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Face Your Fears 2: Heights

Posted by _Only , 01 July 2013 · 631 views

Hi, this is me, _Only (on the right).

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Well, that was me quite a few years ago. I've grown up a lot since then, but have come to realize in my current years that I live life in constant fear. Whether it be taking the chance to pursue my non mundane dreams and aspirations due to failure or embarrassment, worrying if I will make a mistake that will cause me to be fired at work, or what the guy/girl next to me thinks about my jeans, I live in fear almost constantly.

Unfortunately, this is normal for us human beings, and there is just as much opportunity for learning and overcoming in fear as there is opportunity for misery and self oppression. As I now understand that so much of our lives are ruled by fear, I have also seen that there is great chance for self discovery and growth by facing my fears, and learning from the results.

That is the purpose of this blog. Me facing a fear I have in each installment, hoping to learn from the results (be they good, bad, or ugly), and hopefully applying this new knowledge of myself to other potentially fear based aspects or experiences in my life. I'd like to think that maybe at least one other could learn from my experiences, too.

So here is Chapter 2 of Face Your Fears: Heights.

The fear of heights is a mainly rational one, and one of the more common fears we have as humans. Though there are some  with extreme fear of heights, acrophobia, most of us are not at such an extreme paralyzing level of fear that we can't climb a step ladder. However, we often find that the higher we go from our usual ground dwelling, most of us get increasingly aware of our chance to have an accident, and build fear. A normal healthy fear of heights can be helpful to keep you being careful. However, fear can start to become unhealthy and even lead to negative consequences, if it builds too high. Examples of this can happen with a fear of heights: looking down can cause you to lose your balance where you stand, make you think you aren't as safe as you are, and even make you imagine yourself in situations where you have fallen. This tends to make a personnot able to move or act as smoothly as they normally are able to do, and causes them to cling in fear to a spot, unable to move as freely as usual.

This is me to a lesser degree, in experiences of greater heights. I have never considered myself having a phobia of heights, but I have decided after years of experience with myself, that my level of fear at sizable heights borders in the unhealthy range. Looking down, I do lose my usual sense of balance, get scary intrusive thoughts of falling in different ways, and find myself freezing up a bit, fighting my mind. An example of this was climbing large sets of metal grated stairs on the side of a refinery leading up to a higher level. I found myself clinging to the railing, shakily walking up slowly, while others climbed up with carefree ease. I've always been bothered by this aspect of myself, and wondered if I'd be like this my whole life.

Moving on, I recently was ready to take a vacation somewhere, as I had a week of paid vacation off of work. Unsure of where to go exactly, I happened to see a TV commercial for vacationing in Utah, noticed Zion National Park being mentioned, and remembered at what an awesome place it is (never actually being there myself, however). After doing some research online, I found some really cool stuff to do there, and was getting excited about taking a trip there for my vacation. But it was with a bit of further reading that I found what would be the main reason for my trip, and the main reason for this installment of Face Your Fears.

I read about Angels Landing.

Angels Landing is a large monolith in the Zion Canyon, that has become a famous hike for adventure seekers. The main reason for its draw is its towering height, location in seeing the landscape of the canyon on top, but most importantly its danger level. The hike to the top of Angels Landing is not your normal hike. It starts at the bottom slightly uphill by the Virgin River, and then gets steeper as you start to climb the canyon. Here views get more dramatic and scary, but it is the last half mile of the trip that is what makes the hike so famous. At this point, you start up the last section of the monolith, where in nearly every section one false step could send you dipping to your inevitable death, 800-1,000 feet below. Metal poles with chains have been installed in sections to aid your protection, but apart from that, there is no other safety from accident other than your own responsibility and care. It is this dangerous and adventurous aspect of the hike that draws countless people each day to come test themselves in reaching the top.

I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

Keeping in mind that I had recently come to start to notice my fears in life, was trying to find ways to learn more about them, and potentially overcome them, I could think of no better reason to drive 7-800 miles to this beautiful park. I was going to test myself, to learn about myself.

So apart from deciding other cool things to do/places to go on my vacation, the main reason was to head out to Angels Landing, and give every effort and will I had to make it to the top. I understood that if I got too shaky and my fear took over, I would have to turn back, but I was willing to give my best. The more I read about Angels Landing and pictures/videos I saw, the more I wondered how I would possibly do something like this, but I was determined. As the day drew nearer, my excitement built.

