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Unpacking Our Fears

There’s an old phrase among hikers that says we tend to pack our fears. That is, if left to our own devices, most of us will compensate for uncertainty by adding “just in case” stuff to our backpacks. Maybe it will snow, so I’d better bring along those extra gloves and some winter gaiters…or, on the other hand, it could get pretty hot, so I’ll just throw in that shade tarp as well! And so it goes.

I’ve seen many variations on this in my life over the years. I was a first responder on a ranch in Colorado for a couple of decades, handling mishaps caused by everything from horses to tractors to just plain dumb luck. When I first started, I packed nearly all of my fears in my first aid bag; it was a massive waist pack filled with so many tools and unctions that I probably could have performed a tonsillectomy in the bush (had I known how!). Over time as my confidence and skill increased and I became better at noticing what was actually likely to happen, I reduced my field hospital to a fanny pack and a cell phone.

Similarly with luggage of all sorts—whittling down my big Samsonite to a carry-on, reducing my facilitator kit from a bin to a couple of zip-lock bags, and even this year giving away the books I’ve kept “just in case” I decide to sail around the world or drive across Africa (seriously?). I don’t need to be prepared for everything all the time, at least not by adding baggage. The weight of this kind of insurance almost always outweighs the promise of possibility: our defenses become our burdens, with no room left to accommodate the new.

This is true at deeper levels too, of course. I sometimes think of the many mental and emotional buffers I have carried at the ready, just in case I am challenged on this or that front. I am surprised at how heavy I can be with certainty, a shield against uneasy and polarized times. (I know this to be true, so I am less vulnerable today.) True certainty, however, allows us relearn what we thought we knew, giving us the grace to leave our packs beside the road if we need to.

In the long-distance hiking world, a good strategy is to let another experienced hiker, a friend who knows the terrain, have access to our pack before we head out. This ally can offer a reality check—this you need, that is crazy—and help prevent us from packing our fears. I need friends like that, at so many levels. While I may not empty my packs completely (metaphorically or literally), I can yet learn more deeply that there will be enough, I am enough, and we will figure this out together.

Things I am mulling on this week:

  • What fears am I packing for now? Or, less fearfully, what do I need to be ready for next?
  • Who do I trust to “go through my pack” to see what is needed and what is crazy to carry?
  • What terrain do I know well enough to help another with their own “packing for the journey”?
  • What do I know now that I wish I’d known when I first started on my path?

If you have any thoughts or reflections that you would like to share, I’d love to read them!

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