Years ago, the year I salsa-danced my way through my divorce, I was having tea at a friend’s house, chatting about this and that, when she casually mentioned something about her flying trapeze class.
“Flying trapeze?!” I sputtered, “You do flying trapeze?!”
I mean, it’s not every day that you meet someone who does flying trapeze, so I was beyond intrigued. I had to know more.
So she described to me how you climb a very tall ladder — 40 feet up — to a teeny, tiny platform, maybe two foot wide by five feet long, where one of the teachers snaps a rope into each side of your harness.
(Okay, you wear a harness… That takes a bit of the edge off…)
Then, while you cling for dear life to a side lader, and try not to look down, the teacher uses a long, hooked pole to grab the trapeze and pull it towards you.
This means you have to let go of the side ladder with one hand and grab the trapeze.
(Remember, you’re standing on a teeny, tiny platform. Forty feet in the air.)
Then the teacher takes a firm grip of the back of your harness with one hand, and holds the side ladder with the other, because the next thing that happens is that you have to grab the trapeze with both hands, which means the only thing between you and thin air is the teacher’s grip on your harness.
And then, you have to lean your entire body out over empty space (40 feet in the air, remember), until the teacher gives you a “one, two, three,” and you step off the tiny platform…
…at which point the only thing keeping you from falling is your white-knuckled grip on the trapeze bar, which is swinging you, 40 feet up, toward another teacher — the catcher — who is dangling from his knees on a second trapeze.
And then, after kicking your legs forward, back, and forward again, you let go of the trapeze and somersault through space, hopefully landing your reaching hands into the catcher’s waiting grip.
And even if you succeed in catching the catcher, at some point you have to let go again, to plunge into the net below. Granted, your plunge is slowed by another teacher who mans the ropes attached to your harness, but still.
Honestly, it sounded terrifying!
Maybe not quite as much as leaping out of an airplane, but pretty close. Just listening to my friend describe it made my stomach drop. I couldn’t imagine myself ever doing such a thing.
No way, José!
I’d stick to salsa dancing, thank you very much.
But then, not long after our conversation, I was struck with a sudden and mysterious pain in the ball of my foot. In the blink of an eye, salsa dancing was out of the question.
Weeks went by, but my foot just would not get better. (In fact, it took seven years to figure out that there was a benign nerve tumor in the ball of my foot, which had to be surgically removed. But that’s another story.)
My birthday rolled around, and since I couldn’t go out salsa dancing, my salsa friends took me to see a show, Teatro Zinzanni, which combined Cirque du Soleil-style circus acts, music, and a five-course meal, served by the performers.
It was a memorable evening, to say the least, especially one of the acts, in which a woman climbed a thick rope that dangled from the ceiling, and basically did an entire dance on and with that rope.
I was transfixed. I wanted to do that!
Now, I confess I think “I want to do that” about a lot of things, but I rarely actually go out and do them. In this case, though, because of my foot, I decided to do it.
“If I can’t dance on the ground,” I figured, “why not try dancing in the air?”
So I found a circus school about 45 minutes away, Trapeze Arts, signed up for a beginning aerial arts class, and began to learn the basics of maneuvering on a static trapeze (hanging maybe seven feet off the ground) and climbing a thick rope. And because the aerial arts classes took place in the same enormous warehouse as the flying trapeze — in fact, right next to the flying trapeze! — I got to witness a lot of flying trapeze classes.
Groups would file in for a three-hour corporate bonding experience, or a birthday party, and my stomach would drop each time a newbie climbed the ladder and stepped off the tiny ledge into the void.
No way would I ever do that!
A funny thing happened, though. Over the weeks and months that I took my aerial arts classes, not only did I build new skills (and new muscles!), but being around all those flying trapeze classes shifted something inside me.
What had once seemed unthinkably terrifying gradually began to feel less so.
I made friends with the regulars, and I also saw beginners swing through the air for the first time (often calling out for their deity, or their mother, as they did so). I saw dozens and hundreds of them let go of the trapeze and reach for the catcher, sometimes meeting hands, and sometimes not. Either way, thanks to the harness and the net waiting below, nobody ever died or got hurt.
Being around this week after week gradually desensitized me to the fear, until one day, I decided to try it myself!
Yes, the very thing I swore I’d never do!
Was it scary? Yes! That stomach-dropping fear I’d felt when my friend described her flying trapeze experience was even more intense when I stood on that little platform myself and leaned out over the void.
But I did it! I even successfully linked hands with the catcher!
And wow, what a thrill! I couldn’t wait for my turn to climb back up the ladder and do it again!
What had been “no way, José” terrifying had become fun!
This is how it works.
Courage Grows In Community
You may have have heard me say that if you do something enough, if becomes normal. It’s also true that if you’re around other people doing something enough, that starts to feel normal as well.
Watching people do something scary (and survive) has a way of desensitizing you to the fear.
This is why a creative courage community is so powerful. When you’re surrounded by others who are taking the kinds of risks you dream of taking yourself, it starts to feel possible.
Plus, of course, the community encourages you, gives you that loving nudge when you need it, pushes you out of the nest when they know your ready to fly.
That’s why very soon I’m opening up my community to embrace you and support you through your own courageous leaps: I want to see you fly. Stay tuned!
Now go get creating!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!