I started taking yoga classes in college, and I was immediately impressed by the dramatic effect focused attention on the breath had on my body as a whole. Before the poses themselves came to mean much to me, the breath and awareness of it really hit home.
The summer after I began my yoga classes, my family went to an amusement park, and I eagerly rode the roller coasters. Usually I'd throw my arms in the air, squeeze my eyes shut and scream like crazy the whole ride–that was how the adrenaline of the ride moved me. But that summer, I decided I was going to try something different: I was going to keep my eyes open and focus on my breath, just to see what a roller coaster would be like if I was totally aware of every moment of it the whole way through.
Where awareness & the coaster met
So I'm in the seat, and the coaster is making its slow click-click-click trek to the top of the hill.
I can feel my pulse quickening and my breath becoming more shallow as we reach the crest of the hill, and I think, “There is no way I'm going to pull off not squeezing my eyes shut and screaming.”
The coaster reached the pinnacle and paused just slightly at the very top, the one brief moment of stillness before hurtling down the steep first hill.
And in that one moment, I did something that made all the difference:
I opened my eyes, relaxed my arms and I exhaled deeply.
The coaster tipped forward, and as we careened down the hill, I didn't squeeze my eyes shut or scream or throw my hands in the air. I breathed, and just took it all in…
The speed of the coaster, the metal track twisting around me, the people screaming behind me, the wind blasting my face as we raced forward. It was so vivid, so exhilarating, so incredible. It was unlike any coaster ride I'd been on before, and I was hooked.
Riding the other way would never again be enough.
On exiting the ride, I remember running to my family and exclaiming to them how radical this was, and how they just had to try this new technique. They laughed at me babbling about this whole “breathe and stay totally aware” thing–and to their credit, I probably did sound like a babbling fool.
But I've never ridden a coaster or thrill-ride since then without using that technique: at the crest of the hill, in that most adrenaline-filled pause right before the ride tips forward, open my eyes, relax my arms and exhale.
I swear, it takes the ride to a whole other level.
Have you been doing business with your eyes shut & screaming wildly?
I recently realized that I live a huge portion of my life in fear.
Fear of ridicule. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of being mocked. Fear of being wrong. Fear of disappointing someone.
Entrepreneurial life is a roller coaster.
I've been riding it and experiencing the adrenaline rushes, but I've also been screaming at the top of my lungs, eyes squeezed shut, hands in the air, aware of only the surface of what's happening.
It's a bold decision to become an entrepreneur, just like it's a bold decision to sit down in a metal cart that's about to hurl you up and down and around a few tons of metal at life-or-death speeds.
But I realize I've been missing a huge part of the ride, because I've let the fear grip me so tightly.
I want more than that.
I want to be aware of every twist the ride takes, of every hill and swooping track around me, of the sounds of my fellow coaster-riders.
I want to experience that hyper-vivid, mind-blastingly exhilarating ride.
I want to open my eyes, relax my arms and exhale.
What will the new ride look and feel like?
I can extrapolate from my experience on the coaster.
First, instead of fear, it's exhilaration
The wave of emotion is just as intense–perhaps even moreso. You don't lose anything in intensity.
The adrenaline still courses through your veins and your palms still sweat. But the experience of that energy isn't eye-squeezing, scream-rattling fear. Instead, it's is what I imagine a good drug trip might* feel like: just hyper-real, hyper-vivid, over-the-top magnificent, blissed out, high on wow.
* I say “might” because other than a few brushes with anesthesia or doctor-prescribed post-injury pain medications, drug trips are purely conjectural for me.
Second, while you're still traveling at breakneck speed, you actually notice every single moment, as if it were happening more slowly
You're still fully aware that the wind is whipping past you and you're hurtling through space, but the sensation is more akin to flying than to being pulled along.
You're so present in the moment that you really feel each second and notice how it's different than the second before, so even while experiencing the speed, you're fully in the now.
Third, you realize you're okay
Your body's coursing with adrenaline, your heart's racing, you have to consciously remind yourself to breathe…
but you realize you're okay.
Even with the thrill of what's happening, you're solidly and completely okay. More than okay–you're great. You're better than you were when you were standing solidly on the ground.
