Every Saturday morning I take my golden retriever, Sadie, for a walk at a park on the edge of the city. It is a quiet time, a time for reflection, for musing, for dreaming. This morning the world was blanketed in a white veil of fog. There was no city view, no vistas of the grandeur of the jagged ridge of the Rockies marching along the western skyline. Sound was softened by the denseness of the air around me and my vision was limited by the marshmallow-like mist of the world surrounding me. It was a magical grey on white landscape of misty hills rolling into nothingness dotted by the stark relief of naked trees holding their ground against the fog swirling around their frost laden branches.
It had been a blustery September day the last time Sadie and I had walked this particular trail. Late afternoon sunshine cast long shadows across the ground as we walked from the car up the hill to the top of the bluff. At one point as we moved upwards, Sadie stood still, spun around and started barking, her ears lifted, her body alert as she barked at some unknown person, place or thing at the bottom of the trail. I stopped and looked towards where she was barking and saw a police cruiser parked at the gate blocking access to the park. We were far enough away that I couldn’t see what was happening but, in all the years I’ve walked in this park, this was the first time I’d seen a police car anywhere in its environs. I felt a fissure of fear searing my peace of mind. Police cruisers were not welcome companions on my walk.
I tried to brush away the cobweb of fear spinning across my mind as I started walking again. I consciously let my wonderings about the police cruiser go as I turned back towards the top of the hill. But it was a losing battle. Goaded by the past, triggered into fear of the unknown meaning of a police car’s presence, my mind slipped out of cruise control into overdrive.
Fear drives up when I’m not looking
Police cruisers meant scary events. Since the psychopath who wanted to kill me had been arrested just over three years ago, police cruisers were synonymous with his presence somewhere on the periphery of my life. He’d been released from prison in August and since then I’d often felt a slight anxiety overriding my calm as I watched the shadows to see if he was lurking. Seeing a police cruiser at this park plucked the chord of anxiety that had been struck when I’d been informed a few weeks before that he was back in the city where I live. Sometimes the timing of events collide with my fears and drive away rational thinking. I knew the police cruiser had nothing to do with the man or with me, yet, my thinking spun in tight little circles avoiding the central truth of what was real in my life today as it ripped into my fear of the past coming back to haunt me.
I shoved my fears aside and pushed myself into the moment in which I was walking. Sadie bounded ahead of me into a patch of autumn leaves scattered across the ground. They rustled beneath her feet and joyfully she flopped her body down upon them, rolled onto her back and with her paws pummeling the air above her, she began to wriggle her body on the ground. I laughed. She kept wriggling, her every movement filled with the delight of being alive in this moment. I ran up to her, picked up a handful of leaves and threw them onto her exposed belly. With a leap, she jumped up and began running circles around me as I threw leaves into the air. What a wonderful moment to be alive!
And then, suddenly the moment evaporated. Sadie stopped running and stood at full alert. She started barking. From around the bend, the police cruiser sped toward us. In a spray of dust and gravel it careened past, crested the hill and sped out of view.
Fear is a river when I swim against it
I watched the empty space where the car had been. Sadie stopped barking and watched me closely. I dropped the handful of leaves in my hands and called her to my side. The sun no longer shone so brightly, the colour of the leaves were no longer crisp. I stood rooted to the ground as anxiety rose within me. I looked ahead towards an outcropping of rock and saw a figure sitting on the edge of a large boulder. Was it a man? Was it a coyote? I wasn’t sure. I’d walked past this point a hundred times in the past and knew this wasn’t a normal part of my surroundings.
Fear rippled in a continuous river through my veins. I called Sadie back from where she’d run off to explore in the long grasses. “We’ll go the other way,” I told her as I gave one last furtive look at the figure sitting on the rock. I could feel my blood pounding, hear the beating of my heart. I had to get away.
Tears pricked at the back of my eyes. Fear tightened its grip on my breathing. I wanted to run away. I wanted to head back down the hill, get in my car and drive away. To go anywhere but here. But I kept walking. This is my park. My place to find solace. And Sadie needed the time and space to run freely. I couldn’t disappoint her. I couldn’t give into my fear. I kept walking in the other direction. From a distance, I occasionally caught a glimpse of the police car cruising along the trails, until finally, it turned around and headed back down the hill to the road below.
I tried to still my fears. I told myself the police cruiser’s presence was a normal circumstance; the police keeping the area safe. It didn’t matter what I told myself, my fear kept drowning out rational thoughts. After only half an hour, I headed back down the trail, got in my car and drove home.
Magic in the morning mist
This morning as I walked, the mists swirled around me but my anxiety was at rest. I passed the outcropping of rock that had caused such fear within me the other day. In the misty morning, the outline of the seated figure could be clearly seen. It wasn’t a person or a coyote, it was simply a slab of rock that, in certain light, appeared to be something it wasn’t. I laughed. There had been nothing to fear but my imagination. My perceptions had deluded me into believing an inanimate object was a presence waiting to pounce. Triggered by the police cruiser, my mind had immediately shut down rational thinking and leaped into fearful premonition.
What I fear… I create
As the fog began to lift Sadie and I walked into the sunshine seeping through the grey clouds above. I didn’t need different glasses this morning to see that what was before me was not something to fear. I simply needed to open my eyes to the reality of the moment. A rock is just a rock, unless I look through fear-filled eyes and let my thinking override my common sense.
In acknowledging my fear of the unknown this morning, I walked into the reality of the moment. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to step into the moment with confidence, grace and dignity. Had I stopped the other day to ask myself what was real versus my imagination, I would have been able to enjoy my walk without the oppressive feeling of the past haunting me in every step I took.
The past cannot be changed. Nor healed. It no longer has a place in time. It is not time that heals wounds, it is the ability to lovingly look at what is and know that what was will never be again as long as I have the courage to turn up and pay attention, speak my truth and be responsible for myself, every step of my journey. As long as I face my fears and walk through them I am able to step with confidence into each moment of my life and create more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
I walked in the fog this morning and saw clearly the fear that had pulled me from my peace of mind. I feared the unknown and created a monster out of a piece of rock. The rock hadn’t changed but my perspective had. The magic of the morning settled joyfully within me as I continued walking. What a wonderful day to be alive.