Finally, it was a couple weeks before my trip.

Then a week.

A few days.

The next day.

On the road.

In Utah.

In Zion park.

On the shuttle.

On the hike.

Standing under Angels Landing.

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I was so determined at this point, that I was willing to walk through any fear that I had to make it to the top. Looking up at the monolith, I was surprised that I wasn't more fearful of what I was about to climb. I was confident, and headed on.

A helpful distraction to that constant uneasy feeling I still had, though, was the beautiful scenery. I found myself stopping many times along the way to snap photos.

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But I constantly had the knowledge in the back of my mind that I was in for a less than usual hike. Views such as that below helped this stay fresh in my mind.

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As I made my way up increasingly steep paved switchbacks, I passed many going up and down. I heard some odd sounding moaning up ahead of me. As I got nearer, I realized it was a young boy on his dad's shoulders. He seemed to be not enjoying his trip, and when others passed by smiling, the dad let them know that the two took this trip every year.

"He always cries, but each year we get a bit farther before turning back."

This actually helped quench my fear a bit more than raise it, maybe only for the fact that the sight and sound of this boy constantly moaning on his trip up to Scout's Lookout (the beginning of the real danger) made me smile like the others. I likely felt a bit of a bond and comfort knowing there was someone else scared.

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Here is a shot of what the last part of the first half of my hike looked like from afar. This was the first steep ascent, but was on a somewhat wide paved path.

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After this section was a section known as 'Walter's Wiggles' a 21 set of steep zigzags, leading to 'Scout's Lookout', the last rest stop before making the plunge into the dangerous last section of Angels Landing, and also the stopping point for many, choosing to sit and let their friends/family go the rest of the way, or turning back.

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(continued post 2)

I was feeling good about this, but decided it was fitting to sit down a second, close my eyes, and prepare a few seconds before heading up the last section. This done, I walked past the people waiting nearby, the squirrels and chipmunks scurrying by looking for free snacks, and made my way to the starting point of 'the chains'.

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I informed the guy behind me waiting to go ahead in front, as I had a fear of heights and probably would slow him down. He smiled saying okay, and gave me encouraging words as I followed up behind them.

"See, it's not so bad. Just use the footholes."

I was actually pleasantly surprised that he was right. It wasn't so bad as I had imagined. This was actually pretty easy.

But it was when I noticed a few hikers coming down that soon my first real feeling of fear would set in. The hiking path of these last parts of Angels Landing were only fit for one direction of traffic flow, meaning it would have to be decided by the hikers who would go if people met at opposite ends of a section. I read that going down was a scarier route and needed more care, so I decided upon meeting my first group of people heading down as I headed up, to move aside, crouch down, and let them come down before I went up. The idea seemed good enough, until I got hunched by the edge, and turned my head to look down.

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Upon looking down, noticing the heights I was going up against, and my proximity to the edge at this moment, I got a very uncomfortable feeling in my mind, and wanted nothing more than to leave this crouched position by the edge. But I had to wait politely for the others to complete their descent before getting up. I tried not to look back down, but could not seem to help a few more looks, each time getting the same dizzying, uncomfortable feeling with associated thoughts. I was starting to realize that as long as I didn't look over the edge, I wouldn't get this feeling. Everyone knows the saying 'don't look down', but few realize the contrast in confidence and perspective in your path until actually noticing how you feel when walking things like this looking at your feet in front of you, as opposed to looking down, or in abnormal paths like this one, even looking out, as your perspective of where you are positioned starts to shift to a grander scale:

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I continued to watch my path close ahead, stay determined and calm, and only getting scared when I had to stop or slow down for others to get by. I found at each section I would feel the greatest relief and joy that this was easy, and then finding at the next look over that it was looking dicey again. The photo directly below is a good example of one of the views that kept my confidence in check.

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But before I knew it, I was halfway, and enjoying my constantly varying moments of determination, fear, and relief. The ability to share my dangerous trip with the other hikers all around helped my state greatly, as I'm sure they also felt. It's always better to do something scary or dangerous with others around. Listening to their idle chat around me, and adding my own input to the conversations helped keep our moods light and as a group endeavor. People will say some funny things when scared.

