Faced with a 100m drop from the edge of a cliff to waves crashing on rocks below, a few things went through my mind, like I am going to die, I can't do this and how did I end up here? Little did I realise at the time how significant being on this clifftop was for me, for this edge represented deeper universal themes of personal change and a key element of transformation. Edges in our lives are gateways to moving beyond what has been familiar and are potential portals to growth and change, and yet can be extremely uncomfortable. What do we need in order to stay present at these edges and not abandon the potential for change and new beginnings? We can often abandon ourselves with a push on and push through mentality. That is that we can choose to ignore or negate any feeling of anxiety or fear that we might have when approaching change in our lives. What might happen if we can slow down and stay with ourselves when we get to this place? We might choose to leave, pull back when we feel that we are alone at this precipice. My experience says that this is a wise part of ourselves lets us know when we may need additional support to move beyond thresholds of change. Sufficient support is instrumental in offering a pathway to transformation.
A few years ago I had a great interest in photojournalism, I loved photos that represented life in all its awe and mystery. For me, inspiring photographs told a rich story and were captivating and inspiring. It led me to pursuing photography as a serious venture for a period of time. I enrolled in a photojournalism course, part of the course work was to pursue a story, write about it and take photos representing the themes. Then during one lunchtime on my walk from work I came across a sign on the footpath in front of me, it had a image of a person on a rope, dangling from a great height, it offered the opportunity of excitement and adventure. As I approached the sign, Steve introduced himself. He excitedly told me that he had set up a rope on the adjacent building and was offering an experience of abseiling that would take people out of their everyday normal lives. Normally I would immediately say 'thanks but no thanks', not give it much attention and walk away, after all why do something frightening and take myself from the comfort of my day to day existence?
However there was a part of me that was excited, interested, and inside I felt this strong sensation that this was an opening for me to step out of my comfort zone. It felt like a doorway had opened in front of me and all I had to do was walk through. In the spur of the moment and being totally out of character, I struck up a conversation with Steve, and asked more about what he was really offering. "When I was in the SAS, 'we would practice rappelling out of helicopters that hovered about 30m from the ground. Unlike abseiling, when you are rappelling you are looking down towards the ground. Here we are inviting people to try it, rappelling down the face of this ten storey building is a real rush of adrenaline, better than any drug". Steve was charismatic and persuasive, and asked if I was interested in having a go, there and then. The blood drained from my body of the thought of facing that edge, ten storeys in the air. Quickly I revealed that I was looking for a story to write and publish, and although I was not able to try it today I wanted to see if I could interview him. Seeing the opportunity for his business he took me up to the top of the building and introduced me to his crew. He agreed to participate and suggested I meet him on the weekend at Diamond Bay in Sydney, he had a private group booking and would be happy to be interviewed and would give me the opportunity to meet the group that would be making the jump.
It was a beautiful clear blue Sunday morning morning in Sydney on the day of my interview with Steve. Diamond Bay lies on the southern head of the entrance to Sydney harbour. It is a spectacular sight, the deep blue Pacific ocean extends to the horizon, green grass and trees suddenly give way to a shear cliff face. Below me 100m down, waves pound rocks the size of small cars. I see Steve and his crew have already set up ropes over the edge. A rocky ledge would be the start of the jump, stretching out a few meters from the cliff face there was nothing but air between the ledge and the rocks below. We sat down and I asked Steve, about how he came to be in this business. He told me he had spent years in the Army, as part of an elite SAS unit. A unit where the best of the best soldiers were picked through a rigorous and competitive selection process, with such competition any sign of weakness needed to be kept hidden. After several years he became tired of this relentless competitive culture. He left the Army, setup this business traveling all over the country persuading people to go beyond their personal edge for fun. It turns out a majority of his clients are female, men it seems make up the minority, I ask Steve why?
"Women will face the edge, often with others females in close proximity, they will look over look at the height, pull back maybe have a cry, often they are reassured that they are doing OK and that they have the support of everyone around them. I have a hard time getting men up here, often they often wont even consider it. I think guys don't want to be vulnerable in front of their mates". I recalled my own experience of abseiling as a teenager where I bulked at going over a cliff, I remember being frozen with fear, being ridiculed by others and having a deep feeling of shame for not going over. It struck me how this played out a few days before when I first met him, I wanted to walk away.
