Walking My Talk in Russia
My arrival in Saint Petersburg, Russia gave me an opportunity to see my fear patterns and to experience recovering from them – all in a two hour time period. I called it my mini-lesson in grappling with fear.
As I emerged from customs wheeling my luggage cart full of suitcases, a bag of gifts, my large carry-all bag and purse, I pushed through the Arrival Doors to a crowd of faces. Some were holding up name cards and some just anxiously looking for their person to arrive.
I knew that my name was supposed to be floating out there somewhere – however, it was not on anyone’s name board. I scoured my memory for whether I had been given any other directions from my host…I remembered something about “meeting at the end of the Arrivals Hall”…so I pushed my heavy cart through the crowd and made for the far wall of the hall…no one was there…
As I wandered around the Arrivals Hall, (Pulkovo is not a large airport) checking the other Arrivals Door entrance for my stray host, I wished I had sent a photo to them and insisted on a photo in return. I wished I had printed out the arrivals information from my computer. I wished I had figured out international calling on my phone. I wished…that they would show up soon!
After a quick bathroom break (which is not really ever quick when negotiating for a handicapped toilet so as to keep my rolling cart of luggage with me) I started to feel a little anxious. When I approached the Information Desk in the middle of the Arrivals Hall, the stout middle-aged Russian woman was curt, unfriendly and did not speak any English. Now some serious anxiety was setting in.
“People look strange when you’re a stranger…”, the words to that song started chanting in my head, much to my chagrin…and truly everyone around me was starting to look unfriendly to me. No one was smiling that I could see. And they looked unfamiliar – their dress, their hair, everything about them.
I decided that maybe I remembered something about meeting outside so I weaved my way out to the FREEZING COLD and windy sidewalk where taxis awaited. No luck. No one with any name boards of any kind were out there at all.
Suddenly the warm terminal was looking friendlier and I tried to re-enter only to discover that I would have to go all the way through security again just to enter the Arrivals Hall I had just left – ARGH! I was very tired, feeling close to tears and the thought of unloading my whole cart yet again and reloading it on the other end of the machine was daunting, but I did it. By this point I had been up since 5am, not eaten much since breakfast 8 hours before, and now this…
Back in the Arrivals Hall again I realized I had been there for over an hour. I looked around and decided to just stop walking in large circles. Periodically parading slowly in front of all the strange people holding up name boards and hoping one of them would claim me had not worked yet and I was getting the sinking sensation that something had gone very wrong with the plan somehow.
Think, Suzanne – could my host have the wrong itinerary? Could he think that I am arriving tomorrow? ARGH! Ban that thought…but, what if it is true? What will I do? Russian is truly not my language at any level. I cannot fake it like I can in some other languages (according to my kids I do this with Spanish all the time) My thinking was not clear and I knew it. I needed to find a space to center myself and clear my head.
At this point, I finally decided to brave opening my computer (more fear about those world famous Russian hackers) and check for the emails I had exchanged with my host Sergey. So I found the one familiar place in this huge hall, a STARBUCKS, and got myself a chai tea. Ahhh….
Then I started sending HELP emails – to Sergey, to my UI contact, to anyone I could think of who might possibly be able to help me…telling them how long I had been waiting and where I was exactly (in Starbucks, fourth chair on the left)…all the time wondering whether the emails were going out or not…
As I finished my chai tea, my head clearer and my feet firmly on the ground, I looked up and there was a SECOND Information Booth across the way with two young women behind the desk. I decided to try one more time to ask for help. Lo and behold, they both spoke English and smiled – woohoo! I handed them the information I had about my hosts and they quickly found a phone number and placed a call for me.
Literally seconds later a burly young Russian man came around a corner with a huge look of relief and welcome on his face. Trailing behind him was an elderly woman still looking worried and carrying a sign with my name on it! We all exchanged hugs and I could have kissed them both, but figured it was perhaps not appropriate for a first meeting.
It turns out they were operating from the wrong itinerary – and were waiting for me to arrive from Vienna an hour after my actual flight from Prague.
As I reflect now on the whole experience, it was truly an opportunity to watch myself under stress (are any of you finding yourself under stress on a regular basis these days?) I got to watch myself go through the brain changes that lead to tunnel vision and poor thinking, or not thinking at all as the case may be. I got to see how I could experience strangers as threatening – anyone who knows me can appreciate how truly odd this was for me!
Then, I got to experience first hand the energy draining effect of that thinking – holding that perceptual lens on the world. I realize now how many times in our lives we find ourselves in situations that feel unsafe or threatening and how it can handicap us unless we know how to be grounded and present in the moment.
This led me to thinking about all the people who have some form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from life experiences and for whom almost all of life feels unsafe and threatening. This was a sobering thought.
I also realized that I have trained myself to take certain actions under stress and not get paralyzed with fear. I kept moving – and eventually took an action that was nourishing and re-grounding for myself. And with that my power returned, my head cleared completely and my thinking became more reality based and not distorted by my fear. These are important tools to have in todays world with the challenges we all face. What’s in your tool chest of skills for dealing with fear?