This weekend I had the opportunity to jump off a 20 foot rock cliff and I didn't do it. The boys did it and they're taller and they didn't hit rocks. So even though the water was murky, it wasn't a lack of depth nor threat of injury. I've jumped off higher things and I've jumped into colder water on cooler days. It wasn't the height and it wasn't the temperature. It was something inside of me. Naturally, this bothered me enough to start thinking about the role that fear plays in decision-making, and how the allure of risk is necessary in adrenaline-pumping activities. It's all about how you make sense of that fear, channel it into action, or decide the fear isn't worth the potential gain, and walk away.
I know a girl who rode a road bike through Europe. Upon returning she said one of the biggest things she learned was the difference between feeling afraid and true fear. True fear, is visceral. It's a feeling that expresses itself in shaking hands, a beating chest and a loud voice that hopefully tells you how to handle a situation. But sometimes it's muffled, for many reasons. I'm someone who believes what scares us is important to re-evaluate (see my blog on surfing!), but I'm also someone who was once so out of touch with myself that I would put myself in dangerous situations just to feel anything at all.
I remember being a kid and climbing trees, hell I do it to this day. I remember climbing to impossible heights, clambering onwards and upwards (oh how fun it was to see the world from a different perspective!), and being terrified, every time, once I realized that what goes up must come down. I would cling to the tree branches, scraping patterns of bark into my skin... Holding on for dear life, legs fizzing and tingling with anxiety, I'd slowly lower myself back down. The awful fear and physical sensation was worth the elevation gain.
At Wildwood Falls, in Lane County, Oregon, a waterfall flows into a deep swimming hole that has basalt cliffs and hard rock encircling it. In the sweltering heat of summer, I stood on the second tallest cliff, staring off the edge, completely paralyzed with a heightened sense of numbness overtaking my entire body. I stood there, FOR AN HOUR, without moving before finally jumping in. A blood curdling scream accompanied my freefall. But I did it.
I remember standing at the edge of Zací Cenote in Valladolid, Mexico, absolutely terrified. This cenote is one that you walk into; out of the oppressively hot and humid city, down slippery stone steps and into a cool, open cave. I stood at the edge, probably 25 feet up, and was cheered on by the locals, which was probably the only reason I actually launched myself off the cliff. I had to set an example for all the kiddos. It felt so good that we did it again and again. Alkaline fresh water + tropical climate = cliff jumping.
One time we took an inflatable kayak to Blue Lake, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, to deep water solo the rock face at the base of Mt Toll. Climbing up was not the issue. But once at the top, I was filled with that feeling again. I was so frustrated with myself. I stomped my feet and threw my hands in the air. There was something that made me pause, and that something, at this point, I realize is a natural instinct to not die. Do not die, stay away from dangerous situations... But how could I convince my body that jumping off a cliff is actually adrenaline pumping and enlivening?
The point I'm trying to get to is that fear can prevent you from doing a lot. When you can see how far you can potentially fall, and you have felt pain before, it is natural to want to step away from it. But it is so important to launch yourself into it, at a speed that makes sense. Every time I've jumped, no matter how long I procrastinated for, I was completely prepared mentally and physically. Jumping has always been a choice.