Under the big tent

I had a major realization earlier this year. While visiting Seattle with Yona, I was looking for fun and different things for us to do. Since he used to do gymnastics, I thought a flying trapeze class at the circus school might fit the bill. Movie nights aren’t our thing.

There was only one problem. Really several problems. I was and am terrified of heights. Certainly terrified to hang upside down from said heights. And I’m not flexible.

There was no syllabus for the circus class, so I assumed that you would kind of just swing around like a monkey for a bit, flop on the net, and that would be that.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

When the instructor pulled us aside for his 5 minute tops instructional presentation, he informed us that we would swing out, flip upside down and put our knees over the bar on the way back, then take one more swing out, reach out above our heads to grab the person on the other trapeze, straighten our knees, and swing out hanging from his arms. I thought he was kidding. Like, maybe he dresses up like a clown ha ha funny. This is the circus. He had to be kidding.

But he kept talking. Wait. He wasn’t kidding.

Well, I thought, That’s going to make this easy. There is absolutely no possibility that I can do that. Zero.

After his talk, we walked over to a big ladder with a pulley system that you could clip into to keep you from dying in case you fell off the ladder on the way up. The ladder led to a platform high above a net in the air where we would practice our aerobatic stunts. I was worried about just getting up the ladder.

A couple of regulars went first, and they made it look easy. Suddenly it was my turn. I have climbed ladders before, I can climb a ladder now, I told myself. I clipped in and carefully placed my foot on each rung, focusing my eyes only on my hands directly in front of my face. No looking up, especially not down.

I made it to the platform, where a short guy wearing striped clown socks was waiting for me. He unclipped me from the ladder safety system then took his time re-clipping me to the pulley system that I would use on the trapeze. This did not instill confidence in me. I’ve been around a lot of ropes courses – I’ve instructed on some in fact – and rule #1 is that when you’re off the ground, you’re ALWAYS clipped in. This was not a good start.

He had me stand on the very edge of the platform, and placed the trapeze bar in my hands. The bar was much heavier than I thought it would be. He stood behind me and grabbed onto the poofy PFD-like belt around my waist that connected me to the pulley system. Then I had to lean out over the edge of the platform. Waaay out over the edge. And on his signal, I was to jump off the ledge. I was fairly certain that my hands weren’t strong enough and that I would not be able to hang onto the bar, causing me to immediately fall to the net below like a sack of potatoes.

He gave the signal, and I jumped, and lo and behold.. I did NOT fall off the bar. I held on! I swung back and forth a few times, scared out of my wits. Do monkeys get scared swinging from trees? The circus people were yelling instructions at me, but I ignored them. I just wanted to swing back and forth and get used to the height and the motion.

From then on out, I did my best to not let my anxiety get the best of me.  I didn’t think about my fears and my doubts. I knew what I had do to, and I would just DO it, adding one new step each time.

First it was putting my legs over the bar and swinging upside down.

The next time I put my legs over the bar and let go of the bar with my hands.

The time after that I extended my arms over my head while I was upside down swinging.

I practiced that a few times, and then…

My world was rocked.

I was 100% certain that I would not be able to do that hand off. Nor really because of physical limitations, but because of mental blocks. I can’t think of the last time I learned such an important lesson.

Whenever I doubt myself, this experience is what I remember.