Fourth, you can do it again
Once that ride is over, you're ready for the next one in a different way than you were for the first one.
Desire replaces fear, confidence creeps in around the edges of uncertainty, and you're already looking forward to the next crest when that moment of decision presents itself: scream and shut your eyes or exhale and open them wide.
You want the chance to make the latter choice all over again.
Like any habit, changing from eyes-squeezed-and-screaming to eyes open and exhaling can be a challenge.
You're likely to face a few slips backwards with each round of progress.
But it's how I practice business, and I invite you to do the same. The experience is worth it.
Click-click-click… to the crest we go…
Wow! Great post, Marissa! I know it meets me where I’m at, and sure many others feel the same way. Very excited for you! Look forward to hearing/reading more about what you’re up to!
Wow, wow, wow! I hate rollercoasters. Why? Because I am scared of them. Not sure I possess the courage to do the rollercoaster thing like you did, but hoping to add more of the Eyes Open and Exhaling to my biz and life. You continue to inspire me, and I am hoping you will help me to get “there” through that inspiration.
Please keep your wonderful posts coming!!!!!!
We can all relate! Love the image and I definitely want to know where you’re going on your ride. (FYI, Andrea J. Lee talks about crowning and that push through–a vivid, but very clear image.)
(P.S. Good stuff cooking with me and we’ll connect soon.)
I am so glad you wrote this, Marissa. Not only because it helps you claim new ground, but because it’s the part of self-employment that no one talks about: how scary it is. Lots of people talk about start-up strategies, marketing techniques, and the benefits (all of them handy), but you’re speaking the unpopular truth: it’s freaking terrifying.
Or at least it can be. The reason why we even get on a roller coaster is because we trust that it’s been built safely, and someone checks to make sure it’s operating correctly. In business, those safety checks are not a given. Planning helps (a lot), but accidents still happen. In the US, 80% of businesses fail in the first 2 years. Those are daunting statistics.
As you so eloquently say, focusing on the fear and letting it run the show won’t create success. Eyes open and breathe might be my new mantra. 🙂 Thanks for showing up so courageously with what’s taking place in your business — and in your heart. I can’t wait to see what unfolds in its time.
.-= Jennifer Hofmann´s last blog ..3 tips for your fear-inducing files =-.
Wise woman Marissa.
Speaking of one thing, telling of another.
Oh, Marissa, I love this. Brings tears to my eyes for its glorious trust and joy. Thank you for your inspiration.
I love this post! Fear can dull our senses and trick us into thinking we are living when we are really just skimming the surface of life. I like the analogy of the roller coaster and how your writing brought it to life. Yay, for recognizing fear and choosing freedom instead!
.-= Vicki´s last blog ..I know, you’re not afraid =-.
Eyes wide open. You are a force to be reckoned with.
There is a passage in my book that applies so beautifully to this idea of learning to ride the waves of life. Every person encounters waves in his/her lifetime. Often, these waves come in the form of fear, or a sense of uncertainty, like you described in your post.
“…. These waves, if unconquered, will leave that person waterlogged and weary. The stubborn will continue to push against the waves, determined to be the same person on land and at sea. Without adapting properly to the new environment, they will be beaten and begging for an end. But the waves will continue to come.
However, some will enter these waves with stronger resolve, not to fight against them, but to ride them out. They will come to listen to the waves, to learn their cadence and how to ride them softly, always with their heads above the water. Those who listen will learn to sometimes pick up their feet and lift their chins, and other times take a breath and dive deep below the water. Those who listen may push through and find their way out to sea with a new world before them or may turn around and be safely back on shore not too far from where they began. No matter where they end, those who listen to the waves and hear what they have to say will find that in the end, their edges are smooth, their faces shine, and a beautiful gem has been found inside of them….”
.-= Carolyn | A Beautiful Ripple Effect´s last blog ..10 Simple Truths For Living a Life You Love =-.
Thanks for writing this Marissa….Jen Hofmann suggested I read it after something I said over coffee tonight–so glad she did. I’m on a similar journey with fear and the way you expressed your experience with it and learning to breathe through it really helps me do the same thing.
