Up on ropes

Free falling and improv up on high

RedwoodsI am not by any stretch of the imagination someone you might call a thrill seeker, yet to me there is nothing as wonderful as the sense of falling from the sky or being up on high.  The trick to enjoying a fall of course is to have trust.  My experience with free falling began when I decided to take an almost yearlong leadership course.  At a week retreat in Northern California with the same group each month, we got to know each other very well and learned to trust one another with our hearts and—our bodies.  The first physical and mental test that may have been the hardest for some but was actually the easiest for me was the aptly termed “trust fall”.

Medicine WheelsIn our version of the trust fall, you stood up on a high boulder facing away from the trusted group whose arms were joined to create a net to catch you.  Then in an instant, you’d just lie backwards and let yourself fall into their arms.  I remember that they caught me and kept me off the group in their arms—it felt like a huge warm hug—and slowly cradled and rocked me for a minute or so.  It was the quintessential feeling of safety and love to be embraced that way.  I am not sure why I felt so sure that they would catch me—I was one of the heavier persons there, but I just knew they would and they certainly did.  In my experience as you begin the leap into a free fall there is an instant of buzzing of adrenalin.  But that is so quickly replaced with calmness that the experience is almost addictive.  I imagine that is why people who go skydiving continue to do so regularly.

Tent RocksThe falling sensation that I most frequently recall from my time at the retreats was actually a jump from up high or maybe you would call it a tree-falling instead of a free-falling.  On another visit to Sebastopol, California for the continuing leadership retreat we climbed redwood trees.  I was connected to safety by way of a belay rope that was attached to two of my colleagues—again trust is required.  After scaling up a very tall redwood tree, I next walked across a tightrope to another redwood tree.  Awaiting me on the other side was one of our trainers perched like a bird.  He hugged me for support (emotional and physical) as he attached me to a rope with a knot on the end that acted like a seat of a swing.  With a push off to release from the tree where I was sitting (my own push, not his) I quickly was propelled into a pendulum swing—back and forth, back and forth.  The air swooshed past my ears in the loudest and most otherworldly air sound I have ever heard before.  I can conjure that sound if I concentrate very hard and I am fortunate to have felt/heard that sound a number of times since.  One time was when Andy and I hiked up Tent Rocks National Monument near Santa Fe, New Mexico.  When we reached the top, we were alone and on a precipice that was very quiet and peaceful, except for a few birds squawking and the wind humming in the breeze.  It was that sound again—a sound so calming and on the edge of that frightening sense of isolation—the sound I had first heard on my free-fall in the redwoods of Sebastopol, California.

Our labyrinthI am so grateful to my leadership group—called Medicine Wheels—and our co-leaders Elaine and Patrick for so many things, not the least was their kindness and love and support.   It was with this group that I had so many firsts including my initiation into free falling and labyrinths (see Revealing the labyrinth on our land).  I am forever grateful to Tam for her giving me a quick tip that turned out to be a turning point in my tree climbing experience.  She noticed that I was having difficulty climbing up the tree because I was using my arms and not my legs.  With the new piece of information in mind I immediately flew up the tree using my strong thigh muscles with such ease it felt magical.  Those days of tree climbing and free falling were packed with magical moments  (Speaking of magical moments, see my Wondrance Wedding Wednesday’s blog about how to have magical moments every day).

Perhaps the most magical experience up high at the leadership retreat had to do with improv.  Besides begin introduced to sky-walking, the leadership retreat was also my initiation to improv and boy did I take to that in an instant.  I love to make things up while I am speaking and that sums up what improv is to me.  My experience with improvisation up to that point had nothing to do with improv as most people think of it on a theatrical stage.  I improv all the time because I have taught for so may years and given so many presentations where I have to think very quickly on my feet and improvise my words.  At the retreat we learned some techniques and played some traditional improvisational games for a day intensive with some talented improv instructors.

Up on ropesThen we went into the air to perform—yes, we performed improv on a tightrope up again in the redwood trees.  This was probably the second or third time over several months when I had made the climb into the sky so I was very adept at climbing as if I was just walking up the side of the tree.  This time I was up there with a colleague and we were given a topic to co-create a 10-minute talk off the cuff.  It was improv up high.  As we walked across the tightrope—side by side to face our audience on the ground rather than facing the trees or each other’s backside—we gave our presentation.  The words flowed like water as we danced together across the thin wire.

My take-away from all of this is that—besides loving to talk in front of a group of people—I am in my element when I am up high in the sky.  It can be free-falling with a whoosh in my ears or it can be the sound of my own voice as I soar high above the earth, it can be taking in the view and sounds high up after climbing a mountain trail or it can be cloud hopping in my mind (see Cloud hopping).   Give me some air up high and I am free!

Labyrinth of our woods

Revealing the labyrinth on our land

My husband Andy and I created a labyrinth on our wooded property.  Or as my husband says, we uncovered it much like Michelangelo removes bits and pieces from a large piece of marble to reveal a sculpture.  Here is the story.

I have been very fortunate to have labyrinths come into my life about ten years ago.  At the time, I was in a yearlong leadership training held in Sebastopol California for four one-week intensive sessions.  The retreat was held on a beautiful redwood covered property that had many wonderful facets.  I loved the outdoor shower, completely secluded with views of the woods and plenty of hot water.  Not far from that was a swing that swayed on a very long rope beneath a lovely tree.  The grass covered hill had a large labyrinth made of berms covered with grass, the path, worn down earth.  Each day, our class of twenty would walk the labyrinth together, passing each other as the path meandered this way and that way.  We would offer a smile to our passing friend; sometimes we had our fingertips graze each other.  I came home thinking about labyrinths all the time.  And when I went to San Francisco to take my coaching certification exam, my husband surprised me by taking me to Grace Cathedral to walk their labyrinth.  I was hooked.

At home, we took off on our property to select a spot to build a labyrinth.  The found location had a natural boulder right in the middle of an area miraculously absent of trees, except for the circular perimeter.  We decided to collect rocks from our property to line the labyrinth path and I chose a design: the Baltic or Goddess labyrinth.  My sweet Andy is a structural engineer so he created sketches and using laser levels and stakes, mapped it out on the land.  Over a few weeks of backbreaking labor, the two of us collected the rocks and placed them to create the labyrinth.  I have walked the labyrinth many, many times over the past decade in all seasons and have enjoyed the meditative space that the labyrinth has provided.  A few summers ago on my birthday, Andy gave me a large brass temple bell that he placed just at the entrance.  Now I ring the bell three times before I walk our treasured labyrinth and I remain so grateful that the labyrinth was revealed from our property.