I’ve been going through old posts to update links and pictures, and I discovered something surprising: brave seems to have been my one word for a lot longer than the last three weeks.
There are frequent references and the odd post on courage, on facing my fears. I found a post from June 2010 that encouraged me again today, to remind me that even if I failed yesterday and let fear limit me, that today is a brand new opportunity to be brave.
June 3rd, 2010
I had a story that I was thinking of sharing here last month that I didn’t because it didn’t make me look all that good.
It was a story from my three days in the middle of Sweden for the General Assembly of the NGO network I work for. One evening we were taken out for team building exercises at a local Christian college. Which involved something called the “little swing” which turned out to be not so little.
Just looking at the thing I was terrified. I was in a group of about 15 men and women, mostly CEOs and International Directors of quite significant international development and humanitarian NGOs. So people who are used to trekking days through Afghanistan or Nepal to reach a village needing a well/school/food. And half the group were also too scared to get on the swing.
And as I watched the other half go through the process of looking terrified and then exhilirated, I really really really wanted to do it. Only I knew that last time I was that high on a ropes course it had ended up with me in hysteric tears needing to be talked through every step to get down. But I wanted to do the swing so badly!!
In the end the instructor persuaded me by saying I could just do a “half” swing – they would only pull me up half way and I could swing from there. So I did that and it was a wee bit scary but the swinging was a lot of fun… like a kid’s playground on speed!
But then they said “so that wasn’t so bad, why not do the whole thing?” and I thought “why not?” and they started pulling me up there and we got past a certain point and something in my head clicked.
On the one side I was thinking “you are completely safe, you have two ropes attached to you that could hold minibuses, you’ve seen about seven others do it before you, you are safe, just pull the damn release cord and it will be over in seconds”. And then there was the other side of my head thinking
I’M GOING TO DIE, I’M GOING TO DIE, I’M GOING TO DIE.
And that side sort of took over and my hands were welded to the rope, I started sweating and shaking all over, and I had to work hard to control my breathing and I was so close to tears. Oh God, please don’t let me cry in front of all these CEOs.
And I just couldn’t do it. I was on the verge of hysterical which my lovely boss realised in about two seconds and commanded them to let me down, which they did to half way and then I somehow found the will power to pull the release cord and swing…
At the time I was hugely embarrassed. To fail that test of courage in front of so many incredible professionals that I admire and like was horribly humiliating, despite their attempts to be nice and supportive when I got down. I was proud of myself for trying, for going up there when just watching the others was making my heart palpitate. But I was also so disappointed with myself for not being able to overcome or control my fear.
Fast forward two weeks and we are in Zion National Park, Utah.
The Park was one of the most beautiful places on earth I have ever visited. We drove up three hours from Vegas and were in a different world – one of beautiful red rock cliffs, rivers winding through steep narrow canyons, waterfalls creating pools high above the valley floor.
We wanted to do more than look, so we signed up for a morning of guided canyoneering through a slot canyon. It was just Rasmus, me and our guide, who took us far away from the tourists, to an area where there was absolutely no human sound, just the noise of birds and the rustle of who-knows-what in the undergrowth, the sun already strong in the sky.
We reached the top of the slot canyon we would be hiking down and our first task was to absail into it. It was not such a huge drop, shorter even that the dreaded swing in Sweden, but my heart started beating the moment I saw it.
Rasmus went first. The first few metres you walked yourself down the canyon wall, then it cut away from you and you had to step back and trust the rope to hold you until you reached the river bed…
Really and truly I was working so hard to control my heart before it exploded. And my breathing in case I started hyperventilating. But I did it. I stepped back, slowly let the rope out and made it all the way down where my sweet man was waiting to make sure I hadn’t died from fear.
I hadn’t. And that was the start of an amazing two hours finding our way down through the canyon. It was one of the highlights of our trip, to be totally alone in this stunning scenery, marvelling at the way the colourful rock twirled and curved it’s way elegantly through the canyon.
We absailed a couple more times, jumped and slid and wedged ourselves against rocks, waded through the freezing river when there was no other way, and then eventually rock climbed the steep side out of the canyon and trekked back to the car through the desert forest.
For many people this would probably have been simply a fun adventure, a great way to explore this beautiful landscape.
For me it had so much more meaning because I proved to myself that I could do something I was scared of, that I could overcome my fears to enjoy something I really wanted to do. And if I can do it in Utah, why not every day of my life?
For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind.