About a month ago, I found myself on the edge of this eight foot cliff in Ellsworth, Maine. It was the second day I was returning to the same spot, still determined to jump. I had seen two of my friends, John and Brian, leap into the lake below already. In fact they had done it multiple times, documenting various poses as they fell into the water. When it was my turn to jump, I got a running start, and stopped just short of the ledge (don't do this). I collapsed into a somewhat fetal position on the rock and held my legs to my chest. I had no idea what had happened, but I freaked out. The guys were stunned as well, almost nervous to approach me as I gasped for breath and rocked back and forth. "Jesus, what happened?!" I kept thinking to myself. "Okay. Okay. I can do this." So I got back up and stood there for about ten minutes. I told Brian to take a picture of me while I jumped, so he stood there for ten minutes as well, just watching me talk to myself. I finally confessed, "I can't do it. I don't know why, but I can't." And that was that. We walked down the trail, and headed back to camp.
A couple hours passed by, and the regret was looming over me. I was so angry at myself for not jumping. So I marched myself back to the cliff, determined to jump this time around. I stood there for over an hour that time. This pattern continued throughout the next day as well. I kept walking up that path, and standing at that ledge, convincing myself it was okay to jump. I told myself I had seen people do it. I had seen kids do it. It was the same distance as jumping off a high dive. It was just water below. Right? I observed the surroundings, took note of the rocks, and where to avoid jumping. I gathered myself and listened to some music. I even listened to this song:
Now, this was a new experience for me. I'm usually the first one to jump into things, and am hardly afraid of heights by any means. But, here's what was going on in my mind...
I saw the cliff as this giant metaphor for my life, and the fact that I wasn't leaping, well that was showing me that I was too afraid to take a new risk somewhere else. I saw that I was scared, too comfortable in my surroundings, afraid to let go and trust that the net will appear. It was a revolutionary moment for me. This huge parallel between what was in front of me and what was going on elsewhere in my life.
So I sat on that cliff for several hours over the course of three days. I continued to re-evaluate my life and my choices. I danced around. I did yoga. I talked to a dog. I prayed. I remembered the time I jumped off an 80 foot Redwood in Northern California, because it was part of this Confirmation training camp (the act itself was called the "Leap of Faith" and you were bungee corded to the tree, aiming to leap across to the platform on the next tree. This is what I did as a teenager.)
This time was different though. I was so far in my head that I couldn't make sense of anything, and I kept growing increasingly frustrated and bored with myself. "Oh God, is that how I feel about my life as a whole?" I thought. Clearly I was in a serious funk and therefore doubted everything around me. So I thought of things to push me, to motivate me, and tried to think of something to aim for. "What would I want to leap to? What makes me happy? Am I happy? What is happiness?" Oh no, going too far down the rabbit hole.
The third day I returned to my spot, it was the last day we were in Maine, and we were scheduled to leave in just a few hours. By this point, I had developed a serious relationship with this cliff. We had a past now. And I was going to jump off of it and fall into the water.
I stood there.
My friend Meryl paddled by me in a kayak and cheered me to jump off. We ended up talking for a few minutes, her in the kayak, me on the cliff. "There's a bear behind you." I heard her say, thinking she was just trying to scare me into jumping.
"What?" I asked.
"There's a bear coming up behind you," I think she says again. So I turn around and see John and Charity, walking up the path.
"You still haven't jumped?!" He exclaimed.
"No." I sighed.
Then Brian came up along the trail, with his camera in hand, ready to document my jump. (This had turned into quite a show, apparently.) "You told me you wanted a photo of you jumping," he exclaimed.
Meryl paddled away in the kayak, while the rest of us hung out on this cliff. Then Charity asked me, "You've been trying to jump off this thing?" "Yes. For three days now." I replied. All my frustration oozing out in every word.
"There could be rocks below!" She cried.
"I KNOW!" I screamed. "I've looked over every inch of this and found every detail I should be afraid of, and I still can't jump."
Charity paused. She looked around, evaluating the surroundings as I had done before.
"I'll jump if you jump," she finally said, looking me straight in the eyes.
Really. She meant it. And she began to strip down to her underwear, as the two guys and I stared in amazement. Then, she grabbed my right hand, looked at me, and said "You ready?"
"No." I replied, somewhat laughing.
We both inhaled a large breath. And then, with our hands held tight, we took a step back, then a step forward, and ran. We ran about five feet to the edge of the cliff, and we jumped. I could feel the air rushing against my face, my stomach tightening, my heart ready to explode. The water was right there and all I could see was darkness below. My eyes shut as we fell, and my surroundings escaped me. All that was there was the rush, and the feeling of the water hitting my skin.
As we emerged, we both screamed this elated scream. We cheered and hollered. Charity came up next to me, hugged me, kissed me on the cheek, and told me "I'm so proud of you."
We got out of the water, and I jumped two more times on my own.
Ideally, I had wanted to leap off the cliff by myself for the "big jump". I had built it up so much in my head, and felt the need to conquer the cliff on my own terms, but then I realized something I should have realized much earlier on. Sometimes we think we need to face those cliffs (or those mountains) on our own because it proves to others (and ourselves) that we are strong, determined, and brave. We get so wrapped up in how others see us, and how we see ourselves, therefore allowing our ego to get in the way. We feel the need to conquer our demons without any guidance, because to ask for help shows weakness, but that's just not true. Sometimes all we really need is for someone to take us by the hand, admit that they're just as scared as we are, but you know what, you're both going to face this new challenge together. And won't that be an adventure.