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Learning to Fly

 

I don’t like heights. That’s one of my stories. I also don’t like flying. Another story. That’s why it was curious to find myself following a man down the beach after giving him 600 pesos to take me parasailing one afternoon, in Mexico.

I had started the day thinking that I would like to do at least one touristy thing while I was on vacation and, after eliminating things based on cost or time frame, I had, to my complete surprise, settled on parasailing. This is not something I had considered, or ever thought I would consider doing, because, you know…stories. But here I was, following along behind my guide, trudging through the hot sand, making my way to meet my airborne destiny.

Deciding to do things like this is a funny process for me. First, my heart says: “Hey, how about parasailing today?” and the ego is like: “Yeah, that sounds cool. We’re gonna be so cool! We can tell all our friends! Parasailing is rad and we want to be rad so let’s do it!” And so, the price of admission is paid and the gears are set in motion. But then, when the parachute appears as we duck round a corner and emerge from under a flock of beach umbrellas, the ego does an about face…

“Dude. That looks like a faulty parachute if I ever saw one. We are def gonna die if you strap us into that thing. And what about that rope? You do know that they don’t make very good ropes down here, right? Like, I think I heard there’s a 90% failure rate in Mexican ropes. Also, how do we know that guy filled up his boat with gas? Answer: we don’t! When he runs out of gas at the farthest point from shore and we crash land in the middle of a shark colony, you’re going to wish you would have listened to me.” And on and on…

This kind of monologue presents itself constantly in life, of course. And, sadly, we base a lot of decisions on what this little idiot in our head has to say. But I was ready for him this time. I just let him prattle on about careless employees and faulty equipment and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, showing the fearful voice some love and reassurance every step of the way. “We’re doing this.” I said. “You can choose to enjoy it or you can choose to fight it and wish you were somewhere else. I suggest the former.”

And on the conversation went, until I was strapped into what is, more or less, the nylon webbing version of a lawn chair and hooked to the billowing parachute, emblazoned with a Corona Light logo, behind me. The man on my right gave me the instruction to pull hard on the left handle when I heard him blow the whistle and I would float back to the beach where they could catch me at the end of the ride. “Other than that,” he said “just have fun.” Then, without asking me if I was ready. The man to my left blew a whistle and I was thrown into the air as the boat took off and my feet left the ground.

The acceleration to altitude was breathtaking. Once the wind catches the chute you really go up quite quickly and, all of a sudden, you are a couple hundred feet in the air, taking in a pelican’s eye view of the beautiful coastline. It was such an incredible sensation that it took me a minute to realize how quiet I had become, mentally and physically. Just the sound of the wind and the feeling of the breeze on my bare feet. There was no fear. My heart, if anything, was beating as slow as it ever does, and a feeling of deep peace came over me as I floated around the bay, tethered to that old outboard.

It was then I remembered that this is what pushing past fear feels like. Once the ego realizes it no longer had any control over the situation, it just relaxes. There is nothing left to fight against. We are doing the thing…and the thing is amazing!

It was also pretty short. Before I knew it we were circling back to the beach and I could hear the sound of the familiar whistle as I tugged hard on the left handle to bring me back to land. About a minute later, I floated gently into the waiting arms of two burly assistants, was unhooked from my sky chair, and then returned to the wild.

As I threw on my flip flops and said goodbye to my hosts, I started thinking about how many times the fearful voice had won in my life. How many things had I turned away from, closed my heart to, or just resigned myself to never doing because the voice had reasons? How many missed opportunities? How many scuttled dreams?

But, as a tinge of regret started to sneak into my thinking, I realized that it didn’t matter. There is only now. The conversation I am having in this moment is all that exists. I am different than I was in the past when I had open ears for the voice and was under the impression that the voice was somehow the real me. But that’s not who I am now. I’m wise enough to know that the voice is just the voice and that, while I need to acknowledge its existence, I don’t need to follow its instructions.

I had won today…and I flew! That’s all that mattered. And all the way home, I felt like I was still flying.

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