blairs fears are they largely revolve around the reaction to him of other people. However well prepared, he cannot control what happens next. And his fear isn’t irrational – he has chosen a profession where even those supposedly on his side will put the boot in at any opportunity!
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on whether trying to rationalise a fear is workable, and to what extent you submit yourself to fear. Do you watch horror films or ride roller-coasters? Most importantly, how do experience being alive?
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