What a Volcano Taught me about Courage

Standing on the edge of hell

Mount Yasur Volcano - Vanuatu

Approaching the mighty Mount Yasur

I’m all about adventure.  And I’m also a chicken.  AKA scardy cat.   This is part 1 of a series of adventures I had recently while traveling in the South Pacific. 

I heard the rumbling, then an explosion.  The thunder was coming from somewhere deep, and it was primal.  The ground shook beneath me & I felt the same way I’d felt when I’d been caught in Japan’s huge earthquake in 2011…terrified.

I wanted to run back down the way I came.  I asked myself, what was I thinking?


Volcano lava climbing

Climbing up the lava to the volcano

My husband and I arrived on the remote island of Tanna in Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, to climb up to one of most active volcanos in the world.

Here was a rare opportunity to stand on what seemed like the edge of hell.  But it was the unpredictability of what was happening that freaked me out the most.

I stood on the rim and peered down into the throat of the volcano…the earth coughed up blazing lava every few minutes. 

As I heard another explosion, I thought, that’s it, we’re all going to die now.  And I won’t ever see my granddaughters again.  I felt sad but consoled myself;  at least they would know that their Gran was on a great adventure when she died.

The gasses from the volcano were overpowering.  I could hardly breathe through the sulfur and fumes.  The ash cloud loomed high in the air…black thick smoke billowed from the fiery vents in the earth.  My husband gasped, “I can’t breathe, I’m going back down.”  Later he informed me that he felt as if he was going to pass out.    

ash cloud black smoke

Ash Cloud

For me, I kept going. I had to. We had paid a chunk of money for this damn adventure, driven hours over the roughest roads anywhere on the planet, & were bounced to pieces in the back of a pickup truck.   

I heard a familiar voice in my head say, “just bloody suck up your fear and experience this epic adventure-once in a lifetime thing…Get over yourself.”

And with that I plunged ahead. 

As I walked along the narrow path around the edge of this fierce opening in the earth,

Fear of falling into hell

Dangerous rim

I imagined slipping down into the crevasse.

Would someone risk their own life and rescue me?  How soon before I’d be hit with lava & would it kill me instantly or would I writhe in agony from burning?  Would I be able to stop myself from actually falling into the red hot flames?   

Who knew except the three unfortunate souls that had died here back in the 80s.  Apparently they had come at a forbidden time when the level of intensity was a “3”.  We were experiencing a “1” and that was plenty scary enough for me.

The other option if I fell was to go off the opposite side of the volcano.  Just as you would imagine the slope up to a volcano, it was a 1184 foot drop where I imagined I might roll down without stopping.  I didn’t want to go either way, but I surely did not fancy dying in the fiery hole.

Lava down the side of a volcano

The other side of the volcano

When I’m working with clients and we talk about fear,

I ask them what will happen if they don’t do that certain thing they’re afraid of?  We talk about how fear can paralyze and keep us from having what we want.  I walk them through their worst case scenario.

This is what I did… I imagined the worst.  I shrugged my shoulders after realizing the pain probably wouldn’t last very long and I’d be gone quickly. 

I found my husband on a lower level, breathing normally and enjoying the volcano as the sun went down.  We could see the raw beauty of this amazing place which blended into darkness and crimson red lava.  I remembering thinking how grateful I was that we were both okay.  I began to relax and became present to my surroundings.  The lava “fireworks”, the shaking, the magnitude of it all hit me as I allowed my body to feel the sensations.   

I found the courage to be present.

I realized that this was Mother Earth, like a dragon, roaring and shouting. This was more than powerful, more magnificent than anything I could imagine and I was standing there, alive, daring nature, wondering, fascinated and mesmerized. 

I felt a reverence and appreciation for the wonder of it all.  I surrendered and found my courage.

epic adventure

Epic Volcano Adventure

Here’s what I learned on that day by the volcano.   Maybe these tips will help when YOU feel the grip of fear like me and it’s keeping you from doing or having something you really want.  I challenge you to decide right now to do something different:

  • Talk back to the voices in your head that freak out when you’re out of your comfort zone.  They will take over but only if you let them.
  • Follow your dreams. They are your guides to help you design the kind of life you want. And the dreams will help you override the fear.
  • Remind yourself of other moments when you’ve overcome your fear.  Even so called minor events of overcoming fear build your capacity to say no to feeling paralyzed and stuck.   
  • Finally, ask yourself:  what’s the worst thing that can happen & what would I do?   My guess is you’d find a way to cope. 

Where in your life are you too scared to make a change? 

When have you found the courage to do something scary? 

I’d love to hear your stories.  You can share your experience here under comments. 

I’d love for you to share this article. 

You may know someone who longs to follow their dreams and have adventures but holds back.  This article could help, knowing that there are people like me who feel their fear and do it anyway. 

If this post spoke to you & you’re not already on my list of readers, please sign up in the box above for more stories and tips about living the kind of life you dream, overriding fear, and living your life full on.

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  1. Absolutely loved this Jo – especially after having just watched the film Pompeii this weekend.

