Fear, Cliffs and Precipices

I’ve been scared of heights my entire life.

Mostly cliffs and steep stairways, steep hills, things like that.  It makes my knees go all watery when I look at pictures of that city in China, the one that’s all built on a cliffside and is nothing but dizzying views of the valley floor, far, far below.

It even makes me nervous to look at rock climbers when they are dangling from some difficult rock face.

At a writer’s retreat, I wrote the following passage:

What is it like, not to be afraid? I’ve never known. Among the planar ferns, carpeted with dew- bedazzled moss and roofed with maple clerestory, I’m fine. Or, watching mist-silvered ripples run cross mossy swells of granite. Or ranging mile on mile through fir and cedar pillars, hot pitch perfume rising to my nose. It’s easy to forget when things are comfortable.

But venturing along a cliffside trail, or threading a narrow planken bridge, I’m liable to turn… and there it is, a grinning vista. My blood runs icy as a spring when I contemplate infinity. Far peaks turn into fangs to bite me, friendly lake a vat to drown me, lovely trees just claws to catch.

“How lovely,” I hear from far away. “How picturesque!” For my best appreciation, it should stay in the picture. Caught between cliff and hill it’s all too easy to feel the footing fail, the world tilt askew and the mountain come tumbling on my bare head. Here, imagination turns from friend to foe. A stout stick and a will of unworked sponge-iron are my only defenses. Step by halting step I head for home.

I’d like to be able to stand atop a cliff or mountain, and not know what that fear meant. Not feel my heart slam against cage of ribs, not have my legs turn to egg noodle paste, not taste imminent death on the wind.

Until then, isn’t this fungus under the emerald-blanketed log a thing of beauty? And do you mind if I stay on my knees?


Anyone with a phobia can probably relate.   There’s a way through that terror.  The way is to remember that fear is a paper tiger.  If you realize that it can’t truly control you, and you face it and move through it, fear dissolves.  I have not been entirely successful yet.  However, whenever I truly practice this, I beat back fear.



via Daily Prompt: Precipice


To her last breath, she limits and binds

My grandmother is nearly 95.  She is getting more and more confused with her letters, which is to be expected.  Yet, the parts of her letters which are not confused indicate all that she has left in her mind – and that is fear and limitation.

I try to let her know what’s going on in my life.  My novels, my art, my quest for a fitter body.  She’s proud of me, and yet every time she says that she also suggests i do less.  I say I take a walk every day.  She says maybe I should make it shorter.  I say I’m doing art every day for Inktober.  She says maybe I should do some art and leave it for the rest day if I can’t finish.

It’s maddening!  This poor woman has spent her whole life lying to herself, praying for forgiveness, pinning her hopes on things she can’t control, giving up her  self control and her power, all while trying to control others with passive aggressiveness.

I don’t want to be told to do less, to pace myself, that it’s okay if I don’t finish today.  That’s what held me down and that’s what I’m setting myself free of.  I don’t want to be held down anymore.  I want to fly.

If by some miracle, despite all lack of medical care, I were to reach the ripe old age of 95 – and I were also to have a younger woman I called granddaughter – I would want to tell her “you go!  Do your best!  I’m proud of you!  Fly high!”

Don’t be (quite so) careful

via Daily Prompt: Careful

I was a very careful child.

“Be careful!”  “Don’t drop it!”  “Don’t cut yourself!”

I think I’ve only cut myself once, and that was by accident, when I was carving my best friend’s name into a piece of wood.    I almost never drop things. I’ve never broken a bone.  I’ve never hit another car in traffic.  You could say I’m careful.

But I’m also rather neurotic, ruled by fear, and terrified of taking risks.  I’m overweight because I didn’t run, jump and play enough – in part, I was afraid of getting hurt.  I was careful.  I listened to people too much when I was young.  I didn’t develop a healthy sense of rebellion either.  I learned the fine art of sneaking instead.  “Be careful” turned into “don’t appear to do,” or “don’t try at all.”

Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to make mistakes.  We need to try new, audacious things.  Stretch outside of the other-made prison of careful.  Take risks.  Move past fear so we can see the other side – then instead of careful, be mindful.

Mindfulness means we think about what we do, we look at it, but we weigh the risks and sometimes we decide a risk is worth it.  It’s being careful in a new way.  The way I did it as a child, it was fear motivated.


That consumed my young life.

“Well, so what?”

The mistake might not be so bad and the result not the end of the world.

Mistakes can be recoverable.    In the meantime, that scary trip you wanted to take but were afraid to?  Take it.  That exercise class that’s a little too vigorous?  Do it.  Be mindful, and fear won’t rule you.  Sometimes being a little less careful can lead to learning.