Monday, July 27, 2009

Fear of Flying, Fear of Water, Fear of Flying on Water

I like the ground. As a Triple Earth in my astrological chart (Sun/Virgo, Moon/ Capricorn, Taurus Rising), the other three elements—air, water, and fire—have been scary to me at various times since childhood. Yet overcoming my fear of them was, in each case, a window to living a more spirited life. Here are some of my key adventures:

Fear of Flying (Air)

My first encounter with fear of flying came when I was only six years old. My dad’s boss liked to drive his personal car, a spiffy Cadillac, when he wintered in Florida. My dad’s tough assignment: Drive the boss’s car from Chicago to Florida with Mom and me, and then fly back, all expenses paid. From where I sit now, that sounds like the deal of a lifetime.

I’ll never forget the gentle way my parents told me about the offer. We’d all been taking an afternoon nap, and I awoke from mine and went into their bedroom to see if they were up. They were just ungluing the sleep from their eyes and I crawled into bed with them.

“What would you think about an airplane ride?” Mom asked.

I was so shocked by the possibility, out of the blue; I froze up. I never handled surprises well.

Dad explained the deal to me. Mom coaxed, cajoled, and told me I’d even get to take time off school, which actually did not appeal to her budding bookworm. Before they were done with this low-key sales pitch, I was screaming, bawling, and pitching a tantrum.

“I’m afraid, Mommy, I’m afraid!” I yelled. I would not settle down by way of logic or reintroduction of the idea over the next few weeks.

They didn’t want to force me into something that conjured such fear in me, so Plan B was born. We’d take the train back from Miami to Chicago.

Onboard, I had a most wonderful encounter with another young traveler my own age. I enjoyed every second of the two-day trip, every stop on the milk run, and every nook and cranny of the train. Train travel was “it” for me. My father, on the other hand, complained about that long train trip till the day he died.

Oddly enough, by the time the boss was ready for us to do him the favor again, only a year had passed … but something magical had happened to me in the meantime. My parents assumed we’d be back on the train again, but I said, “No, no! I want to go on the airplane.”

Sometimes if you leave will enough alone, both children and grown-ups mature into experiences that previously immobilized them with fear. My parents were smart not to force the issue, even if Dad didn’t exactly enjoy rail travel with the same passion as his darling daughter—a passion I have maintained to this day.

Fear of Water

My mom was afraid of water. She had good reason. When she was 13, she nearly drowned. Ever since then, she was very leery of this particular element. It was difficult not to “catch” her anxiety.

To make matters worse, I attended Catholic school and like most parochial schools in the 1950s, ours didn’t have the facilities or economic luxury of a physical education program, much less a pool. “P.E.” was running around on the playground, and, if you were lucky, your mom took you to one of the public pools during the summer that had cropped up in the suburbs. Mom wasn’t keen on water, so it was only when her best girlfriend could talk her into “taking the kids to the pool” that I ever got wet outside the bathtub.

Fear of Flying on Water (Air and Water)

When I was a pre-teen, my folks bought the cottage across the street from my Uncle Bob, Dad’s brother, who lived on a spring-fed lake in southwest Michigan. It was a three-hour drive, but we did it nearly every weekend during the summer. Uncle Bob had one of those spiffy, classic wooden Chris Craft boats. Everyone who lived on the lake shore water-skied. My cousin, Bob’s stepdaughter, who was a few years older than I was, skied like a pro. She could even slalom—ski on one ski. I wanted to ski in the worst way, but (a) I was afraid of water, and (b) I was not a jock given my lack of physical education. I was lucky to be able to I hopscotch, jump rope and play softball, all activities conducted safely on the ground.

Soon we had our own fiberglass boat, and my dad encouraged me to give it a whirl. I’ll never forget my mint green one-piece bathing suit, era-modest, and clinging to my nose plugs. Of course, I wore a life jacket. Even if Dad hadn’t insisted, my fear would have demanded it.

I couldn’t count the number of times he hit it, I got half way up, and then sank. His patience was legendary. We must have gone through this routine dozens of times over many weekends and our two-week vacation during the summer of my 12th year.

One day, all the failures just gave way and I rose on those skis to the top of the water. I was flying—on water! It didn’t last long the first time, but I gracefully skied to a stop while Dad circled around and picked me up. Once I had actually achieved “flying on water,” the rest was practice till I got actually half-way decent at it. In this era of my life, the right course was encouragement to keep trying to overcome fear and a sense of being out of my element—one trial at a time. As a not very physical person left to my own designs, this was one of the sweetest personal victories of my life. I can still feel the breeze in my hair and the wow of accomplishing something I was beginning to believe I simply would never be able to do.

