When you have come to the edge of all the light you have and step into the darkness of the unknown, believe that one of the two will happen to you: Either you’ll find something solid to stand on, or you’ll be taught how to fly!
I had been told to close my eyes before I hit. Whether I did or not, I can’t recall. I remember ‘seeing’ under the water, but I’m not sure if I did it with my eyes or with my mind. The experience is so intense that I may have hallucinated it.
Adrenaline does funny things like that. The fall itself seems to last forever, and yet, the impact, and the few few fleeting moments before are over before you realise what’s happened. I plunged way deeper than I expected; and then next thing I knew I was 40 feet up again, experiencing a moment of weightlessness at the summit of the arch. First air, then water, then air again faster than you know what hit you.
But as thrilling and frightening as the decent is, the scariest moment is not the fall, but the anticipation of it. The moment of release and the split second that follows when your heart leaps into your throat and your stomach is left loitering somewhere on the platform.
Scary because you’re giving yourself over; surrendering to forces beyond your control.
I didn’t realise until this moment that I never really experienced free-fall before, other than in long forgotten, fearsome dreams. The brief moments of decent you experience bouncing on a trampoline or crashing on a gym mat bare no likeness at all. Even diving from a high-board has nothing on the sensation of such a long, sustained fall.
Once you are falling though, you know there’s nothing else to do but give in and do your best to relax into the moment; that gives you some measure of relief.
You try not to be overcome by the powerful symptoms of adrenaline; and steel your nerve. But now you’re totally vertical; head down; moving faster and the ground is getting closer; another unfamiliar sensation as the blood begins to rush into your head and your chest—or is that the adrenalin?
At last the chord begins to tense and slows your decent. You breath a little sigh of relief, your brush with death averted. But it’s not quite over yet. Once the chord is at its maximum extension, it snaps back, tossing you high into the air again for another turn. And each time you’re stationary for a moment; suspended in midair while your stomach does a wee summersault inside of you. By now though you’ve realised you’re not going to die. Not today anyway. In fact, you’re more alive than ever; and you find that on the other side of fear… is gratitude.
Glutton for punishment
That was my second jump. The first time the cord arrested my fall moments before I reached the water. I was relieved, of course; but I felt I hadn’t really milked the experience for all it was worth. So I told them I wanted another go; and this time they should drop me in it.
Hitting the water really took the experience to a whole new level. I loved it! It may sound crazy but it actually made the whole thing more satisfying. Like a sense of closure or something. Falling but not landing, one can’t help but feel a bit… suspended.
The fall was actually a little less scary the second time; perhaps because I knew what to expect. But interestingly, it was no less difficult to actually jump.
How I broke through the fear
As I mentioned in the video, this was a major fear that had paralysed me many times before. Here are the techniques I used to overcome this fear before I even stepped on the platform which made the leap relatively easy (i.e. possible) to do:
1. Release resistance
Well before actually stepping into the cage— but especially in the day before doing it—I visualised. I visualised standing on the platform and feeling at ease; calm; safe.
I visualised what it would feel like to step off and fall. To see the water rushing up to meet me. To feel the wind rushing gusting past my ears. I noticed that when I did this I was immediately fearful. Even my imagining of it was scary. This was an indication that I still had a lot of resistance to the action.
So, rather than imagining myself plummeting, I imagined that I could step off and just gently float down very slowly and calmly; like a feather. When I did this, the fear immediately subsided and was gone. It was like a wonderful dream of floating.
I repeated this over and over until I could think of the leap and feel calm and safe. I knew if I could just find that feeling again; for a moment on the platform, I would be okay. I knew that I only had to overcome the resistance for the split second that it takes to actually let go. After that, there’s nothing you can do but give in and trust. Trust is much easier when you have no other option. It’s letting go that’s hard.
2. Pressure to succeed
I raised the stakes.
To ensure I would actually go through with it and not put it off or get cold feet, I told as many people as possible; and kept telling them. I told all my twitter followers that I was going to do the jump and if I chickened out, that they should unfollow me. My whole bag is about overcoming your fears, so if I’m not going to walk the talk, why would you want to listen to me?
I’m not sure if anyone besides Mars Dorian even noticed my bravado (he’s an expert on bravado). But to me the commitment was very real. Now my integrity was at stake, so this provided some additional pressure to counter any resistance to the fear of actually doing it. In the end I’m not sure I really needed this, because I was already totally committed to following through.
But it also provided another important benefit: momentum. I was talking myself up and boosting my confidence by making bold claims. This helped to nurture a…
3. Positive attitude
An experience like this could be liberating or traumatising depending on your attitude towards it. I approached the whole thing with a very confident, playful attitude. I wouldn’t allow myself any hesitation or timidity which might give the fear an opportunity to raise its voice. I had to keep my focus on the feeling of empowerment rather than trepidation.
I marched in confidently with my head held high, I laughed and joked with the jump master and the crew. And when it was over I went right back and said I wanted to do it again and this time he should drop me right into in the water.
It was crucial to approach the event as a thrilling adventure rather than a frightening challenge I needed to overcome. This was the most important mindset of all when it came to actually doing the thing.
4. The cold shower technique
What’s the best way to step into a cold shower? Just fucking do it. Don’t think about it. The longer you think about it, the harder it gets. Don’t anticipate the shock. Switch off all your mental faculties except the ones you need to physically get the job done. You kind of have to get out of your head for a moment. You have to forget yourself and ignore all the objections and protestations that your lizard brain will start spewing out given half a chance. Treat it like a non-event. Not even worth thinking about.
If you only take away one thing from this article, ultimately, it all comes down to trust. Trust is not the hope that it’s all going to turn out well; trust is making peace that whatever the outcome, you’re ready to embrace it.
All you really need to do is learn forwards and let go.
I think that’s good advice for living, don’t you? Just lean forwards. And let go. Nature takes care of the rest.
Freedom is letting go of all kinds of cages literal and figurative. Like everything in life, the scariest part is deciding to do it.
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