The Opposite of Fear

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I have experienced a lot of death around me in the past six years, losing five people very close to me. One thing in life we are guaranteed: death. The subject alone brings about fear and anxiety in many people. Some people don’t want to talk about it, others may not know how to talk about it.  And the people that you think are going to be there for you, often can’t show up, while people  you wouldn’t expect to do so, rise to the occasion and offer a shoulder to cry on.

My uncle was at a mechanic shop recently when he blacked out. The owner of the shop called the paramedics and he was rushed to the nearest ER.  Shortly after, the ER doctor admitted him into the hospital’s intensive care unit where he received a blood transfusion. They said he was in stable condition and would be fine.  I went to visit him any way.  Although he was weak, he mustered the energy to show off his charm.  We laughed as he told stories of when I was a baby and about his youth. It was a good visit. The nurses assured me that he would pull through so there were no goodbyes, only “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Over night, though, his condition turned grave.  His vitals crashed and his condition went from critical to “not going to make it” within a matter of a few hours. I remember the doctor and nurse walking through the hallway corridor with those grim looks on their faces. My heart felt for them. I knew they were going to be the bearers of bad news. That afternoon, my uncle’s heart stopped and he passed away.

I wondered how these people who work in hospitals, and how paramedics, firefighters, soldiers , and police officers deal with this day in and day out. How were they not affected by death? I know it has to affect them because the look on the doctor and nurse’s faces expressed their sorrow. Losing a loved one can be one of the hardest things in the world to overcome. Some people never get over the loss. No one wants to deal with or experience this. But when I was going through it, I was forced to deal with it.  Each person will face this disappointment in their lifetime. We will all lose people around us, people that we love. It’s not a topic we can escape, and it’s become one I’ve had to explore.

As a result, I see life much differently now. If I focus on the fact that I’m going to die one day, that would be the wrong frame of mind to be in. Death is not the important factor; life is the key to focus on. How am I going to live my life while I’m alive? The only thing I can take with me when I die are the memories I’ve created with the people that I’ve love and care for. My last conversation with my uncle was a beautiful one filled with joy. He reflected upon our interactions together throughout the years and his happy moments with other people that touched his life. He wasn’t afraid of death — he seemed to know his time was up and he was ready to go.  He had been diagnosed with a terminal disease eight years ago, so, in fact, we all knew it was only a matter of time. But in those eight years, he lived without hospital stays, hospice,  and on his terms.

What I have been pondering on after his passing is the meaning of life.  You see, in the end my uncle didn’t talk about the bad things that happened to him in his life. He only remembered and focused on the good ones. I remember saying, “goodnight” while his eyes closed.  He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

They say the opposite of anger and fear is love. When I was faced with the reality of watching my uncle become frail and weak, I found comfort in holding his hand and telling him I loved him. It helped in breaking down any fear I had around death and instead empowered it with love. I am so grateful that I had that time with him. If he stayed here, he only would have suffered. I do believe in something greater than what we know or can prove. I have faith that he is in a better place. Perhaps he is with his parents and brother and sister.

This loss isn’t personal nor meant to knock me down. It was meant to wake me up, to push me to live my life on my terms and to find my own happiness and create my own memories. Until I meet him again in the afterlife… I will cherish those moments we shared and go on, live life with gratitude and a heart filled.

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Flight or Fight!

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

Or here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJGf31aB8mE

The Sum Of Fear

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Ever notice the set up in a horror film? Usually a monster, demon, serial killer or such, preys on the fear of young people who are out for a good time. Whether it’s a few characters or several, each are scared shitless and that fear usually causes them to lose their rational thinking. They fall victim and into a state of panic that ultimately gets them the ax. But, there is always that one character that steps up the game, the story’s protagonist. This person finds that kickass and fearless person inside of them regardless of how scared they become. They stand up to their assailant, using adrenaline and fear to kick, punch and claw their way to safety and become the sole survivor. Fight or flight! Fear is a driving force that could be used for good or evil. The perception of how you look at fear will determine which side you are on.

I have suffered from anxiety attacks since I was twelve years old. When I turned twenty-one, I had my first full-blown panic attack on a extremely crowded Los Angeles freeway. I thought my lungs had collapsed. I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was going to die. I didn’t obviously, but soon after and a dozen or more visits to the ER, the panic attacks developed into agoraphobia. I didn’t leave my house for a year. I had become plagued with fear and I was completely powerless to it. When therapists couldn’t fix me, my mother took me to the Pala Indian reservation to see a medicine man. That night was nothing short of what felt like an exorcism, but it was the last time I had a full-blown panic attack.

Like the protagonist in my story, I ultimately learned how to put my fear to good use. Although, I was cured in the sweatlodge ceremony with the medicine man, I was always worried with the fear that it would come back. It took several years to let go and simply live. You ever hear that saying, “feel the fear and do it anyway”? Fear can move you or debilitate you.

What I can share is that fear can be a good thing. It can help you find what doesn’t work in your life. It can help you change the things that need to be changed so you can experience happiness and it can help you find YOU! I held on to baggage for so long. Some based off stories that weren’t even true. But, I held onto them. I felt like the world was against me. And because I believed in that so strongly, the world was against me! Just like I believed that everywhere I would go, I would have a panic attack. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened! The mind is powerful and it will make you or break you. Sometimes, no one tells you that life is hard or there will be ups and downs. I had to learn to get up and fight, cause I sure in hell didn’t want to take flight from my demons anymore. I was tired of running.

Fear is just an emotion. We see it as a negative emotion mostly. I have since learned otherwise. Whether you are afraid to get a new job or leave a spouse, whether the fear is big or small, if it debilitates you from making forward movement in your life’s journey, then you need to figure out the underlying issue that is causing you to stay stagnate.

For now, I leave you with this…

“Life isn’t always smooth. If it were, we would never grow and develop as human beings. If we succeed, we are envied; if we fail, we are ridiculed and attacked. Sadly, this is how people are. Unexpected grief and suffering may lie ahead of you. But it is precisely when you encounter such trying times that you must not be defeated. Never give up. Never retreat.”

— Daisaku Ikeda