At age two during a family vacation on the beaches of Biloxi, Mississippi, under the not-so-watchful eye of my mother, aunt, and two older sisters, I somehow made my way into the surf unnoticed. After a bit of time, they finally realized I was gone, but couldn’t spot me anywhere. Thanks to my bright-blue bathing suit, they eventually spotted me floating face-down in waist-deep water.

Their screams alerted a passerby. He ran toward that bright-blue suit and pulled my limp body from the water. He knew just what to do and resuscitated me. After that life-saving moment, on a scale of one to ten, my terror of being near deeper water was a ten.

At age thirteen, I was able to screw up the courage to take swimming lessons. While flopping around in water over my head, my swim instructor simply let me feel the terror. Not only did I feel terror, I also felt anger and embarrassment in my helplessness. About the fourth lesson, the feelings of terror, anger, and embarrassment began to dissipate. At the end of the series of lessons, I still felt anxiety while in deep water, but no terror. I also was feeling happy because I was realizing what had been underneath my terror of deep water all along: a love for water. It was this love which drew me to head for the gulf waters as that innocent two-year-old.

Yes, you can mine great wisdom and self-awareness by facing and integrating life’s painful and frightening experiences. You can move from being frozen inside to being free. You have the capacity to be in the deeper waters of a mature and authentic spiritual life and live more fully even when fear is present. By the way, my favorite color is blue.