Forget the mountains! (Just for a while. I’ll get back to them.) Look what I did.
The BB gave me a voucher for a flying trapeze class after we happened to catch a public-viewing afternoon. The tears of delight I shed when I unwrapped it, turned out to be quite prescient.
It begins with setting up. Poles are placed symmetrically. Straps are unwound. The black bulk that is the net is wheeled into the middle of the room (an old church) then unfolded – to the front, to the back, out and out, thinner, flatter, longer, wider – until it lies, sturdy and limp. Then, like a fish returned to the ocean, it springs to life and function as it’s raised metres above the floor. It floats – inviting, graceful, expansive and taut.
After the warm-up, we three newbies gather for our training with Johnno. On a static trapeze hanging over a mattress we practise bringing our legs up, through and over in the manner of school children hanging on monkey bars. Except not quite like that. My stomach muscles rather inconveniently pretend they’re not as honed as I have fondly imagined them to be. How the heck am I going to achieve this in the air?
After that, the take-off lesson is an embarrassment-free piece of cake. One arm pretends to hold a vertical strut. Body as plank. Lean forward, held from behind by the trapeze belt. Reach for the bar with the free arm, then the holding arm. Bend knees then jump, ever so slightly, up and forward. One doesn’t just fall. (It’s a light, upward movement. We’re flying here, people.)
And we’re ready. Apparently.
Up the ladder. (That’s easy. I’m not afraid of heights; I’m just not too keen on falling from them.) Standing on board about six metres up, Holly holds me. I’m planking at an angle over the net. I remind myself of the training words, “The person holding you can hold you.” Grab the bar. It’s heavy with tension, gravity and potential energy. I feel it tugging me down to the net, out into the abyss, into a huge space of nothing but air. A frisson of panic. Let go of the strut. “The person holding you can hold you.” I am the line of balance between the backwards pull on my belt and the downwards pull on my arms. Breathe.
Soaring. Cutting through the space. My body creating something beyond itself. It wants to emphasise the swing, lifting backwards and forwards. Then “Hup” from Johnno and I let go and sink to the net.
The next take-off is not any easier. My body and mind respond to the drag before I even touch the bar. What if my arms and hands are too puny to hold on?
I’ll fall from a great height. That’s what.
(Except I won’t because I am wearing a safety harness.)
This lack of trust in my body is unsettling.
For this turn, we are told to assume the knee-hang position. It’s too much. “I need to get used to just being up here, swinging back and forth,” I protest inwardly. “I need to ease in.”
Who is this ‘I’? Some version of my body or mind? I watch to see what they do. And, I calm them.
So I am out. Following instructions. Knees hooked over. Too hard to let go of the bar? Do it anyway. The instructor can tell if I’m ready. I unfold downwards.
For a few moments I have the illusion of being alone, of soaring in myself. It’s extreme self-reliance…in the complete safety provided by someone else.
Now my hands must get back to the bar. It’s an awfully long way up. I feel as if I am working against momentum. My action is sluggish and strained. I grunt (dear, oh dear) with exertion. Will I be able to hold onto the bar if I do reach it? (I do and it becomes slightly easier each time.)
As I prepare myself for my next turn, standing high above the sea of net, Holly tells me of her pleasure at seeing me grinning in delight as I swung back towards her last time, upside down. That changes my internal balance of joy and dread.
Gradually, I am able to widen my focus. I remember to hold my arms against my ears rather than spread them with the simple joy of flying and relief at being able to hold on when I need to.
Johnno tells me there is something we need to nip in the bud. I must put both feet through and over the bar at once. What part of me insists on ‘processing’, on going slowly, one foot after the other? You know what? Let go of that. I know I need to work faster too. Feetoverhandsoff. It’s a life lesson for me.
Later, Johnno addresses one of the other newbies. “You flopped down on that last legs down. You’re getting tired. You need to dig deep.” I check myself for fatigue. I seem fine, however, I’m aware I don’t want this to go on for hours and hours, this being stretched and stretched mentally. “Enjoy this,” I say to myself. “There’s only a few more goes. Have fun. Don’t spend time on fear or tiredness; they’re boring. Get the most out of this. Be present.”
Suddenly, there’s only half an hour left. I’m not sure if I want to stop now because I have an inkling of what’s coming up or to go on because I have an inkling of what’s coming up.
Johnno mentioned at the beginning that there’d be catching – a mind-boggling idea and barely credible. How could we progress that far? Onto the back-burner with that one.
And then it happened. A quick tutorial. Up the ladder and I’m watching Johnny (yes, another John) swing for me. I’ve observed his timing with others. I’ve got my take-off correct now. I can put both feet through at once. I’m responding quickly to the dismount-somersault calls, flicking my legs in counter-intuitive syncopation.
What if this catching thing happens?
The team have moulded me to some sort of fruitfulness. What if I can actually do this? I shall simply respond to instructions. I give shared charge of my body. This is the contract of trust. Trust frees one to concentrate on the task. Limiting beliefs and wayward emotions can be put aside.
Johnny is flying towards me. I am horizontal, arched, looking back at him. His arms are outstretched. My arms are outstretched. We’re at the top of our arcs. A glorious suspension. I’ve watched him swing away from others without connection, the potential catch not strong enough, not possible. But now: vein and sinew and tight human skin. I slide from my bar and we fly as one. Twice.
When I was a child, I witnessed this at the circus. Now I have done it. It was not a dream I had held. It just happened.
As I sweep up afterwards, Johnny remarks, “Now you’re working in the circus.” I am glad to anchor myself – something mundane after something sublime, each honouring the other.
I drive home, tumbled, opened, alive, present. My world has turned upside down, literally and figuratively. It’s been a journey for my psyche and my body coupled with the intensity of being ‘fully in the moment’. It’s upset the balance of my life.
I have discovered that physical activity is essential for me to feel a sense of overall well-being, to function optimally. The different types of exercise I do bring different gifts. For instance, hiking allows me to daydream, plan, enjoy the scenery. Climbing gives me the opportunity to overcome fear, to enjoy the way my body works, to commune with mountains. Nothing, though, has changed me in the way that flying trapeze has.
My son spoke of mountain-biking, something he had dabbled in as a child: the pleasure of doing something he loves; the adrenalin that flows from moving and decision-making at speed ; the insights he gains into himself – how hard he’s willing to go, what risks he’ll take, at what stage he starts to tire, how he reacts to fear and risk; and the ‘fully present’ thing.
I say this, not because you’re interested in me or him but to spark interest in yourself. What do your exercise modes allow for, bring to you, open up for you? Can you conceive of an activity that will allow you to expand another aspect of yourself? You may find clues to an activity, in your childhood.