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Finally, I saw the final stretch ahead of me. Someone at the bottom had said that the scariest part is the beginning of the chains, but that was malarkey. I found that it got increasingly scary the farther you got up, the steepest, thinnest, and scariest stretch being the last.

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But I was feeling just as confident as when I set out on the bottom of the hike, because I realized that I had such an unbelievably strong intent to be successful at this hike, that nothing seemed to be able to stop me. This was an important realization for me. I saw that with enough intent, you can climb the metaphorically steepest, scariest mountains with confidence and ease. My symbolic climbing of fear was turning out to be a success of learning and self understanding.

I couldn't help but laugh inside as I read the back of the man in front of me for the last few steps up to the final summit at the top. I had chosen to wear my Fallen shirt with two F's below shaped into angel wings for my hike up Angels Landing. Though not a Christian myself, when I noticed his shirt, I thought of none more fitting for this fallen angel to follow back up to the top of Angels Landing.

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As I took the last few steps to across the flat top to the edge, the realization that what I had planned and set out to do for so long had finally been completed. It felt good.

You see, I secretly had a second symbolic meaning of this hike of Angels Landing. Sometimes I imagine us all as angels of sorts, meaning parts of whatever source being or whole. I believe we are all connected in some way to this whole source, and that makes us the symbolic equivalent of its 'angels'. Sometimes I wonder if some of us 'angels' decided to take a plunge into the unknown below. Maybe to learn something, maybe to experience free will, maybe just a leap of faith. We may have done that symbolic leap, and fell on this place called Earth. 'Fallen angels' given the gift of free will to use to learn and experience what the source can't up above.

If this hypothetical was true, I had jumped like all the others, and landed here on Earth. The problem is, metaphorically, I had gone from where I landed, and through my life,  fell more and more, until I ended up so far below where I started. I had been beaten down through my life, and sunk to a low state. I realized recently that the main thing that caused this downward spiral to misery was fear.

So I had decided that this trip was to be a symbolic representation of my will and intent to not give into fear any more, and to climb back up. Not symbolically climb to some height unknown. But to symbolically climb back to where I began.. when I hypothetically fell to Earth. This climb was meant to conquer my fears, to fight my way back up to where I began my life, at the starting point. The 'Angels Landing'. Having done this, I could say that I could forget the past, and begin again.

This personal play with a purpose I had acted out was complete. This Fallen angel had fought his way back up to where he began so long ago: Angels Landing.

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So I took the photo I had planned to take for so long at the top...

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...and enjoyed the company of the 360 degree surreal landscape, fellow hikers, squirrels, and chipmunks for awhile more, before heading down.

This was when I noticed the most amazing thing. On my entire trip down, I realized that any fear of heights whatsoever was suddenly and completely non existent. I was looking over every edge completely comfortably, hopping from spot to spot, not even using chains in many sections, absolutely in awe and enjoying my complete absence of any fear whatsoever. I remember thinking that this sudden lack of any fear of heights was so far beyond of any change I expected, that it was almost unbelievable. I did not expect this to happen at all, and it caught me by surprise. I found myself passing others in fear, and giving them my encouragement, while I had completely lost any fear myself. I remember thinking a few times that it felt as if I was right at home here.

This was an example of an extreme lesson that sometimes meeting your fear head on will dissolve it. Now I know that this complete turn around of fear isn't going to always be the case (as it is more of a rare one), but it showed that it is possible to completely lose a fear after facing it. Most times, this will be a more gradual process of continuing to meet your fear, slowly chipping it away. And your fear may return again (which I realized the next day, climbing a similar high height cliffside), but one thing I now know. It is possible to remove a fear simply by facing it, which in turn also helps you understand it, and yourself.

So Round 2 of Face Your Fear complete. A portion of the great fear of falling has been chipped away: I faced my fear of heights.. on a massive rock monolith towering above an 800 foot drop on one side, and a 1,000 foot drop on the other, using chain grip, will, and intent to help me climb. The next time I find myself fearing a metaphorical climb up some venture and not wanting to go any more due to fear of failing (falling), I can remember this day.

Is the only thing to fear truly fear in itself? So far, it is still plausible.
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Jul 02 2013 10:15 AM
Very stunning images with great story too! Awesome work :-)
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Beautiful pictures to go with a tremendous story of courage!

Just think:  after doing something like this climb, what difference is it what the person next to you thinks of your jeans?

Bravo my friend.
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