My children are five and seven years old. Since early toddlerhood, we’ve taken them overseas a few times, rock climbed, gone to trapeze school, and attended a Circus Yoga class. We regularly climb an 800-foot mountain near our house; we hike, camp, bike ride and walk.
All of these experiences are intended to challenge them, help build character, expose them to experiences, and teach them about their capabilities. We are serious about our ‘fun,’ intending to show them that everything is possible and anything they wish to try is at their fingertips.
However, recently, we realized that our son was frozen with fear while swinging on the swings. He not only couldn’t do it, but wouldn’t do it, and would go out of his way to show us that he was incapable of doing it. What to do?
For three weeks, nearly daily, we took him to various playgrounds in our town. We tried cajoling him, bargaining with him, yelling at him. We took turns schooling him in technique and application; had his sister and various play-friends show him what to do, to no avail. It wasn’t upsetting that he couldn’t do it (although we were absolutely certain that he could); it was unbelievably upsetting that he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t try; wouldn’t even entertain trying it. And, every time he even started the natural motion of up and down, forward and back, he’d overthink it and hang backwards when he was moving forward; thrust forward when he was swinging back. It appeared as if he was talking himself incorrectly through the motions, even though the natural motion would have come, well, naturally! He ended up acting like he was doing it, but, in effect, not moving at all. He was, and we were, stuck.
While we could see that this exercise was setting up a much-unintended power play, it became, in the end, simply that: a power play. We did NOT want to see him replay his internal tapes showing us (and him) that he couldn’t do it; however, he did not want to do it for himself, or for us. Finally, late last week, he did it. We all clapped and screamed and slapped him on the back. We took him out for an ice cream sundae (a rarity); he looked like the Cheshire Cat. Later, he said that he told himself that he needed to focus, and just do it.
All of this brings us to Trapeze Camp, undertaken recently with trapeze artist Peter Gold (owner of Trapeze-Experience) at the Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, NY. Before climbing the requisite tall ladder to the top, all of us experienced various degrees and elements of fear. My daughter felt that she would break her wrists (her father said a friend had done so, previously) and/or die; my son said that while he was swinging, he was afraid of hitting the ropes. My husband was scared of falling – thinking he, too, could die. Very, very uncustomary, and for one of the first times in my adult life, I was afraid of everything – the height, the swinging, the freefalling, the ropes. More importantly, I refused to listen to any commands, assuming that (as I always think) I knew best. In my case, I missed the all-important timing. It is the barking of commands which provides the foundation for swinging correctly, and in right-time.
During my first swing, although the trainers were shouting commands, I couldn’t hear anyone talking, my voice was screaming so loudly inside my head. On my second swing, and once I realized that I needed to listen to them, I began to slowly allow their voices to override mine.
Only after I was sure I wouldn’t die.
By the third attempt, I did nearly everything right. The problem was that the third attempt was our last try of the day. (Confucius say that those who hesitate lose out in the end).
All of this brings to mind several key points: is it ever possible to do anything in life without safety (emotional or otherwise)? Does imagining or saying you can do something mean that you‘ll actually end up doing it? Does believing you can do it and having safety ensure that you’ll nearly always succeed? Interestingly enough, our daughter, who completed two prior ‘swings’ with little hesitation and with gusto, failed on her last attempt. Accustomed to being ‘held’ by two trainers before her swing release helped her feel safe, and held! With only one trainer available, she began to scream in fear and continued screaming through her jump, swing and eventual landing. She later said that without a second trainer, she couldn’t control herself. Without fear, she would have ‘soared’ beautifully.
I decided to take this straight to Peter, who often refers to himself as a ‘Fearologist.’ “Trapeze is a great metaphor for life,” he states. “The outer is a reflection of the inner. The way people respond to a flying trapeze class is a reflection of their beliefs, values, character, and abilities. Taking a trapeze class takes people quickly, to their “personal edge.” Beyond the fun and thrill of flying, trapeze seems to activate the emotional baggage that people have physically encoded in their energy system. Flying on the trapeze with us allows people to move from being “owned” by their experiences, to having more control and “ownership” of their experiences.
He adds, “Fear keeps people from fulfilling their desires, expectations, and dreams. Consistently, people who are more fearful on the trapeze are less able to have an accurate read on what’s really happening outside their body. And, it distracts them from their production, focus, and abilities. Flying on the trapeze gives people greater ability to stay operational in the present, while fear may be present.”
So, there you have it. I couldn’t have said it better. I’d like another chance to do the trapeze again; it may have a different outcome. However, two things have been gained: 1) We had a glimpse into our son’s playground experience and, 2) hopefully, all of us have learned a thing or two about ourselves. More importantly, we are now more confident, in great shape and………………..ready for more!