Soul Spelunking

The photographs above are part of a series I shot in Laos some years back. I have often written about soul cleansing and decluttering, which, for some strange reason, many prefer to do at the end of the year, on milestone birthdays, or on their deathbeds. This is a mistake, because often times the realisations that emerge from this exercise make you want to change paths, perspectives and approaches, or even turn over a new leaf for example. I would regret it very much I couldn’t implement the changes in my life having learned some valuable lessons, and you wait until it is too late, well then, lamenting about it is not going to get you anywhere. You are probably wondering “right, now, where is she going with all this?” Ah, well, follow me into the cave.

You see, caves have been an ultimate nightmare, my personal monster under the bed, having lived with claustrophobia for most of my life and thereby missing out on countless adventures because of it. When I visited the Tham Chan caves in Vang Vieng, Laos, I had two choices, sit alone at the bottom of a lonely hill while the family went on some spectacular adventure, or face my fears head-on and cross that bridge and climb up to the mountains behind it. This is more or less the silent conversations that went on in my head:
Frogtographer: Girl, you will regret it for the rest of your life if we missed out on the views from the top of the mountain and inside the cave.
Consummate-Travel-Frog: Listen you dingbat, you are not getting any younger and our chances of returning to Laos in this lifetime are zilch, so get a grip on things!
Inner FrogDiva: C’mon Darling, pass me my feather boa and let’s do this in style”.
As always, FrogDiva won, so armed with a truckload of prayers, I stuck close to the guide, and focused my attention entirely on the cameras as an emotional crutch, and in the end it was worth it.

The lesson learned inside the cave that day is that in order to test your own courage and resilience you have to be willing to do two things:
1. Embrace your fears and
2. Take the risk.
Sure, a million things can go wrong, but instead of getting stuck on what could fail, what people will think, or how embarrassing it would be to mess up, I prefer to speculate on what could go right and lead me down a whole new path. Remember the corny old saying Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger? The Tham Chang caves didn’t kill me, and I learned to distract my claustrophobia with the camera to keep moving forward instead of focusing on the feeling of the wall closing in on me.

Trust the darkness, I was told, it is merely the absence of light, but it helps us ask more questions, the right questions, rather than walk in the false light. Now that I am on the verge of yet another leap of faith, about to enter another cave, I rely once again on my instincts, courage, and say that Fear can go knock on someone else’s door today. I own the cave.

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