The edge or a threshold is a potent metaphor for the point of which change occurs, we arrive at a point of choice, go beyond the known world into the unknown, or stay with what is familiar. If you have seen the movie the Matrix there is a pivotal scene at which the character Neo is given such a choice. To remain in a place of illusion, or to choose a path of truth and reality. Neo sits at a threshold, take the blue pill and remain stuck in a limited known world, or take the red pill and open to the possibility of growing into the powerful man that is within him. See the you tube clip below:
Like Neo, many of us find ourselves nervous during times that we are faced with a threshold of change, it becomes a personal edge, where we have the opportunity to move beyond the safety of the known world, into an unknown world rich with possibility. Men particularly often left feeling like they need to do it all by themselves, and face all fears without the support of anyone. If we take Steve on his word, it is the girls that will often go to the edge together, are generally OK expressing their feelings, and are more open to receive support.
When we are assured that we have the support of others, we are more likely to cross over the edge, where the impossible becomes the possible. When faced with a threshold or personal edge of change, with support new experiences are really possible. The edge is a powerful metaphor for change, it signals the limits of our experience, and maybe self limiting patterns that may hold us from experiencing freedom. Forcing ourselves to break these patterns alone often elicits resistance for good reason. It is our protective mechanism keeping us safe from perceived danger. Rapelling down a 100m cliff is a dangerous pastime without the adequate equipment, experienced and trained crew, and all the personal support you might need to face a potentially frightening experience. That is not to say we can just wait and sit on the sidelines for support to suddenly appear when we want, to live a rich and engaging life is to be an active participant in this world. It is at moments of high anxiety and fear that we are ripe for change, but sometimes its easier to feel the support of another when we are stuck. And I have found it is wise to say, 'its too much right now', then to step back and wait for the right time or the right support to be available.
Support is from my experience is best offered by seeking out someone who is empathetic with the capacity to really listen and understand my experience. It feels reassuring to be understood, and supports a calm, less agitated, and less anxious space within. With empathy we are more easily able to find our center and express what we need in each given moment, particularly if we are faced with change. Research in the area of neuro-science suggests that empathy accesses our brains mirror neurons offering the opportunity for us to discover new insights. Other research suggests we are able to survive and thrive in a complex social world through our capacity to see the similarity in others rather than focusing on the differences.
Watching the gathering group assemble and receive instructions from Steve and his crew on safety and equipment I noticed the split was in favour of more women than men. I walked around and talked to a few of the women who were huddled together, looking very animated and excited. The men spaced themselves apart from each other and looked less than enthusiastic. One of the guys told me he had to be dragged here by others as he has 'slept in'. The first to be taken out by one of the crew towards the rocky ledge was one of the women, positioning herself just back from the ledge that led to a 100 meter drop to waves crashing on rocks below. One crew member was at the top, the other at the bottom with two ropes between them, one rope allowed the lower crew member to slow a persons decent if needed. Clipping into the rope Jane wriggles on her bottom to the edge with a crew member right behind her, her legs dangle off the edge. Suddenly there is a scream as she slides off the edge, face first down the rope to the bottom. She squeals with delight as a her friends cheer her on, one by one the woman all go over.
Soon the guys have their turn, all of them silently and nervously approach the edge. They too scream with delight once they traverse the edge. And at the end there was just me, 'So', says Steve. 'Its your turn, if you want to'?" Without thinking I say 'Oh OK sure, why not'. Immediately I regretted those words coming out of my mouth. With more anxiety than I care to remember, and palms dripping with cold sweat, I put on the harness and slide towards one of the crew members Dave at the edge. All I could say was "F&#k" as I looked down, sitting on the edge with my legs dangling over, I was frozen with fear, my only thoughts were of my impending death. Dave gently whispered in my ear that the guy at the bottom of the rope can slow my decent if needed and said that that I will be OK, Before I could say anything else David said, "OK on the count of three I'll be nudging you over.....One,....two...." before the word "three" passed his lips I felt a gentle push and I was over. Between me and the rapidly approaching rocks, was air, a rope, and the rush of ecstasy and freedom.
Wow is this what it feels to be alive?
I couldn't wait to get up the top and have another go....
Richard Prince is a Sydney based Gestalt Psychotherapist in private practice. He works with clients that are interested in developing their inner wisdom, to create a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfilling relationships. He has trained in the United States and in Australia, completing a degree in Architecture, and holds Masters Degrees in Social Ecology and Gestalt Psychotherapy. He balances his therapy practice with life in the professional business world as a creative practitioner, as a father, a husband, and as a full time human being.