Risk vs. Fear: If not now, then when?

by | Mar 7, 2023 | Ambassadors, Journal | 0 comments

Are you ready to risk losing your fear along the journey towards happiness and fulfillment in your life? If not now, then when?

By Danielle Schillinger 

For the native islanders of Vieques– the answer to this question is NOW.  

Located a short 6 miles off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, sits the largest of the offshore islands surrounding Puerto Rico: la Isla de Vieques. Proving that good things really do come in small packages, Vieques is only about 21 miles wide. While the island is mostly made up of hills, valleys, and lush tropical flora, the coastal areas consist of blue lagoons and mangrove swamps. Seemingly untouched by human hands, the island, today, is primarily a nature reserve, with roaming wild horses, a dazzling bioluminescent bay, and picture-perfect beaches, including a black sand beach. 

For many who travel to Vieques, it is a secret destination to paradise. For those who dive in deeper into the history of the island, find that overcoming struggle & conflict is a key cornerstone for the paradise that is housed on the island today. 

For residents and natives of Isla de Vieques, fear was the way of life on the island for over 60 years. After World War II, the United States Navy took up shop on the island and used it as a training ground for bombing practices. Every day, from dawn until dusk, the US naval forces would bomb the island for training exercises. Vieques residents were stripped of their jobs, land, and safety as they were confined to a quarter of the central-most part of the island. To put this into perspective, that quarter of space was roughly 5 square miles…. And that was it- for 62 years. 

Can you imagine? 

Many locals fled to the bigger island of Puerto Rico, but for those Viequenses who stayed rooted to their much beloved home, fought a long struggle to drive the US military off the island to save their home. In 1999, a series of protests began when a civilian was killed by a stray bomb from a fighter jet that missed its target. In 2003, the military gave up their hold in Vieques and vacated the island. 

Everything that was once property of the US military is now a flourishing wildlife reserve- the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. These 18,000 acres are an embodiment of the beauty and resiliency that makes Vieques so special and attracts tourists from all over the world. The costal shores, mangrove forests, and beautiful beaches are also a beautiful reminder of the unseen work that accompanies growth and transformation. 

This June, I am leading a wellness & yoga retreat to this very island. While researching where in the world to go, there was something about this tiny island stuck with me through my research. As I began diving deeper into the history of the island, and into the conflict and hardships that the Viequenses people and land endured, that stuck with me too. I began putting myself in their shoes. I began visualizing all the stress and change that the island underwent. In visualizing myself in this situation, I felt the instant shift into fear response stimuli- elevated heart rate, more laborious breathing, a spike in anxiety levels; it felt as if that had happened to me. 

Then, I began to picture the island as it is today. I visualized pristine, picturesque beaches; wading out into the crystal clear, aquamarine waters; munching on the local food; sampling rum from the local distillery, while swaying in a hammock with a warm breeze in the air. I pictured floating in a glass bottom kayak, under the blanket of a new moon in the dazzling brilliance of the bioluminescent bay. I imagined what it felt like walking in the heat of the forest; the feel of the sun on my skin as I step into a sun-lit bay, sinking my toes into compacted soft, black sand. That was a profound moment for me in my research, and I knew that Vieques was the winning destination for this retreat.  

The history of conflict & hardship that the local peoples and land endured, can inspire us in our own story- as we are today. It’s my inspiration for this retreat as well.  Amidst the beauty of life, unfortunately trauma occurs, and our body remembers it. Trauma occurs and the mind creates a strong attachment to that memory, because it usually marks a turning point in our life. 

We all are subjected to either psychological or physical stress. There are levels to this stress that I refer to this as ‘capital T’ Trauma and ‘lowercase t’ trauma. ‘Capital T’ Trauma can include anything on a much more profound level; such as being in car accident, physical injury, loss of a loved one, rape, domestic violence, etc. ‘Lowercase t’ trauma is on a lesser level, and can be considered daily stress, such as bodily stiffness; running late for work; lack of sleep; upset tummy; headache; argument with spouse or loved one, etc. These daily stressors are traumas because they cause a fear response in us without being life threatening in any way. 

The mind is such an extraordinary tool. Our conscious experience sets us aside from every other living being on this planet; it is an extremely helpful tool to have when going about our daily lives. However, it isn’t necessary to have the mind constantly functioning and active. For example, for anyone who has experienced trauma on any level, there is a memory of that experience that typically sets itself on reply within the mind. When this memory replays, our mind cannot differentiate between the past or future from the present, so the mind tells us that the memory is happening to us right now. We end up reliving our trauma again and again within our mind. Our body remembers this trauma too and responds as if it were happening in that very moment. For anyone replaying ‘capital T’ Trauma over and over again, this is a detrimental situation to put oneself in, and it’s a slippery slope down the rabbit hole of our own mind. 

