“Do a ropes course! It’ll help you!’ For those of you who don’t know the ropes course, it is a series of physical challenges, done individually but within a group structure. Each challenge is designed to 1) bring up your fears and 2) encourage you to make new choices, with support. The group is instructed on how best to help.
I remember the first challenge. You stood on a picnic table, facing the table, and let yourself fall backwards into the waiting arms of your group. Easy physically, but there is a moment when the body reacts with instinctive fear and tries to right itself. One of the men in our group had recently returned from Viet Nam. He started this challenge with confidence, but he couldn’t get past that frightening moment. After a few tries, he told us that in the war, he had learned to trust no one, and he couldn’t let himself fall into our waiting cradle of arms. We told him we heard, we cared, and encouraged him to keep trying.
Eventually, he did fall into our arms, and we rocked him for a long time, while he sobbed his relief. When he sat up, he was radiant. Something deep had healed.
My own big challenge was a 70-foot tree, stripped of its branches, with spikes inserted for climbing. Some distance out from the tree, a big metal ring hung, waiting for me to leap from the treetop and catch the ring. (We were in belaying harness, so there was no real danger.) I’d climbed up there all right, but there was no way I could jump that far. So I’d have to jump into the air and freefall until the belaying rope caught.
To say I was terrified is understated. Absolutely not!!! I’m not jumping into thin air! Then I started to argue with myself: they couldn’t do this if people died. Meanwhile the group was shouting, “Go Marilyn! Go! Go!” Suddenly I was angry with myself for getting so stuck. With the energy of the anger, I flung myself into space.
I don’t remember the freefall. I do remember—forever—the euphoria when the rope caught and I was set gently on the ground.
And so I learned that the energy tied up in fear canbe redirected. It can fuel what we want instead of what scares us. The choice is ours.