16 Apr With my heart in my mouth
What to do when fear creeps into the heart - for good reason
I am sitting in my living room chair, my laptop wide open in front of me and anxious to swallow my words. But none are coming. I can’t focus. My mind is scattered like mist over my head, and none of it wants to flow onto the page. I recognize this madness; I’ve been here before. It’s just another week-in-hell, of waiting for test results that will decide my life. I have zero ways of knowing which direction it will go – life or death.
There is no relief from this pile of uncertainty. I constantly scan my body for signs of disease, aches and pains. Suddenly, I get this feeling in my legs – like there are steel rods running inside each of them, so they feel simultaneously completely stiff and completely paralyzed. Bitter fear fills my mouth. It grows until I am gagging.
I can’t do this. I can’t live with my fearful heart in my mouth all the time. I can’t. No. The answer is no. There must be another way. My way.
See, I used to be fearless. Bold. To have a sense of adventure in life, a need to explore and discover, things large and small. In a deep sense of “this-may-be-now-or-never”.
Big things? That year when I thought it normal to leave my good, safe job – as single mother with two kids, and a hefty, brand-new mortgage. I had no specific plan, except, ‘I got to move, I need a new playing field”. There was no fear. And I took my life on a trajectory I could never have planned.
Smaller things? When I boarded a midnight train in India, from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. I was on an exploration of the unknown, of colors, and smells, and noise, and chaos, the total assault on the senses that this place is known to be. People thought I had a death wish, because trains back then were not for a western woman traveling alone in the black of night. But I did not get robbed or assaulted. No, I was just awakened in my top berth by a man in the bunk across who couldn’t control his curiosity. What in the world was I doing there? We got talking. He was a university professor from Delhi, and I spent a few wonderful hours getting a Hindi and history lesson from this gentle, kind man in the dim light of the night.
The morning sun greeted me in the Mumbai train station all safe and sound. No drama, just another precious gem for my magical cave of riches, like Aladdin’s in the tales of the Arabian Nights.
THE JEWELS IN THE CAVE
There are flashes of moments I collect in my cave: The time I got drenched in a monsoon in Chennai; swimming in the tides in Bali; a Buddhist temple in Hangzhou; the thrill of starting a company, of being fired up by an idea; the imprint of holding hands in tenderness.
I don’t recall any the days where sameness rolled on, it’s like they have all turned to vapor. It was when boldness came easy to me, that I was filling my cave with jewels.
And now, I am aching to revive that person. To banish the fear that has crept through the cracks, that is stripping the color from my life. No more.
And I’m just remembering how to do that!! Dip into the imagination, the deep desires of the soul, and do what moves you. Take the next step, to as far as you can glimpse, until you can see more of the terrain.
Crazy ideas used to sail through my head with some predictability, but now, it’s a flotilla of them. So here I am, offering you my personal smorgasbord of fantasies, to beat fear with thrill. Here goes:
A SMORGASBORD OF FANTASIES
Sell the house and move to Timbuktu; or to Paris; go roll down the sand dunes in the Sahara and feel the hot sand on your skin.
Ride the Orient Express from Venice to Istanbul. And then, do the Silk Road train from Beijing to Bukhara to Moscow. What will you see? Who will touch your heart?
[By the way, I seem to have a thing for trains! Here’s one more blast from the past: I am 15 and in Paris for a summer of ‘advanced French’. I slip out onto the street and disappear into the first hole in the ground that was a metro entrance. I ride the Paris metro all day, up and down the worn-out stairs, and through the mazes of long corridors, all dressed in that shiny white tile, sometimes five levels deep into the ground. Musicians playing their guitars, trains screeching to a halt, announcements of comings and goings, colorful masses of people, and me, transfixed.]
I love trains, they are such a multi-sensory experience, and they let you be flighty, and yet stay earthy.
But, I digress. Back to my flotilla: spend a night or two in a tent in a desert oasis, in the company of nomads and camels. Or, head for the steppes of Central Asia, Tajikistan, maybe, and have a hearty meal under the stars outside of a yurt, with a bunch of friendly, loud locals, with deep creases in their faces, and vigorous belly laughs.
Or slide around to the other side of the planet, high in the Chilean desert, where the skies are clear, and lock yourself inside the Giant Telescope Observatory. Feast on images of galaxies shaped like pillars, or roses, billions of hot-gas furnaces lighting up the skies. Can you imagine? What a perspective on life on our miniscule grain of sand.
May I turn up the fantasy to another level? Learn to play the piano and have a concert in Berlin. Get a new degree in neuroscience, start a neuro-ed company and save the world. Or, learn ballroom dancing, and be swirled around in an ecstatic waltz in Vienna, in one of those ornate, gold-and-mirrors baroque palaces.
Visit every country that has changed its name since I was born: Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Upper Volta to Burkina Faso.
And in-between, everywhere on the globe, get with a group of friends – or strangers! – in a house, a hill, or a beach; and laugh, eat, hug and dance to the music, till the body gives out, but the heart is full.
So, I am calling “Open Sesame” season and going for the treasures.
Because, if I am going to live with my heart in my mouth, I will fill it with joy, excitement, and wonder, and leave no room for fear.