Recently Zach, Addison and I packed up, grabbed the dog and tucked away on a camping trip in the woods for a few glorious days off the grid. We put our phones away and lived simply. Our days were spent hiking in nearby Shenandoah and our nights roasting marshmallows over a campfire. It was the perfect getaway.
One morning we found a hike nearby on a trail called Graves Mill, it promised waterfalls and river crossings and we couldn't wait to check it out. We grabbed the dog and hit the road, excited for the adventure and the chance to connect deeply to the water element. It was a storybook trail, tall tree cover surrounded us on all sides as we hiked the wide path ahead.
We got to the first river crossing and it was what every hiker dreams of, a large rushing body of water stood between the side of the trail we were on the side we wanted to get to. Sprinkled across was a path laid out by God himself as a few large rocks provided a way across. Our hearts were light, inspired by the beauty and the chance to walk cross the river, the rush of her currents beneath our feet. Zach took Addison and they started across. I picked up Ace and began to make my way slowly and mindfully across.
A few stones ahead, I hear the scariest scream I have ever heard come out of Addison in her 10 years of life. She was perched on one rock with one foot, taking a big step across to another. As she went to put her other foot on the rock several inches away from where her other foot anchored her to safety, a GINORMOUS snake slithered right underneath her. She was inches away from stepping on it. Her scream, which rocked me to my core, fortunately scared the snake away and it slithered quickly out into open water.
Her scream said it all, the tone was that of fear, huge "i am scared for my life" type fear. A level of fear that can have traumatizing effects. I wondered if we would keep going or if that experience paralyzed her ability to move on. Luckily kids are pretty darn resilient and Zach was able to coach her safely to the other side on the bank. We continued hiking. The trail promised 4 picturesque miles of nature's beauty and there were many more river crossings in our future.
As we continued to hike on, I noticed that Addison was different. Her energy had shifted. Normally vibrant, bubbly, always positive and joyous, she was darker, her energy heavy. Her footsteps slow, resistant. Sensing her energy, I simply asked her, "are you having fun?"
"NO" she curtly proclaimed, "I can't stop thinking about that snake."
Oh man, we have all been here huh? A past experience that shook our center follows us around into our future moments. The residue of that snake was consuming her. As she hiked on, every step she took was a fearful step, waiting for the snake of her past to reappear.
It was clear, we needed to pause, and regroup. So we sat, as a family on the side of the trail, ate a snack and held space for Addison and this huge fear she was holding.
The best thing as I parent I have ever done for my child was to get certified to be a #mindfulness teacher. Time and time again, the wisdom I learned from the path, passed down from the life of the Buddha, has allowed me to support, guide and uplift her in ways traditional parenting can never provide.
In the pause, I connected to the teachings. Mindfulness teaches in working with fear the first step is to normalize it. To name its existence, to allow ourselves to notice it is present in us, to connect to our breath and offer care towards that part of us that is feeling fear.
So, we chatted first about the fear. We named it, validated it for her. "Gosh that was SUPER scary." As a family we allowed fear to be brought into the conversation, we didn't ask her to "get over it" or in the most archaic of parental declarations of all prior generations of parents, tell her to "shake it off". You can't just shake off fear, your nervous system is not designed like that. Your brain does not have the hardwiring to just shake off fear.
Through the science of mindfulness we learn that, if you can name the fear, acknowledge it exists, connect to your breath and removed the "I" statements like "I am scared" to "I am aware there is fear moving through me right now." then you unwire the nervous system response and retrain the brain, you can release fear.
After sometime holding space for fear and Addison's lived experience with it, I moved on to the wisdom she needed to hear...the wisdom we ALL need to hear and remind ourselves of in times when fear is in the driver seat.
"You can't be afraid of something that isn't currently happening to you in this moment." REPEAT, "You can't be afraid of what is not right here, right now. Yes the snake happened, it was real and it was scary as hell. But right now there are no snakes at your feet."
She sat quiet, I could tell she was absorbing this idea, the wisdom beginning to flow into her soul and she popped up off the ground...and off she went, walking again with lightness...bounding forward with resolve, grace and tenacity. You could tell she was aware in a newer, deeper way. She walked with lightness again, there were no more snakes underneath her feet.