Sunday, July 10, 2011

Walking The Tightrope

I’ve come on vacation to MIraval Spa in Tucson, Arizona for a much needed respite. I’ve been here twice before, and I can measure the recent path of my life by reflecting on each trip. I’ve arrived on these grounds a different person each time…I leave slightly changed as well.

One of the unique features of Miraval is its challenge course. Nine events in all and throughout my time here, I’ve tasted every one. Logs and tightropes stand suspended four stories over the desert floor, beckoning you to face fears, tap into your inner strength and expose your character. And believe me, when you’re climbing a telephone pole in a harness, forty feet off the ground and then you’re asked to do things that Superman might think twice about, your character is exposed rather quickly!

I want to tell you about one particular challenge and how it’s worked on me at my core and has helped me shift to a more “balanced” place. It’s called “Desert Tightrope”.

Envision this, you strap into a harness and attach to a belay, climb a forty foot telephone pole on small metal pegs and step out onto a thin metal cable stretched fifty feet to the next pole, the “finish line”. Ahead of you, are eight ropes, suspended in your path, dangling from another cable overhead. They are varying lengths and distances. These, unstable, bouncing two-inch thick pieces of white cotton are your lifelines. You must overcome your fear, find stability and strength and navigate your way across this tightrope, sometimes lunging at the next rope, switching your weary arms up, trying to breathe, looking out at the beautiful desert mountain range in the distance and suddenly wondering why the in hell you’re performing a circus act. It seemed like a good idea at the sign up board, fun and adventurous. Now it’s scary, frustrating and at times, rather painful…nice vacation!

Allow me to tell you, my first trip to MIraval I was overly ambitious, goal oriented and driven. I attacked each challenge with my eyes focused only on the result. On my second journey, I was getting used to trying on being forty. At that time, I was shifting, becoming less focused on the finish line and more appreciative of the moment. Arriving here this time, I was tired, unsure of myself, expecting failure. It’s the most unlike “me” I’ve ever been.

The last trip I found myself on this particular event twice on my very first and last days. The first time, I had rope number six in my sites, I took a look at it, just barely beyond my reach and thought, “I’ve got this”. I was extended as far as I could be on the sadistically short fifth rope, finding six in hand would take a leap of faith. But I saw it there, waiting for me, I had this! I lunged forward releasing five and remember still so clearly the bravado of “nailing” this. It actually caused enough distraction for me to lose focus as the lifeline I was aiming at bounced out of my palm and I fell (safely) from the tightrope. I was defeated. I had let myself down. I had lost focus and it cost me a possible finish line.

Our final day at Miraval, I sought redemption and once again I found myself suspended above the earth at the short end of the fifth rope. This time I drew all of my focus on this single task. I drew a breath, released the safety of the rope from my left hand and once again lunged forward, sending my body off balance. This time I caught the rope with my right. I hung on fiercely, re-balanced myself and, exhausted, shimmied out toward seven.

It was extended out on that sixth rope where I lost my balance and fell backwards. But determination and waning strength kept both my feet on the tightrope cable and my hands on the rope. Imagine sitting in an “air-chair”, legs fully stretched in front, high up above the ground, that was where I found myself. After several unsuccessful attempts to right my predicament (and quite a bit of New York style cussing), I conceded that “sometimes we need to go backward to move forward”. My rope was at way too much of an angle for me to gain any leverage, so I reluctantly slid my feet back along the cable about eight precious feet and mustered my strength. In a massive effort, I pulled myself back up to standing on the tightrope. The encouragement and applause from my teammates down below felt good. Marguerite was smiling up at me. She knew my arms would have to fall off before I released my death grip on that rope. I stood and took a breath. The muscles in my arms and legs relaxed and after a moment, I felt I was ready to continue on. I had enough gas in the tank to keep going. But in my head, I had already reached my finish line. I didn’t give up on myself, I did what I thought was impossible. Believe it or not, at forty, the new Janice was satisfied with her success and celebrated the moment. “I think I’m happy with this.” I called down. Marguerite must have thought I suffered a stroke up on the wire. Her face said it all. Astonished that I would “choose” to come down, she embraced me as they lowered me to the ground. “Wow” was all she said. It was one of my favorite moments of that trip.

At forty, I allowed myself to lighten up, to recognize, acknowledge and celebrate my accomplishments. As cliché as it may sound, it’s truly about the journey and appreciating the moment and the effort. One thin wire, suspended high above the scorched earth of the arid desert broke me open and allowed me to accept that it’s not always about the finish line…in fact, it hardly ever is.

(The story continues…the next blog will feature my experience on the tightrope this time around and the lessons learned – stay tuned!)