Here here. I wonder if this is universal for entrepreneurs at some point or another? Certainly been feeling the urge to close my eyes and yell my lungs out over the last few weeks. Glad you’re at least breathing deeply – maybe you can teach me to do that at some point. 😉
Powerful post, I like it. If I may expand on your metaphor / comparison with roller coasters: no matter how much a roller coaster spooked you out of going for a ride, it (or another one) will always be waiting for you to take the next ride.
Tremendous post, Marissa. I actually had the experience recently of being eyes wide open in the emergency room after a fall. It was an exceptional experience. I blogged about holding myself together, but another aspect, not written, about was my sense of connection to other patients in the ER.
“I’ve been doing business with my eyes shut & screaming wildly.” Too familiar. Thanks for reminding me there’s another way, and i already have the skills to try.
.-= Mahala´s last blog ..Testing the Benefits of Meditationâ€¦ in the Emergency Room =-.
Fabulous post, Marissa, and just what I needed to hear today. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! [Exhaling. Opening eyes. Much better.]
.-= Cindy Morefield´s last blog ..caught creating =-.
Entrepreneurship is certainly like a roller coaster. However, as I take this ride it occurs to me that the roller coaster has safety systems. If the coaster goes too fast, brakes come on automatically. If the car tries to come of the track, the wheels underneath the car keeps it on. If we feel like we are going to fall out of the coaster, a lap restraint holds us in.
I’m not saying I expect to be safe and secure at all times but a little ever now and then would go a long ways.
.-= Calvin´s last blog ..The iPad as Tool, Not Toy =-.
Wow, what’a ride!
Yes, thanks for talking about this. It’s so helpful to put the fear right out there and say hi to it (and to know that other people have it too!).
I find that I sometimes shy away from intense emotion — be it pain or joy. It’s been challenging to not feel consumed. But the “eyes open” aspect may add more reality… like, I am not that, I am a part of but not the same as… not sure if that’s making sense, but it’s a nice mental shift for me.
.-= Michelle´s last blog ..When is it time for yoga? =-.
You are a brilliant writer – seriously!! You have this knack for putting words on experiences that are not readily acknowledged by others – and your use of analogies is spot on.
I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. . . .and admire your very conscious approach!
Thank you for inspiring me once again.
Wow… I’m relatively new to your blog, and this is an amazing post. The analogy, the writing and the point of the post itself. It can be really scary, and most people don’t talk about it. The fear we feel is the one thing that can really hold us back.
I love roller coasters, and I can’t wait to get on the next one and open my eyes, relax my arms and exhale. It might be a while so I think I’ll try it in my business day first…
.-= Jackie Lee´s last blog ..Being Consistent is Key =-.
This is hands down the best writing I’ve read all week.
And an awesome AWESOME explanation of opening.
It changed me as I read it.
Seriously, girl, more writing, please.
.-= Andrew Lightheart´s last blog ..Aaah, grow up already. =-.
What a fabulous analogy and an even better technique. It is so true, we live those scary parts of our eyes holding on for dear life with eyes shut and wishing and hoping. Take a breath and experience the ride. Thanks for reminding me.
.-= Annie´s last blog ..Where can I Hold Koala Bears and Take Pictures? =-.
I’ve always ridden rollercoasters this way – frankly, I never quite understood the eyes-closed-screaming thing. (And I’m a total rollercoaster freak!)
And I love the idea of “riding” my business trajectory in the same way. Consciously, eyes wide open, breathing, and with a big goofy grin on my face.
.-= Grace Judson´s last blog ..Being a perpetual student =-.
This is such a great metaphor Marissa. I love how you’ve translated riding with your eyes open and breathing to the ride of entrepreneurship. They can both be scary and intimidating, but incredibly rewarding. Seems like those things go hand in hand sometimes.
I think roller coasters are popular metaphor ingredients. My martial arts teacher likes to use the loop on a roller coaster to explain the body mechanics of the upper cut. 🙂
This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read in a long time. Thanks for writing this Marissa.
Marissa! I didn’t know you had this blog! A-mazing. I love your writing and your brilliance!!
To answer your question, I don’t blog anywhere else, but I’m working on it.
I’m so glad I can follow you here!