Clear Water SC Blog
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Talking Myself Off a Very Small Cliff

This story was originally published in the October 2023 edition of the Clear Water RoundUp.

Mid-month, a group of friends and I went abseiling. Abseiling, which may or may not be the same as rappelling, is when you descend a nearly vertical surface supported by a rope attached to a harness worn on your torso.

After some training on rope technique and safety communication led by our expert guides, we abseiled down a waterfall, starting at the top and unable to see the surface beyond the lip we were standing on. I descended slowly, keeping my feet in contact with the wall, feeling cold and disconcerted when I found myself immersed and blinded by the waterfall hitting my helmet splattering loudly all around me, unable to see or hear where I was until my friend said "Liane, look over here" and sure enough, I stuck my head out and smiled for a photo, discovering myself half a meter from the landing pool.

Abseiling down ten (10) or more meters of waterfall doesn't scare me.

But jumping off a three (3) meter-high rock into the water does. Our hiking route up to and down from our waterfall included three (3) jumps into deep enough pools, none of them mandatory for the course.

The first one, probably around two (2) meters high, was practice for most people. Our guides knew exactly where to stand and what steps to take to clear the rock inclining slightly outward below. All of us executed it, most of us with ease. Before my turn, one of my new friends stood on the spot, looking down at the water, their face looking grave, their body not yet in sync with their intention, legs resisting the leap from safety. I watched, knowing that feeling many times before.

When it was my first turn, I climbed up to the perch, no problem. Stood up, then they came. The inner wobble, the racing heartbeat, the racing thoughts, the jitters that come out in laughs and smiles, my shoulders shaking, I don't want to go and I want to go. Friends cheered. "You got this! Go!" and one person began to countdown, "ONE! TWO!! ..."

"Stop stop stop stop STOP," I shouted, waving my arms dramatically. Everybody quieted down, most resuming conversation. Back in a safer headspace of reduced expectation, I breathed, my legs steadied, then step... jump SPLASH. Woo, cold, it didn't hurt, no belly flop or back flop or arm flop, just some water up my nose. Woo, that was fun!

Onwards, hiking, climbing, we reach a second jump, maybe three and a half (3.5) meters high. I saw the shape of the rock, one absolutely must go sufficiently forward in addition to down to not smack on the rock. People told me that I would need to jump forward by one foot (25 cm) and I'll clear it for sure.

I climbed up there, ready, then it came again.

"Buhbuhmbuhbuhmbuhbuhm heeheehee woo that's high there's the rock there's the tree coming out of the rock there's the water down there buhbuhmbuhbuhmbuhbuhm." I held the guide's hand. I let go of her hand and inched forward. I reached the edge, tensed up, and inched back. Back and forth and back and forth, my two feet reaching the edge, the edge reaching my stomach, my stomach reaching my throat, my two feet reaching back to the tree behind me.

Like all emotions, the anxious emotions live in my body, and when they show up, my physiology changes. The rapid heartbeat, the body so tense that a simple fluid movement of taking a step forward, like any step forward I take while walking, seems impossible. What to do?

I began talking to myself. I called myself by name - Liane, what do you need to tell yourself? What do you need to tell yourself?

It's safe. Everyone here knows what they're doing. They did it. You only need a foot. Step step, you can do it. Nice helmet.

So? I'm not them. And that doesn't mean I'll get my posture right. If I get it wrong, it'll hurt even more. Belly flop, back flop, face flop, arm flop, neck flop - how would that even be possible? For some reason, the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) come and I visualize these and the pain.

What do you need to tell yourself, Liane? Forming a whole sentence in my brain, my breath slowed down. Can you trust yourself, Liane? Yes, yes, I can. Can you trust the gravity, trust the water.

Do you need to start at the edge, Liane? No, no, I don't actually. It's much easier to step over the edge if I've taken at least a step before the edge. Slower, longer breaths. Feeling my limbs unfreeze, I became capable of full steps.

Two steps back, now forward, step... step...OFF!

I wrapped my arms across my straightened body, nothing I could do... SPLOOOSH. I swambled (swim + scrambled) to the surface "Weee cooolldd that was fuuun!"

"Good job!" I hear, then see my own phone camera pointed at me.

They showed me the picture. Perfect form. What was I so worried about?

I would do it again! But we're behind schedule, time to move on.

In the evening, the excursion completed and the body all dried off, I revisited the photos of me poised to jump, back and forth at the cliff.

Two main observations:

  1. From the time stamps on the photos, six (6) minutes transpired from the moment I climbed to the jumping point to the moment I actually jumped.
  2. From the photo of me in the air, my form is perfect. You can see it below. Feet pointing down for a smooth entry, legs angled slightly forward to mediate my depth, arms folded across my chest, body posture perfect near vertical. No face flop, belly flop, back flop, butt flop, or arm flop will happen this way.

Having seen that, I'd do it again. I'd even try the higher jump that half of our group tried later. What a thought - a visual of me doing it well helps me visualize myself doing it well, motivating me to do it.

What did I learn?

  • Visualize what is desired and possible
  • My brain, for better or worse, is good at visualizing possibilities, the better ones and the worse ones
  • What matters is realizing which possibilities are more realistic, especially when it is the better ones

How has that helped me?

This month, I launched new online workshops - all those feelings of climbing to the rock, getting to the edge and ready to jump, and then the rush of thoughts about what could go wrong and why I shouldn't jump.

That feeling comes to me every time I post something public, like advertising a workshop, or even publishing this newsletter. The bigger the offering, the higher the jump.

That feeling also comes to me in human-to-human interactions, especially when I need to deliver critical feedback, or ask someone to do something differently, or to ask for a significant amount of help. The ANTs come - all kinds of reactions could come back at me, and anxieties can get stirred around the possibility of "no'' and even the possibility of "yes", as sometimes that sets me up to do something even more significant, like climbing higher and jumping from higher.

This month, I've done all of these things - I’ve posted something public, delivered critical feedback, asked someone to change their behavior, exposed limitations of my situation, and asked for substantial help.

What helps? In the case of the newsletter, I have a track record of 90 issues published already. Some awesome, some less awesome, and either way, it does not hurt like a face flop, belly flop, etc. They're like the existing visuals that help me visualize success again.

What about all those new and uncertain situations, especially those involving other people?

At some point, I've done my best with what I have. I've scoped out the landscape, found strong indications that something will "work out" to the extent that I can rule out with extremely low doubt that if I jump in this situation, neither the rock, the water, a tree, nor an alligator is going to jump back me. Again, it's about replacing the "automatic negative thoughts" ANTs with "more accurate thoughts" (MATHs). It's about doing that and tuning in to the tensing and relaxing that happens simultaneously, and knowing that I am way more capable, creative, and sharp when I'm relaxed.

Over to you - What is something for which you are going to make a leap - today or soon? When do you want to do it?

Now visualize - try holding a picture in your mind of yourself taking that step, completing that step. What are some essential details in this picture? What is in your capacity to create those details?

Thank you for engaging with this reflection. If you have any reactions to it you'd like to share, you can comment on the newsletter or send me an email.