Turn Off Your Brain & Be in the Present Moment: Lessons From Flying Trapeze
Afraid of heights? Being upside down? Injury? Performing in front of others? Flying? I know of a place, a one-stop-shop where all those fears can be confronted and simultaneously diminished in one conscious breath. Given away right there in the title, I recently explored a world most recently reserved for circus acts and crazy acrobats, the world of flying trapeze. Put it on a list with many other random things: blowing glass, spinning pottery, learning to hula dance, and singing in front of a crowd, by myself. These are all on my “I’ve always wanted to do that!” list. Finally moving from wanting to doing, I did it. I flew. And I’m so fricken stoked I did!
The first and biggest revelation I had while experiencing this very unusual joy was how long I’d waited to finally pull the trigger. I can apply this to my life in many ways. I waited a few years until I truly pursued yoga teacher training and considered it a viable option for my career. I waited nearly 8 years after 18 to skydive. What was I waiting for? Someone to hand me the opportunity, drag me onto the plane and throw me out of it? Yes, I think that’s accurate. Very easy to say we want to do things, much harder to actually do them. I read a beautiful quote (yes, we live in a world of quotes, inundated by memes, but it’s how we process and use the insight that matters) from the Buddha himself, “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”
The not starting is what speaks to me. I’m neurotic about finishing what I start but I’ve been equally fervent in avoiding actions where I’m uncertain of the result. So, I just don’t start at all. I learned from Bakasana/Crow Pose, that I’ll never actually nail the pose unless I’m willing to try it, to fall on my face, and to get up and try again. The main lesson I’m trying to convey is to let go of excuses and to just do whatever it is you want to do. Start! I am so sick of hearing myself make excuses why I can’t do things, why I can’t go places, why I can’t take this or that leap of faith. I’ve learned through this ultra complex, ever-changing world that there are no guarantees. There will always be reasons not to do something. Make a list instead of the reasons why you should. I hope very much that I live a long time, healthily and happily, but who knows if I will? Certainly not me. There’s very little we can control, except our inner state, our attitudes, our choices. And those choices begin very simply with our thoughts.
Very often when I’ve set out to do something in the past, only to choose not to, I realized my internal rhetoric was plagued by doubt and disbelief. Not being clairvoyant or telepathic, I haven’t a clue how the future will turn out, but my silly brain and psyche believed my what-ifs every single time. I now recognize the naysayer as my ego and my ego feeds off of fear and negativity, so whenever that voice creeps back in, I see it for exactly what it is, I assess whether it’s valid, most of the time deciding it is not and I move on. That was my attitude heading into my first trapeze class. Who cares? Give it a go. Enjoy.
Standing up on the platform, there is a strong survival instinct that kicks in. Call it adrenaline, self-preservation, acute fear, whatever. There’s a surge of emotions and a heightened awareness, you are zoned so strongly into the moment, into your current reality. This is an exaggerated version of what most of us experience constantly: fear. Standing there, looking at the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, and my supportive friends below, my heart was racing, my knees were shaky, my palms were sweaty, I was nervous as hell! Many courageous people you see aren’t impervious to these emotions. It’s how we respond. I saw and felt the fear, of course, but I also recognized the excitement, the fun, the potential for growth. And I went with that.
Before I hopped off the platform for my first knee-hang, the circus and trapeze veteran gave me a piece of advice I’ve been giving to my yoga students for years: “Turn off your brain. Listen and respond to the moment.” Wow, the irony. I’d never done this before and yet my mind was daydreaming how my body would handle it, how it all would look and feel. I watched many great people jump off that platform still living inside their heads, responding late because their energy was consumed by nerves and their insides were screaming, “holy shit, oh my god, holy shit, I’m doing it.” These people were strong enough, smart enough, capable enough to complete the short commands our teachers were giving us, but some were still trying to make reality reflect the fantasy in their heads. Those who let go and truly listened nailed it, and more importantly, really loved it.
Not only was the most intense fear experienced during the anticipation, during the story-telling my brain was churning out on a second to second basis before I leapt, but that fear was almost completely squandered once I let go. The physical choice to truly jump, to release, to go for it, was the only act required in my mind and heart following suit. My body felt the exhilaration, the rush, even the pride of just doing it, and the emotional experience of fear took a dive along with me. It was monumentally empowering! Once the bandaid was ripped off, so to speak, I felt a rush, I felt so supremely alive, the fear seemed so ridiculous once hindsight set in. Subsequently, the more I jumped off, the easier it was, the less nervous I became and the more joy I felt. All it really took was taking that first leap. This is true for so many decisions we make.
Do you love someone and they have no idea? Do you hate your job and desperately want to pursue another direction? Do you miss someone but are afraid to reach out? Have you always wanted to go somewhere but just haven’t made the necessary steps to go? Have you always wanted to express yourself in some way but out of fear and what-ifs chose not to pursue it? There are decisions, big and small, that we make every single day and those choices reflect whether we’re operating out of fear or love. These are challenging patterns to break, no doubt, but it just starts with one choice, one conscious breath, one Yes. Make a list of what you’re talking yourself out of and another of what you’re talking yourself into. Allow the second list to be longer.
Take more and more time out of your day to shut off your brain and respond to the moment as it comes. Take a leap into the unknown, the rewards far outweigh the risks when following your bliss. Being alive is a tremendous gift. You’re still here! Live what you love each day you’re given and feel grateful to be you along your way.