    I’ve lived in the same house for 10 years. We’re about to head off to California for 3 months and it’s scary. Will I do all the important logistical things before I go? Will we find places to stay? Will our family back home be okay, will we stay in good health?

    I’m reminding myself that I can’t know all these answers – and that whatever happens, it’ll be okay. It really helps to hear that you’re a scaredy cat adventurer too – thank you.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Corrina…this is exactly the underpinnings of fear…the unknown. You are so right about whatever happens, you’ll be okay and you’ll handle it. Thanks for sharing your experience. Have fun adventures in California! My home state & I miss it.

  2. Ahhh how I understand the fear you went through…. I had that fear when I moved from Germany to Alaska at the age of 47, making the decision and moving was a matter of 4 month and I was like in a daze, and when I arrived and things were all different than what was promised, I thought I would not survive, it left me with a continuing weak conscious, fear is easily now erupting in me… But it also left me with the strength of knowing that I can survive anything, as long as my path in life is not fulfilled. It is not easy to wake up with tummy griming of fear, or sleepless nights, I have to go through the “process” of fighting it every time… But,… here I am loving my life and being thankful for every experience. And I still love Alaska, the Great Land with all my heart.
    Thank you, Jo, for sharing, and your pictures are sensational.

    • Thank you, Ursula, for sharing your story. So true when we think we won’t survive, we do, and realize that we are more powerful than we think. So happy to hear that you are on your path and that you are grateful for every experience. Such good reminders for all of us.

  3. Monica Ballyurban says:

    While reading this story, I never pictured you as afraid. You have a ‘Goddess’ quality about you. You walked up to the living, breathing Mother Earth, communed with her, stood tall and proud, and walked away filled with her energy and mystery. And she is the happier for it. And proud.

    • Oh wow, Monica. I never thought about my experience like this! She did indeed fill me with energy and mystery. Thanks for helping me see this.

  4. Many of us would just stay closer to home in the comfort of familiarity but not you, Jo. Thanks for showing us that we can step out of our safe environments to experience a fuller life and for giving us the tools to cope when we do. I have my own challenge in six weeks, hiking the Grand Canyon to the floor and back. This venture scares the bee geez out of me but I am comforted by your words of wisdom and will concentrate on my ‘dream’ of pushing myself physically and mentally, suppress my fearful thoughts and remind myself of my conquering other fears in the past. Foremost, I am reassured by the thought of your sitting on my shoulder, encouraging me and helping me over the most difficult parts. Thanks for publishing this extraordinary piece and reminding us we can do more than we think we can.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Maie, you were the one who taught me, not only can you do it, but you will do it! I imagine others will be inspired by your having a dream, working towards it, and going for it even when you doubt yourself. Definitely, I’ll be walking with you. And I’ll whisper all the way from Japan in your ear that you’re just going up and down the canyon instead of riding and running in a biathalon.

  5. Angie Martin says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this “fear-filled” adventure. If we really think about it, when do we ever have true adventures where fear is not a constant at some point during the experience? I believe this is a universally difficult lesson to learn, but once we do we’re better for it, no? I certainly wish the fearful whispers would lessen the more comfortable we become with taking on new adventures, but it doesn’t seem to do so for me. If anything, I’m reminded that when we hear these, it’s because we’re going for a big one! Maybe our confidence does improve just as with your story because we have faced these “battles” before and we know better to trust our “gut feeling” to guide us instead of running from it. I only wish I always listened as well as what I’m sometimes capable of doing. Thanks for inspiring me to listen a little closer!

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Angela, I wonder, too, about why can’t the fearful whispers lessen? They don’t for me either and that’s a great way to put it..that we are tuning up for a big experience. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom here.

  6. Angie Martin says:

    Why are so many of us uncomfortable with the unknown? This always seems such a simple aspect to ponder because we know “why” we are, but it’s always a different story when we’re really faced with it.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      I wonder this too, Angela, about the unknown & our fears around this. Could it be our impulse to control things when we don’t know don’t know what will happen next? For me, I think sometimes I don’t trust myself to respond in a certain way. Hmmm…you’ve got me thinking.

  7. I loved this article and it reminded me of when I visited the Capulin Volcano in southeastern Colorado a couple of summers ago. Now a dormant volcano, this site was once alive as your visitation was and I cannot imagine what the experience with it being active was like. Nature provides us with so many lessons. I love how you can see the lessons and share them with your insightful eye.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      You are right, Helene…nature does indeed give us lessons, especially if we pay attention. I think I became keenly aware of this when I did my first coaches training retreat with you in Colorado. You took us to the Garden of Gods on a walk and guided us to listen to how we walk on the earth. So powerful. That was in 2006 I think and I still remember as if it was yesterday.

  8. I absolutely love your writings Jo! As I read I was reminded of our adventure on the hokuda snow walk in Japan. .fear of freezing to death lol..adventures are amazing..I applaud you!!

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Theresa! You are so kind. Thank you. And well I remember our walk in the snow and how we were laughing but it really was scary to be that cold, wet, & frozen to pieces. Love that we walked & laughed together.

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