Gifts of the Ropes Course: Part 2
When I last left you, I was high atop the second platform of the ropes course during my weekend at Milton Marks Family Camp . (If you'd like to read that chapter it's right here.) I was part of the staff facilitating the caregivers* ropes challenge.
My job was to receive each of the participants as they arrived at my spot and ask them: "What are you ready to let go of?"
Well, if you know ANYthing about me, you know I'm all about letting go!
At Unfold Studio there's a big sign that says "Let it go." And when first-timers walk through the doors to learn about art journaling, one of the first things I say to them is "I encourage you to let go of your expectations...about who you think you are and who you think you aren't, about what you think you can do and what you think you can't, and about what you think this is supposed to be and what you think it isn't. Just let it all go."
So, when the directors of MMFC gave me my task, you know I said yes with gusto!
And right after I said yes I said: “Guess I’m ready to let go of my fear of heights!”
The first element of the course was a steel cable strung between two trees. The second was wooden planks about a foot or so apart, strung between two cables and no handrail. You had to hang on to your harness straps, hooked onto the cable overhead to take each step.
This was what the caregivers had to surpass to arrive at my station.
My station—a narrow wood plank platform attached to a tree 20' up in the air--was where I hooked myself to the tree (and the overhead cables). I felt surprisingly safe!
The ropes course is a metaphor. I mean, it's an actual, real life challenge, and it's a metaphor for life. It’s an experience that asks us to consider:
- What do you do with your fear?
- What holds you back?
- How much do you trust?
- Can you keep your eyes on the horizon and not look down?
I was profoundly moved witnessing each caregiver as they faced their fears in this very tangible way, their group of fellow caregivers watching them from below, holding them in their hearts and minds, praying for them, encouraging them on with times of respectful silence, and whoops, cheers and affirmations at other moments.
This group of beautiful people who are actually facing one of the most difficult challenges of their lives, gathered at the foot of the trees to face the challenge right in front of them and to find a tentative balance between trust, fear, acceptance, and confidence.
My words from the studio wafted up to me through the trees: “I encourage you to let go of who you think you are and who you think you aren’t.”
When you step out on a steel cable strung between trees who do you think you are? Who do you think you aren’t? What would happen if you just dropped all of that? Our old stories weigh us down and keep us from being our true, most magnificent selves. And our most vulnerable and courageous selves.
“I encourage you to let go of what you think you can do and what you think you can’t do.”
Do we even know what we can do? When you are facing the hardest challenges of your life do you not rise to the occasion accomplishing things you never never imagined and never would wish on anyone else—no matter the strain on your heart, mind and spirit? Feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, unrealistic expectations and self-judgment hold us back from being and doing in new and unimagined situations. And they give us a very warped image of our potential.
“I encourage you to let go of what you think this is and what you think this isn’t.”
What is this? Life? A ropes course? A cancer diagnosis? A family vacation? Letting go of what you think it is (and isn’t), letting go of your expectations for a situation makes space for all that it can be, and all that you can be.
As each caregiver approached me at my platform, I cheered them on. I hugged them when they arrived. I moved their harness straps to the next event cables and then I got quiet.
Looking them in the eye, I asked: “What are you ready to let go of?”
Some responded immediately. Some took a deep breath and paused to think. The responses I heard moved me, moved them, sometimes to tears, sometimes to laughter. But always, always the words they spoke were truth.
We took a deep breath together there up on the platform, letting go of whatever they had voiced, imagining a life going forward free of that weight.
And when they felt ready, I helped them cross over to finish the course (a wooden balance beam and a zipline awaited them) and to the cheers of their peers.
After everyone had finished, I was the last staff person on the course. I latched myself to the overhead cables and unhooked myself from my tree. I took a deep breath and—buoyed by the enormity of the collective courage of the group—I stepped out onto the beam and marched forward.
No matter where we are in our lives and what we are currently facing, we all are held down by our fears, expectations, toxic beliefs, old stories, and unhelpful patterns. The more we can shed these, the freer we will become. And the freer we become, the greater our potential in all aspects of our lives.
So, I want to know, Dear One,
What are you ready to let go of?
*Caregivers are the parents at MMFC who do not have the brain tumor.