There is a part of me that craves opportunities to prove things to myself and others. That portion of my personality obsessed about bungee jumping months ahead of my trip to New Zealand. Could I do it, would I do it, should I do it, how would I do it? After all, bungee jumping was invented in NZ; I would be asked about it forever upon my return (actually, not really), and it would be a chance to define a part of myself as outrageous once and for all. For months, I entertained visions of jumping off a bridge into a raging river. Halfway around the world and unconstrained by my home persona, I could do anything. Isn’t that part of the point of traveling somewhere far away – taking the opportunity to redefine yourself?
Once in NZ, the actual opportunity snuck up on me. It became a possibility the night before as I learned that the next day our group of educators would be exploring the Lake Taupo area of NZ’s North Island where there was a beautiful bungee jumping location (http://www.taupobungy.co.nz/).
Already, my chance was looking different than I had expected. The visions I had developed of dramatically seeking out the opportunity to jump off some bridge alone (which most likely would have never happened) were now replaced with the reality of an audience, and therefore with the knowledge that my jump was certain. By that time,it wasn’t so much that I wanted to be seen by my colleagues as someone who would jump – but more that I didn’t want to be seen as someone who wouldn’t.
Jumping did change something about who I was and how I interacted with the rest of the world from that point forward. Ironically, that change didn’t come as I was standing on the very little platform 47 meters above the water, nor did it come during my 8 second fall, nor did it come as I bounced back up to the edge of the cliff without my shirt to a crowd of cheering colleagues. Instead, it came during the final moments of the van ride before we got to the cliffs.
It was then that my motivation for jumping changed. Once my jump became certain, I began to see the opportunity as a chance to willingly surrender to something unknown rather than to challenge or impress myself or others. It became a symbolic moment for me…not one of courage, but one of faith. My choice to jump became a symbol then of what I wanted my relationship to be with the unknown for the rest of my life. I chose to put myself into care of others as I felt fearful, to transcend the limitations of my own thoughts, and to outstretch my arms despite not being sure of what might be there to meet them.
The result was beautiful. The feeling was one of absolute surrender, which gave way to a peaceful float through the air and a proud twirling display at the top of the bounce.
Never again would I consider the impressions of others or the development of a public persona as a reason to take a risk. The type of risks I seek out today are far different. I have since stood on many small and precarious platforms as I have traveled the world, raised my sons, developed myself as a professional, and otherwise navigated this tricky human experience. To this day, I find that my best moments come when I step forward peacefully into something new, put myself into the care of others when fearful, and let go. The result is a true desire to be a part of an experience rather than to focus on how surviving or overcoming it might fit into my ideal of who I am or what I might be about.
It was this real planet learning that first taught me what joy really felt like. Now I am surrounded by it – I can feel it, and I am a student of the ways in which I can support others to feel it too.
Eight seconds of floating over a lake in a country halfway around the world had the power to change so much more than I ever thought.