I recently went to Hershey Park with my wife and 5 year old daughter. It was a beautiful mid-October day, temps in the mid 70’s, lovely breeze, and the park was packed. It was probably their busiest day of the year. The weather was perfect. I should not be surprised that people like to do things outside when the weather is so spectacular.
If you have ever been to Hershey Park, you may have noticed that they have something called “The Kissing Tower.” The tower is 250 feet and when you reach the top. It rotates to give you a wonderful view of the surrounding area. It does not go up or down in a fast manner, nor is it very exciting. You are enclosed in a space up high. But, for some reason, my daughter wanted to go on this “ride.”
I, on the other hand, did not share this enthusiasm. I have noticed, as I have gotten older, I do not like being up in the air. A quote I once heard–which I will have to paraphrase because I no longer remember where I heard it–says that it is not so much the height that I do not like, it is the falling to death that scares me.
It was not always this way, when I was younger. I had no problem going on airplanes, roller coasters and the like, and this “kissing tower” would have been deemed not exciting enough. I have not experienced any negative situations while being in the air, all my flights have been relatively smooth. All roller coaster rides, exhilarating. Still, I have grown afraid.
Without going into a deep analysis about how this could have happened, without any real, tangible evidence or experience, I have gone from once wanting to do things that required being in the air to having a very real, visceral, fear of heights. In fact, this is quite common in many of us— to fear something not directly experienced, or to grow fearful contrary to benign experiences in the past with the situation or event.
Yet, I went on this “ride” anyway. It was uncomfortable and yet I was able to get through it. And no, I would not voluntarily do it again. I do not have a willingness to be in the air unless there is a reason attached to something I value. In this situation, that value was my daughter–she wanted to go on the “ride” and I wanted her to have a good time. I was able to accept my anxiety, make space for it, not try to make it go away (because I cannot) and focus on my daughter and her experience to get through it.
Many times in our lives, we have feelings that we cannot control. We have thoughts that enter our mind without ever “allowing” them. This is a part of life, this is normal. We have “negative” thoughts–we do not feel good. And we do not have to let these thoughts or feelings control what we do. We can do things, despite our thoughts and feelings. This also means dropping the struggle to make our feelings go away. As one of the founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Kelly Wilson once said, “We do not have to feel lovable to love or be loved, we do not have to feel courageous to do something brave.” We have to learn to not let our thoughts and feelings control us, yet sometimes, that is the hardest thing to do. In my experience, this does not mean I was not uncomfortable, rather I was very uncomfortable.
A metaphor I have been using recently may help illustrate what I am talking about. When you walk a dog, a well trained dog does not pull you along the walk. A well trained dog walks beside you and the leash has slack in it. The same can be said for our thoughts and feelings, that they should not pull us along the path of life–we should have them at our side, not controlling which way we go, rather letting our values and who we want to be guide us in which direction we traverse.