How is it that when you and I were 7, being grounded was the worst thing in the world… and now that we are adults, being grounded is something we long for?
What do you fear? What brings out your inner chicken?
I am afraid of heights. I am a chicken, a man-fairy when it comes to being off of the ground. In fact, I talk to myself inappropriately when I am more than two feet off of the planet. I become irrational. I think it must be Gravity compressing my brain, making me mentally unstable.
I have a relationship with fear and for too long fear kept me tied to the ground.
How healthy is your relationship with fear?
I work for a youth addiction treatment program in Edmonton, Alberta. At our program we use experiential therapy to support youth to learn how to overcome addiction and find natural highs. One activity that we use frequently is a high ropes course at Camp Warwa, Alberta.
At about the three year mark the Recreational Therapist began asking me to go to Camp Warwa with the group. I made jokes, I pretended to be busy and I sometimes hid. I was afraid. But the weird thing was that every time the group returned from the event, I listened to their stories and I wanted what they had.
I said no for another year. It took me 12 months until I was ready to say yes. What can I say, I have a thick skull?
As we drove to the camp, I remember asking myself, “Why the hell did I agree to this?” You know the feeling after you have made a decision and you are looking for any escape hatch that you can find. Moving vehicles generally don’t respond well when you try to use the door as an escape hatch. When we arrived at the camp, I crawled out of the van. The ground felt electric. Fear seemed to seep from the ground into my body and my stomach felt like it was full of ocean waves.
To prepare us, the staff took us through a close-to-the-ground version of the same ‘elements.’ Strange that I did not question why they used the word elements. Elements like Earth, Water, Wind and Fire are things that can destroy you. I do not think it is very smart to tell a group of impressionable adolescents and one man-chicken that you are entering the Elements right now. To me, that’s a subliminal message, saying “Go ahead, climb to your destruction!”
When it was my turn to go up the ladder, I felt like I was walking up to the guillotine. My pride was gone. I only hoped I that would not barf, fall off or make a crazy fool out of myself. I had to work with these people the next day, so if someone had to change my diapers it would be a little awkward back at work.
When I reached the top, my fear only got worse because the first element was walking over a 20 ft long pole that was 20 feet off of the ground. The only thing I could hold onto was a thin wire attached to my harness.
And the worst part, I heard voices. Gravity whispered to me. I was convinced that the wind would make the pole break in half and I would crash to the ground. I entertained thoughts of what it would feel like to fall and whether I would bounce when I hit the ground?
Somehow I reached the other side and sat down, which was stupid because I felt the pole swaying. The next elements consisted of manoeuvring my way across 3/4” steel cables, which seemed insane. I was not sure I could even stand up, so how was I going to walk out onto these thread-like cables? I’m not freakin’ Spiderman! Someone from my group asked me if I was okay and I knew I had to move before they sent someone over to hold my hand. So I got up and stepped onto the wire.
Step onto the wire
Going across the wires, Gravity talked in my ear. I was certain I was going to crash to the ground at any second.
Until I fell.
For a second, I swallowed air like a starving man swallows his next meal. Hanging in the air from a thin cable with a nylon harness digging into your groin is uncomfortable. But it can change you. Funny, I never thought I would say that. Gravity got a little quieter because I realized that the cable would hold me just fine and that no matter how many times I fell, I would be okay.
Hanging in the air from a thin cable with a nylon harness digging into your groin is uncomfortable. But it can change you.
Somehow I shuffled through a few other elements because I had a focus: get the hell off this thing and get back down on the ground. My only problem was the zip line. Zip line? There is nothing zippy about it. It’s more like a Jump-and-Pee-Your-Pants-Sceam-Like-You-Are-4-Years-Old line. You have to jump off of a tower and trust that you won’t fall and break your face.
The only way I could do it is say goodbye to my family, close my eyes and jump. So I did.
When I got back to the ground, I was glad that the earth was not swaying as much as my stomach, glad that it was over. I planned to never do anything like that again.
It’s weird, but challenging my fear did something inside my brain. It was like I caught a challenge-virus. I did not feel particularly courageous, I just began to question the limits that I had accepted for myself. I began challenging myself and I took more risks. Soon after this I decided to exercise and lose weight (I wrote about my experience in the post, Stop Losing Weight and Start Gaining a Life). Then I tried other high ropes courses and my fear almost vanished. Later I challenged my fear of leadership and I took on more responsibilities and different roles at work.
Experience can change you. Facing your fear can open you up to whatever life has for you.
The Downside of Being Grounded
We hear all of the time that we need to be grounded. Why? How is it that when you and I were 7, being grounded was the worst thing in the world… and now that we are adults, being grounded is something we long for? If we don’t lift our feet up once in a while and step onto the wire, Gravity will tie us down. And the more we listen to our personal Gravity, the smaller our world will become.
Go ahead, lift up your feet. What happens may surprise you.
Keep it real
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