Howdy from a coffee shop in Asbury Park, NJ. This is my happy place, and stoked to be back after four months out there on the road. While I don’t have a “home” per sey, this is a homey as a van girl can feel. Well, this van girl. I’ve been coming here to this area for vacays for years… and so thrilled to be back chillin, swimming in the ocean and sleeping to the sounds of crashing waves just a few feet away.
As a general mode, I’m a friendly person. I love talking to strangers and making new friends along the way. If you’ve been following along, I just had dinner with Jose and Jim, the cutest nicest couple of guys that I met back in May when I was embarking on the beginning of this adventure. We met up for a yummy pizza dinner and I think I had one too many glasses of vermintino, WORTH IT!
People like to ask me loads of questions. I don’t mind. I know I had so many questions before I started this journey. Many of them I researched and thought I got clarity on through a host of Facebook forums, but surprisingly, had to find answers on my own. As this story and adventure continues to unfold, I keep finding more surprises revealed.
The question I get asked most often surprises me every time I am asked, “Aren’t you scared?” This question has different variations, “Aren’t you scared to drive all by yourself?” “Are you scared to be a woman on your own?” “Are you scared to sleep in the van?” “Are you scared _________ (fill in the blank).”
Am I scared?
No, I’m not. I think fear destroys all things, and being afraid would ruin this adventure. I don’t subscribe to news stories being normative trends in human behavior. An example of this, over the summer, two teen boys killed three people in British Columbia on a road trip gone wrong. This story ended with them committing suicide. It’s a sad story. A cautionary tale, and yes, scary. Over the summer, as the story developed, the updates were published repeatedly with screams of fear in many of the women’s solo van traveler Facebook groups I belong to.
Ok, look, I am human. Yes, the world is a mixed up place and people don’t always have the best intentions. There are bad things that can happen, and I’ve had my collection of blunders out there. Hearing stuff that goes bump in the night can be pretty nerve wrecking.
I’ve been satiating my nervousness about things by just doing whatever I want. Like, I see a lake and I think, “wow, I bet that’s nice to swim in.” Instead of being nervous or worried someone will laugh at me, I get in my van, put on my bathing suit and run into that lake and dive on in. I say hello to strangers, constantly. I try stuff that might make me look like a dork, such as booking around this hipster beach town on an electric scooter. Why not? Since adopting this “no regrets” policy on this trip, I find that I’m having an even better time. I was pretty hung up on how things looked, but now I realize, I don’t have to care. I don’t have to worry if I’m too fat to get nakey in the hippy hot springs, or if I’m too weird sit down with a stranger on a park bench and strike up a conversation.
Not totally naive, I didn’t break out my wallet and start pulling out spare change for the guy panhandling by the bus station this morning. I still am a human living on planet earth. Being street smart is a requirement. I am cautious and have my eyes open. This isn’t planet Utopia.
One way to overcome fear is to break through it. When I feel that emotion rise in my chest and start to try to push me backwards, I stop, breathe, notice, acknowledge and let it settle so I can break through it. Learning to manage the fear of the unknown takes practice. I used to believe I was fearless all of my life, until about 10 years ago. Going through a bit of a metamorphosis, it arose in an acute way. I cried and cried, and meditated through it for three weeks. Suppressed emotions I had tucked away for years had bubbled to the surface and when I realized that I was denying my fear for so long, I let it loose. I set my fear free. Bits of it linger, and imprints of trauma can instigate the emotions that restrain me from going forward. Because I became so good with hiding it, I had to learn to live with it and make a different kind of relationship with it.
Here is a mediation practice you can try to let go of your fear. This is called the hindrances practice, originally constructed by Buddha and tweaked a little by me:
- Create a quiet space in your dwelling, or sit outside in a natural setting that feels safe and tranquil.
- Sit on a cushion, or chair. I recommend sitting upright for this one, as being alert is an important part of the exercise. When sitting, keep your spine elongated, and let all of your body hang off of it. You can visualize energy going up your spine, straightening you out.
- If your legs are crossed on a cushion, make sure you’re sitting at an angle and your hips are at least slighly more open. I find sitting at the edge of the cushion or chair can help facilitate this.
- Look around your space and take in something you appreciate about it.
- Give yourself permission to be open, and let yourself know you are safe in this moment.
- Close your eyes and breathe.
- Follow your breath, just notice, going in and out of your nose. No need to change anything, just be with your breath and settle in
- When you’ve relaxed and connected with the moment in a way that feels complete and connected to you, stay with it.
- Think of something that emotes a fearful experience for you. Can be something recent so that you feel the full spectrum of experience. I know this is hard, but just think about that thing.
- Do not attach judgment to this thing. No need to imagine how you would have said or done anything differently. Just sit with the feeling tone. This isn’t easy, so be gentle with yourself.
- Acknowledge this feeling and notice where it is in your body. Does your throat clamp up? Do you feel a tightening in your chest? There is no right or wrong answer, but be authentic to you and scan your body to notice how this emotion arises in your body.
- Give it a name; Fear, or something else like jealousy, anger or whatever you would call it.
- Visualize this emotion becoming a physical thing, like a ball or a piece of paper you can crumple up, and when you are ready… let it go.
- You may have to repeat this several times in order to experience a shift.
In 2009, after my divorce and when I began meditating regularly, I went through a tough spot where a lot of these fearful emotions arose. It took me three weeks, twice a day to do this practice and get through it. Sounds nuts, but it really worked and helped me transform my mindset around fear and pain. If you would like coaching and to learn more about hindrances practice, or other modes of incorporating mindfulness into your life, just ask. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org