I once worked on a high ropes course at a summer camp. I didn't know I was afraid of heights until I was up in the trees. I thought I would be fine, but everything looks different when your mind's eye is still on the ground.
When you get up there and literally have the bird's eye view and yet know you're definitely not a bird, your mind has no reference for coping. Therefore something else has to come into it, but how? Well, one good thing about vulnerability — when coupled with faith and trust — is that it creates a passage for the mind to outdo itself, even transcend itself.
A high ropes course is basically a little obstacle course up in the trees. The obstacles start off easy and sharpen your concentration, as if preparing you for the ones that are designed to throw you out of the tress. I flowed pretty well through the first few obstacles because I had enough belief in my agility to keep me from falling. But then I came to an obstacle called The Boardwalk, which is absolutely impossible to cross without falling.
On the ground we know it'll be quite OK if we fall. It's explained clearly by the trainer that we'll be in a harness and connected by cables strong enough to hold a jet airplane, hooked to branches strong enough to hold an elephant. When up in the trees, this originally boring speech now becomes the scripture of a religion you know you must ardently follow. You bow and pray to the tree, cables and harness. You say "I believe!" and then you do as most extremely religious people do — you doubt!
And so this is when I started asking lots of bird-brain questions of my trainer: "Now what size elephants were we talking about? Was it an elephant the size and weight of an airplane? How do you know it can hold an elephant? Was there actually a test done?" And so several parts of the mind band together to twist up all sorts of scenarios, in a logic based upon fear, to talk the rest of the mind out of the task at hand. Thus the mind is thrown into a chaos, even a sort of agony. That's why so many people cry — and would rather cry — than just come down from the high ropes course and forget all about it.
Meanwhile my trainer was waiting on me. I was afraid he was going to think I wasn't cut out for the job and stick me with the lazy river "tubing" group. So I knew I just had to make myself do this! I knew fear would either debilitate me or kick my mind into a higher gear. Ego helped me make the choice, causing the fear of looking a like a failure.
So I was willing to risk certain death to fall amidst all the airplanes and elephants that fell before me. So, with this odd sort of faith, I stepped one foot onto The Boardwalk. (It's sort of like a sidewalk, only the boards are spaced very far apart and held together by swaying cables on each side.) I was actually surprised how many steps I was able to take before I heard all this loud, blood curdling, screaming as I fell to my certain death ... and emerged into a new life.
As the harness caught me, my fear died and my faith was reborn, truer and stronger. I realized it was that other guy, that former me full of fear, who just fell and died. Then I joyously chimed in with the hearty laughter of my trainer, who said, "Falling's great, isn't it?" I said, "Yeah, who would have thought it was the best part!"
I pulled myself back up onto The Boardwalk and fell a couple more times, laughing and having great fun with it. When I came down from the trees I was elated, and since then I've seen how this whole scenario plays out in all the obstacles of life. Truly, falling is often the best thing that can ever happen to us.
WILLIAM BRASHEAR, owner of Cincinnati Yoga School in Blue Ash, is a Thai Yoga Masseur and has practiced Vipassana Meditation for 18 years. Contact him at [email protected].