My gal has long been afraid of heights. Nothing unusual there; 5% of the population suffers from acrophobia, an extreme or irrational fear of heights. So, what did she do about it? She decided to go out and paint the exterior of our two-story house, including the uppermost spot, which required that she scale an extension ladder, and still stretch as far as her long arms could reach. By time she was done painting, all with a brush I might add, her fear of going up the ladder had lessened considerably, to the point where she said, “Next year, Christmas lights are going to be a piece of cake.”
For those who are similarly uncomfortable with elevation, the good news is you don’t have to go out and paint the house to become more comfortable with heights, because a new app has been developed that provides a virtual experience of standing on a platform at real locations around the world.
It starts out with the experience of standing on a platform one meter above the ground, and then once the person gets used to that, it gradually raises up to greater and greater heights.
After spending a total of four hours in seven training sessions spread out over a two-week period, “test subjects” were able to climb significantly higher in real life and with less trepidation than they were before using the app, and also higher and with less fear than people who didn’t go through the virtual training.
Using virtual reality to treat certain phobias is nothing new; what is new is that now it’s available (or soon it will be) as an app on your smartphone.
I’m thinking if they can get you over your fear of heights, then why not every other fear, too? I can certainly see how such an app would be just as successful in helping with claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), aviophobia (fear of flying) and gephyrophobia (fear of crossing over bridges), but the real question is, what about the more fundamental fears?
Could such an app keep us from spending our time and energy worrying about what might or might not happen, or what we might not have or might not get, or what we might lose? Can it help us roll with the changes, and not feel powerless in the face of uncertainty? Is it able to identify our tension, or put the brakes on a runaway imagination? Can it anchor us more firmly into the here and now, and erase the clouds of anxiety that block out the light of awareness and understanding?
I sometimes complain about technology, and how impersonal it is, and how it closes us off and folds us in and makes everything a little bit colder and less alive, even while expanding our reach and offering us greater connectivity, but if the emerging tools and methods are going to serve functions as important and non-specific as exposing and reducing our fear, then count me among the ones tooting a horn on their behalf.
Of course, we’ve always had the technology, or at least for as long as there’s been wisdom. We know full well that fear gets in the way of us having fun and feeling free and fully alive. We know, too, that there’s no running or driving or flying away from our fear; all we can do is acknowledge it, face it, look at it, see it, and see ourselves, and as it comes into view and we become more aware of it, we find that it becomes less.
The trick, and we all know this, is to live and operate in the present moment, and to not allow our lives to go unlived. That’s all you have to do to get beyond the fear.
Either that, or you can just go paint the house.
Four years ago, at this same time, I wrote a column — five days before the election — knowing it wouldn’t come out until two days after the election. Here I am doing it again, and as was the case then, I’m writing it not knowing who the winners will be.
“…in our personal lives we place all sorts of artificial limitations on ourselves by framing things as either/or and convincing ourselves it’s one or the other.”
If I were rich, I’d carve out time to stretch my muscles and stretch my joints, and I would breathe in and breathe out, and I would visualize the light rising up and then descending…