Earlier this month, my mother and I took a long-planned trip to Miraval, a wellness retreat in Arizona. The place was a health conscious heaven, with a vast array of exercise and meditation classes, spa services up the chakra, and some of the most delicious (and healthy!) food I’ve ever eaten. It’s like a posh summer camp for grownups.
My mom and I had a blast despite the fact that it poured rain (in Tucson!) nearly the entire time. One of the really special elements of Miraval is their adventure course, which features a variety of options for climbing, jumping off high places, and working through various obstacles.
The very last morning of our trip, the sun finally emerged. We had an adventure activity planned but, alas, when the third scheduled person didn’t show up, my mom and I had to choose a different one. We went for the one that our guide, a twenty-something with a red bead called Brad, described as the most physically challenging. My mom is in her sixties but she’s in great shape so I knew it wouldn’t be anything she couldn’t handle.
The Desert Tightrope is a wire about thirty feet in the air, which you arrive at by shimming up a telephone pole outfitted with climbing staples. Once there, you attempt to make it across the wire by holding onto a series of ropes that hang from overhead. The ropes are spaced further apart as you go, so the further your get, the more difficult it is to make it to the next one.
Brad encouraged us to be thoughtful as we went across the wire, to notice what happened inside us as we faced the fear of falling from the wire and the challenge and exhaustion of trying to make it from one rope to the other.
“The great thing about this challenge is that it forces you to be in the moment,” he said, “I guarantee you’re not going to be thinking about the office when you’re up on the wire.”
When faced with a challenge, I tend to say “Great! Bring it!” and charge forward full of bravado, especially if it’s something that scares me. And looking up at the high wire, I was nervous.
Once I was up there, I was stuck by how vulnerable I felt. Even with the assistance of the ropes overhead, it was incredibly tough to keep my balance as I inched from one rope to the other. I thought about my mom watching me on the ground, I knew she had to go next and that seeing me fail might make it harder. In many ways, my mom is the bravest one in my family, but the daredevil side of me that say “Me! I’ll go! Let me at ‘em,” I get from my dad.
When I was up on the wire, all I could think about was getting to the next rope. I yelled down to my mom and Brad something that my therapist Roz tells me about dealing with intense fear “You are safe even though you don’t feel safe.” Reminding myself of that let me get from one rope to the next.
I couldn’t think about getting to the end, it was too overwhelming. I had to laser focus on the rope that was dangling in front of me, to inch ever further from the rope I was relying on for support and stretch to reach out for the next one. As I reached for the second to last rope, I wobbled violently and contracted all my core muscles to stabilize myself. I shouted “Come on you can do it!” at myself. There was no room for inhibition on the wire. And at last, I made it to the rope.
And then I fell.
But I’d almost made it. If there’d been time, I would have gone up again. It mirrored my experiences trying to get a book deal, there were so many times I almost made it. And then I finally did.
My mom went next and she made it through several ropes even though heights make her nervous. I was so proud of her.
How blessed am I, I thought, to get to have this experience on this beautiful day with my beloved mom? We’re both in good health and the sun is shining and we’re climbing up telephone poles with Brad and everything is wonderful.
It’s easy to get instantly overwhelmed when thinking about what you want to accomplish in a given year, or even in a given day, the high wire was a great reminder to deal with fear by taking it step by step, rope by rope. And while you’re at it, take a second to enjoy the view.