Fear of Fire

I should explain that my fear of fire was more figurative than literal, although I never much cottoned to the personal handling of 4th of July firecrackers. I thought sparklers and punks were plenty, thank you. What I mean here is the heat of summer. On the physical level: I always had an intuitive red light against broiling my body on the beach, something that has saved me from the skin cancers plaguing many of my peers.

On the emotional level: The summer months often held my most intense growth experiences and my most painful losses. It got to the point that I hated to see summer coming. Not being a jock, and if I only could look forward to a new load of emotional pain, summer was not exactly my favorite season—and isn’t to this day. I didn’t relate to all those songs about the Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer or lines like, “It’s time to live and have some thrills.”

With time, I was lured into the mysteries of life. I learned from my first spiritual teacher in my late twenties that summer is the growing season. Spring sets up our lessons for learning during summer, and in autumn, we harvest their bounty. If we’re wise to the seasons, we use winter as a time to rest and recuperate before running another cycle of inner learning.

The lessons get gentler, too, as we grow. We don’t have to learn everything the hard way. We learn to put on sunscreen, buffers that protect us from overexposure to harmful rays, whether the sun’s or certain people’s negative vibes. We learn discernment—people, places, and things to avoid that will burn us.

I don’t know if it’s the magic of maturity, but I don’t have nearly the number of difficulties during the summer that I used to have as a kid—except for the fact that I chose to live somewhere that hits triple digits often during the season. I have lived here 36 years and don’t intend to move. You can’t say I haven’t learned to adapt to fire.

Elemental Balance

Our world is made up of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. From an astrological perspective, each of us has a different elemental balance, which is a simple metaphor for the way we handle the parts of life the four elements represent. To give examples of each: earth (body, physicality), air (mental pursuits), fire (vitality), and water (feelings).

My elemental adventures spanned different eras of my life. I doubt that they are hard-wired into a certain age, but I suspect that the developmental sequence in handling fear is the same: avoidance (airplane), toe in water/begin to face fear (water skiing) and dealing with fears head-on while developing discernment (intense-growth summers).

It’s fun to learn your elemental make-up through astrology. Lots of fire, little water? Lots of air, no earth? Some people are evenly balanced. There’s metaphorical gold in finding out. Even if you don’t know how your elements fall in the system of astrology, you probably have or have had affinities to one or more of the four elements and discomfort with others. The elements have seasonal associations: spring (fire), summer (water), autumn (air) and winter (earth).

Maybe you still have trouble with one element. Overcoming your fear or messages of can’t-do might be for you like water skiing was for me—an accomplishment that taught me how to overcome fear and limitation thanks to one patient father.

The larger Father/Mother—or however you perceive Spirit—is infinitely patient with us as we seek to become all that we can be. What a great universe where season follows season and we have so many cycles of growth and opportunity. Some day you’ll wake up, no matter what time of year, and know no matter where you are or whatever the weather: you’re in your element.


Photo Credit: LEARNING TO SKI ©


Eileen Williams said...

Fears are a strange aspect of life. Sometimes they are justified by prior experience, but oftentimes, not. Since my parents moved far away from their home when they were married, I took my first airplane ride when I was one. So that never bothered me and I'm not particularly fearful of water, fire or earth--although I don't relish drowning, burning to death, or being buried alive. Hmmmm. As always, you've got me thinking. I do have my fears and, like you, the more I face up to them, the better I feel.

Joyce Mason said...

Thanks for sharing, Eileen. Your early opportunity to fly and the result of your being at ease in the air may be a recommendation to parents for exposing children to flying early-on. I've always felt the same about early swimming programs for toddlers.

How we face fears is an important part of our personal evolution, I think. As you point out, they are often there for a good reason. When we can separate truly wise cautions from psychological "stuff" that holds us back and needs to be explored to go further in life, I'd say we've put fears into their proper perspective and are truly living the spirited life.

As ever, I value your input!

PopArtDiva said...

I ended up with a fear of flying (after years of adoring everything about air travel)after a bad experience ages ago. I still only fly in an emergency but I bet I could get over it if I was offered a free first class ticket to Europe, lol.

I think we all face fear very day in little pieces. Maybe that's where the stress comes from?

Joyce Mason said...

Good point, PopArt. We deal with fears every day, sometimes every few minutes! I'm with you, though. I'd probably water ski to Europe on an all-expenses-paid vacation! :)