I recently had an opportunity to visit Japan. A short film I directed, “Tomoko’s Kitchen,” was invited for a special screening at the Dream Box film festival in Nagoya. Japan had never been a country on my radar of destinations to visit. When I was a little girl, Paris had always been my childhood dream vacation, which I was able to make happen earlier this year. Paris was everything I expected it to be; Japan, on the other hand, was nothing like I expected.
When I heard that our lead actress was going to attend the festival, as well as the writer/producer, who currently lives in Tokyo, I told a few people that had been to Japan before, that I was considering going. Every one of them said if I went, I must put Kyoto on the list of places to visit. I had no idea what was awaiting me in Kyoto.
I went home that night and Googled “Kyoto.” The first image that appeared just happened to be the zen temple I have used as my computer wallpaper/background for the past seven years. For some odd reason, I had no idea that this beautiful temple I stared at every day was in Japan! Being superstitious, I took this as an immediate sign that Japan was meant to be. Now, I was thrilled at the prospect of not only going to a festival in Japan, but also going to see my favorite temple. The adrenaline rush of excitement and the feelings of butterflies in my stomach, quickly turned into terror. A tumultuous amount of “what if’s” began plaguing me:
“What if I get lost and can’t find my way around?”
“What if no one speaks English and something bad happens?
“What if I don’t like the food? I’ll starve to death!
Then I became hyper sensitive about all the airplanes incidents: Malaysian flight MH17 that was shot down in the Ukraine on July 17, 2014. Which, then triggered my memory of the first Malaysian airline flight MH370 that went missing over two months ago! The fear kept intensifying when Air Algérie Flight 5017 crashed in Mali on July 24th. I thought myself right smack into a brewing fear about boarding an airplane.
I, intantly, started talking myself out of going. Although, I said nothing to anyone about it, the nervousness increased as the departure date came closer. Then I began to worry about the flight time, or how many hours I would be trapped on the airplane. Japan was a long flight out of LAX; eleven hours to be exact. Processing that time table was hard to put my finger on. And why was I so worried about that? I have been to Europe many times in the past couple of years and those flights were equally as long. Why was this particular eleven-hour flight bothering me? Thank God, I had overcome panic attacks but the nervous tension over the fear of delving into the unknown, still baffles my mind. It’s intense.
The one thing I knew was, no matter what I felt, I was going to go. I allowed myself to feel my feelings and thoughts and let them pass through me. The big battle was having to decifer between the negative thoughts, triggers and associations with what I “believed” to be fearful. As soon as I could identify the difference between rational fear and irrational fear, I was able to replace them with positive thoughts and the reassurance that I can take care of myself in any situation.
All the work that I had to do to talk myself into a positive state of action was challenged when two hurricanes and two tsunamis hit the Pacific Ocean around the same time I was leaving. The terror started all over again. I had to work harder to reassure myself that the FAA, the airlines and the pilots would not let hundreds of passengers fly, if it risked our lives.
So, I faced my fear and went any way. The risk was far too tempting to let the fear of the unknown get the best of me. I wanted to go to that festival and I wanted even more to stand in front of the Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden Pavilion). It was my mission to get there, and fear was NOT going to stop me!
Here’s what actually happened:
The flight to Narita (Tokyo) was smooth sailing. The festival was quite amazing and the organizers put on great show including a surprise performance and tribute to Michael Jackson. More importantly, our film was so well received that I felt I was back in filmmaker mode again—something I have been longing to do again after a few stagnant years. The Dream Box Film festival gave me an opportunity to spend quality time with some of the crew and talent from the film project and it was just great to connect again. A feeling that all humans crave. I left the festival with some great memories… and some new friends.
After the festival, we took the bullet train to Kyoto where we spent several days visiting various temples. When I saw Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) it literally took my breath away. Words cannot describe the image and beauty. No picture can truly capture its essence. There I was standing in front of this temple… that very temple I look at everyday on my computer screen. We went on to visit Nara, where not only did I see the world’s largest bronze Buddha, I also hand-fed deer. They came right up to us and took deer sen-bei (crackers) from our hands. It was pure and raw in every way. And when we finally had our first authentic Japanese meal, the food I worried so much about ended up being delicious!
My trip was, in fact, perfect; everything I feared or worried about turned out just fine. H.P. Lovecraft said it best, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” The unknown can really play tricks on someone with an anxiety disorder, as I’m sure can play tricks on the people that don’t suffer from them. Sometimes, you just have to ride the wave of faith and take risks. By taking risks, I found that a whole life can unfold in front of you that you never imagined.
And what’s the worst thing that could happen? I could have gone there and all those worries I imagined could have manifested. And if that happened, then I would have never returned. But… if I let fear get the best of me, I wouldn’t have known that something wonderful stood on the other side of that fear. I learned a lot about me, and how fear can hold you back from achieving your dreams, from seeking to discover new things, and from really living life.
And even now, twenty years after overcoming my panic disorder and agoraphobia, the patterns of self-sabotage still challenges me. I will not be defeated.
If you would like to see the full version of the short film I directed,
“Tomoko’s Kitchen,” you can do so here: http://www.imdb.com/video/withoutabox/vi185378841