When we undergo stress of either psychological or physiological origin, our mind signals our body to respond as if our life is being threatened, which causes us to shift into our sympathetic nervous system functioning. The sympathetic nervous system is our fear response; fight, flight, freeze, hold breath and brace for impact. For many of us, me included, this is where we have lived for years and years on end. Avoiding, fighting, running- doing everything we can do not feel the fear trapped within our mind and/or body.
There is a way out of the rabbit hole…!

What happens when we take a lesson from the history of Vieques? What happens when we stand up and revolt against our own stressors and fears? When happens when we take the risk to confront that which scares us the most? When this risk is taken with the intention of growth and personal development, it will always outweigh the fear that we feel and move us towards to flip side of fear. 

Our parasympathetic nervous system is our rest and digest response to fear. It’s a network of nerves that, once stimulated (through breathwork, meditation, yoga) help relax your body after periods of stress. Anytime I am anxious or overwhelmed and can feel the fear response taking over, I stop and ask myself: What is the loving situation that I am not able to see right now? I give myself time to reflect, breathe, and set it aside until I can make an informed decision as to whether I want to act or let it go. 

Some stressors are often stickier than others and may require more effort to let go of them. If it’s something really heavy, and possibly of “Capital T” origin, I might give myself a few days to sit with it, go for a run, practice yoga, exercise, maybe I even treat myself to a retreat or vacation- I do anything that will help put space between me and the stress. Once I’m in a space where I can reflect without severe reaction, I can work towards letting it go, and eventually move forward in love. 

I’ve never been a risk taker. Crippled by my fear of heights, I find security with my two feet on the ground. In college, I was the student that had assignments completed a week before deadline because procrastinating gives me major anxiety. In 2017, I made a life-changing decision to quit my full-time job teaching elementary school, to take over the daily operations of YogaGyspy Studio in Springdale, Arkansas. This was one of the scariest decisions I have ever made in my life. So, I asked myself: What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen? 

I decided the worst thing that could possibly happen would be me running the business into the ground, going bankrupt, moving back home with my parents, and get a job at a fast food restaurant. After some meditation upon the risk: Is this risk greater than my fear? Or does my fear outweigh the risk I am about to take? Can I let this opportunity pass me by? If I don’t do this now, will I ever have a chance to do it again?

I decided that this worst-case scenario was actually not so bad. I vowed that no matter what happened, I would move forward in happiness and contentment with myself and my decision. I have never regretted taking that risk; it’s what has led me to writing this very article. Since then, I’ve been more willing to expose myself to my greatest fears, and push forward past them. 

I imagine some sort of worst-case scenario was proposed by the peoples of Vieques before they took the plunge to take back their home as well. This is happening all the time, all around us with every single person. Over-analyzing, overthinking, stressing, and imagining all sorts of realities that haven’t even happened yet- this is a side effect of living in the stress response- living in sympathetic nervous system. Once we understand these realities are made up within our own mind and do not actually exist, our lives will become much simpler. And by simple, I mean, happier and more content with where you are in life. 

By participating in my retreat, you receive new tools for personal growth and development, so that you may clear your slate of stress and trauma within your own body and mind. It allows us all to continue the work we have been doing upon ourselves or begin an open dialog with our Self in a brand-new environment. A fresh space, untouched by our daily traumas, stressors, routines, and responsibilities; a space for us to create new memories with our Self, while possibly making new friends along the way. 

When participating in one of my retreats, the only responsibility you have is to your Self. Whatever that may look like; whatever that may feel like; whatever you feel like participating in- that’s all up to you. This retreat is an outlet for creativity and imagination to flow through us, while being inspired by our surroundings. It’s a space to trade the hustle bustle lifestyle of Western society for rest, playfulness, and relaxation.  

It’s a space for YOU… created by YOU. 

Just as we can reset our nervous system in any given moment, we also have the ability to reset our life by simply slowing down and paying attention. My name is Danielle Schillinger, and if these are the types of conversations that you are interested having, the tools you would like to learn more about, or if this is an experience that calls to you, then I hope you can join me on the inspiring & ever beautiful Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico this June for Wellness & Yoga Retreat dedicated to this very cause. I will be offering a variety of daily yoga classes for all experience levels, relaxation & meditation offerings, wellness discussions, and more. 

Hosted June 15 – 19th, during a new moon, this retreat is the perfect opportunity to reflect, unwind & destress, as well as invite new inspiration & adventure into your life! Come explore your inner reserves of happiness & well-being in an enchanting new environment. From yoga novices who are just opening a dialogue with one’s Self, to regular & seasoned practitioners, everyone is welcome to attend. 

Are you ready to risk losing your fear along the journey towards happiness and fulfillment in your life? If not now, then when?


WHEN: JUNE 15 – 19, 2023

WHERE: Vieques, Puerto Rico (Airport code VQS)

COST: $1975- $2245 USD per person

Here’s a list of what’s included:

▪︎ 3 meals a day 

▪︎ 2 daily yoga classes + journaling + meditation sessions

▪︎ Airport transfer shuttle (arriving and departing shuttles)

▪︎ Room & board for 4 nights (with option to room with your travel buddy)

▪︎ An adventure of a lifetime!