Camping in the Dark

I have never slept outside. I’ve had a fear of camping since childhood. But since I’ve begun studying Ayurveda—the health system that is the sister science to yoga—I’ve become fascinated with my relationship to nature. How could I reconcile my fear of sleeping outside with my belief that, as Ayurveda points out, I have all the natural elements within me?

Several years ago, I heard someone say, “Make choices from a place of love, not fear.” Since then, when I’m faced with a choice in my life, if fear comes up, I allow it to be there. I take deep breaths, and I decide not to make a decision at that moment. Then, I imagine what I’d decide if I weren’t afraid, and I call to mind another quotation, “What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?”

I remind myself that to make a choice from a place of love means choosing not to make decisions based on fear that I could fail, that my heart could break, or that something uncomfortable could happen. I look back on my life and realize that if all my choices had been based on fear, I wouldn’t have experienced the thrill of love, or the joy of teaching my first yoga class. Making choices from love means trusting I can handle the outcome, whatever it will be, because yoga gives me the tools to ride the waves of life as they crest and fall.

This year, as winter let go of its tenacious grip on the Berkshires, I took on my latest experiment of making a decision from a place of love, not fear. I asked a friend to help me pitch a tent in her backyard.

As I watched her confidently unfurling the tent, I began to cry. I felt the way I had as a child when my parents tried to put a turtleneck on me for the first time. Once my head was inside, I lost track of where the head hole was. As I held a corner of the tent, I was transported back to that feeling of not knowing which way was up. I had no clue about the shape of what I was holding or how many openings there were.

My mother always told me I wouldn’t like sleeping outside. I imagined that it would be my version of a nightmare—I’d be freezing, claustrophobic, trapped, stuck. I’d hear unfamiliar sounds and get scared that animals would tear the tent apart. I’d lie half-awake all night, restless, frightened, and miserable, and get up at the crack of dawn feeling grumpy, cold, sore, and drained.

Now was the time to put into practice all the skills I’d learned in my years studying yoga. I took notes as the night went on. My diary:

8:35 pm Still in the house, preparing to go out. I’m giving myself a massage with sesame oil. This Ayurvedic practice calms the nervous system, supports circulation, and creates warmth. Each time I have a worried thought (such as, “Will the bears in the woods be attracted to the smell of sesame oil on my body?”), I allow that thought to be there, and then I focus my attention on the self-soothing practice of Abhyanga.

9 pm Wearing a hat, five shirts, two pairs of pants, winter socks, and Uggs, I head out with my flashlight, journal, and phone. Taking deep yogic breaths, I look around at the trees illuminated by the moonlight. I’m not relaxed, though the scene is serene.

9:05 pm I’m in the tent. My ear itches, and I wonder if it’s a mosquito. I crawl into the sleeping bag and zip myself in. I’m glad the porch light is still on. I’m ready to sleep.

6:00 am I wake up to the crow’s morning caw. I slept the whole night through!

6:15 am I sit up and see little paws outside the tent. It’s my friend’s cat, whom I adore. She came to say good morning. I’m so happy to see her.

6:30 am I get out of the tent and, as I see the trees, the bushes, and the birds, I suddenly feel a new relationship to them. I really get that we are breathing the same air, growing by the same sunlight, living under the same stars. I see the backyard with new eyes, and there’s a sense of literal spaciousness in my chest that feels brand new. After a night of camping in the darkness of my fear, the fear dissolved. I feel physically lighter. I think I’ll do this again tomorrow night.

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Heidi Spear, MA, ABD, is an author, workshop presenter, Reiki master, and Kripalu-trained yoga and meditation teacher who has been on the Kripalu R&R Retreat faculty since 2008.

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