The Stranger Within – Getting Over Fear and Finding Your Inner Friend

I just finished reading Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night.

It’s the story of a British woman raised in rural Kenya, who learns to fly an airplane in the 1930’s. High-spirited, gutsy, she leads a life of adventure, swooping across remotest Africa.

Here’s the passage that I absolutely loved—such insight into her bravery—which comes nearly at the end:

You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book, or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog, you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all.

Why is it that we are so afraid of knowing ourselves?

For the past few months I’ve been bumping against the notion of doing a 10-day Vipassana meditation. It’s been on my bucket list for a while now, but it keeps waving its insistent little hand in my face.

Vipassana, according to Wikipedia, is a practice of self-transformation through self-observation and introspection to the extent that sitting with a steadfast mind becomes an active experience of change and impermanence.

This intimidates me.

My friend Jules Wyman, you may recognize her as Next’s own confidence coach, reminded me the other day that, when the thought of doing something new scares the living hell out of you, that’s the sign that it’s the thing you really should do.

Jules did one of these 10-day retreats and was astounded by the amount of noise she had rattling around in her head. Four days in, she was convinced that she’d gone crazy, so violent the images and feelings were bubbling up from within.

But, facing the noise, and those thoughts we’re all trying to escape from, she says, is how one finds real peace.

Why do we overeat, or drink, or medicate, or shop, or gamble, or care for a dog in order to escape? Why does my mother read 15 books a day? Why do I need written permission to sit down and breathe?

I like what Jules said in an interview I did with her some time back. She said, “When you face your fears, they diminish, they back away.”

That’s why I love Beryl Markham, alone with herself in that airplane. And it’s why I’m searching online for a really good 10-day Vipassana retreat.

There are, however, other smaller, less time consuming ways to commune with the stranger within. Short of flying solo for 36 hours straight, or sitting on a cushion for a week and a half.

Here are 5 simple ways to quiet the noise momentarily, to stop running from your self:

Meditate for 10 minutes
Write 3 pages of your thoughts each in a notebook
Shut off all electronics for half a day
Take a really long, really hot bath, making it a ritual
Sit in your car and stare out the window before transitioning back home or to work

What do you do to buy some peace? How well do you know the stranger within? What is it that you are you running from? There’s no time like the present to face your fears.


Ann Sheybani, 48, is a high altitude mountaineer, ultra-distance runner, and blue water sailor. She is a speaker, coach and author of the popular blog, Things Mama Never Taught Me.  Visit her at © 2011 Ann Sheybani

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