It’s 9pm on a Tuesday in 2010. I am in an ass-end corner of Thailand, miles from another tourist, in a small concrete room with no windows, sobbing uncontrollably. I am desperately lonely, isolated and exhausted, and I know that I have to go out there into the darkness and find something to eat. I have no idea if it’s safe to leave my bags in this room. I have no idea how far I have to walk to find a restaurant that is open. And I have no idea what on earth I will do tomorrow when it arrives.
I sit staring up at the blank walls and think of of my peer group at home – in graduate schemes, securing themselves a successful career, buying houses and building trust funds. All of that was at my fingertips, yet here I am living in challenging countries, driving myself further and further away from anyone I know, with nothing but small change in my pockets.
I didn’t fully understand what I was doing at the time, all I knew was that it was ferociously important to me. Several years later, with the benefit of some hindsight, I can see that I was on my own personal journey into the dark corners of my mind, in order to face up to what I might find. I was deliberately putting myself in situations that terrified me, in order to find out why, and to be able to set myself free.
Do you know what your darkest fears are? Can you put your finger on them? Something in the way that we are programmed, or maybe the way we are conditioned, blinds us to what’s really there lurking in the backs of our minds. Not only can we not see them, but we can’t see how much control they have over us. We don’t see them there clutching the reigns during those most pivotal moments of our lives.
We are all afraid of being alone, it’s what makes us human. But the fear of being alone is what sends us desperately to dating apps, filling our diaries with social events months in advance, and finally settling into miserable relationships. Being alone is hard, and it is terrifying. But the truth is, if you look loneliness in the mirror for a really long time, you end up looking at yourself. You come to realise that you are your own closest friend. And just like that, you find yourself free to do anything you dream of, without the prerequisite that there is someone else who wants to do it with you.
The same is also true of the fear of not having any money. A fear which drives some of the biggest industries in the world and keeps our societies ticking day and night. But if you can step off the treadmill for a moment, if you can find a quiet and humble existence for short time, you will find a little breathing space in which you can chase after the things you really believe in, instead of chasing after that pay packet. And if you can give away nearly everything you own, then you will find, rather delightfully, that you don’t have much left to lose. A small liberation in itself.
You see, if you examine fear for long enough it disappears. Because it is not a physical thing. It is a lot of negative energy surrounding something that doesn’t actually exist. A hypothetical. And if you live out the things that you are afraid of, in real time, and get through it relatively unscathed, there is no way that your mind can play those games on you anymore.
It was my unrelenting conviction to do just that which led me to spend 10 days on a silent meditation retreat. Which sent me further and further into the wilderness. Into cities from other worlds, alien cultures, immersed in languages with script I couldn’t even decipher. Into the desert. Into the sandstorms. Into deep water. Again and again. To try and find the point where I break.
And most curious of all – 6 years on and I still haven’t found it. I continue to search deeper and deeper within myself and bend myself in new insufferable directions, and all I find is more strength and more resilience. My journey has shaped me. Living out my fears has empowered me. Empowered me to take jobs in countries I’ve never been to. To do work that I love regardless of how well it pays. To take on sports that seem impossible. To live bravely, openly, and generously. And most of all to dream without excuses. To open up my imagination to the infinite possibilities, and have enough courage to follow it wherever it leads me.