Last weekend I had the chance to go to a ropes course with my family and with other foster families with international refugee children. These types of activities, as you know, are geared towards team building and establishing trust – important things in any group setting, but especially with children who have experienced trauma associated with fleeing their home countries and leaving family members behind. The two young men in our care, one from Afghanistan and one from Eritrea, loved it. They climbed, they zipped, they balanced, they laughed. I was happy to be there with them, but much less excited about zipping and climbing. I really don’t like heights.
Our first challenge was the Alpine Tower. 50 feet tall. Strapped into a harness, you use whatever you can grab to reach the top. As I climbed higher, my fear grew and I could feel the muscles tightening with my stress. More than halfway up, I slipped and was dangling in my harness. My belayer, Caitlyn, had me secure and asked if I wanted to come down. I answered, “I don’t know yet.”
Strangely enough, as soon as I slipped off the tower, my fear left. I knew I was secure, so I was free to relax. I continued to climb another 8 feet or so, feeling my muscles strengthen as the cortisol dispersed and my body relaxed. Without the tension, I gained strength, stamina, and courage.
“Strength cannot be free to work unless balanced with relaxation.” – Dan Millman, The Warrior Athlete
While I was hanging in my harness next to that Alpine Tower, there was no denying the mind/body connection. I had faith that Caitlyn would keep me secure. Fear of getting hurt was no longer a thought I entertained. When the fear left, I could take a breath. When I took a breath, I turned the volume down on the fight-or-flight response that had been screaming, “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!” and my muscles could stretch for the next rope. Because, again to quote Dan Millman, “The natural supple body is a reflection of a relaxed mind.”
I didn’t make it to the top. But I also didn’t stop out of fear. So I am calling it a victory. What will you claim as your victory when you learn to relax the mind and free your strength?