Looking over the 300 yard chasm in front of me, I sweated bullets. I was about scratch another one off my Bucket list, but first I had to jump into the void at Victoria Falls.
After visiting Iguassu Falls in Brazil/ Argentina, in 1996, I committed myself to going to Victoria Falls. The power of the water called me, but this leap into nothingness was an add-on. I didn’t have to do it, but my basic operating principle is to walk my talk and take leaps into the abyss.
Vic Falls’ gorge qualified for a test. The Falls had been on my top five Bucket List for years, but I didn’t know that included the gorge. A courageous young man had awakened in my sixty-something soul, and now I had to jump or scurry away like a cowardly rat away from the light waiting at the bottom of the abyss.
Most people don’t have a Bucket List. For decades I didn’t. I was one of those people afraid to dream and commit for fear of failing and the likely follow-up—self-abnegation. Mostly my list was a Someday List, if everything is aligned then maybe I’ll do it. But someday never comes.
A Bucket List is something to accomplish, a goal, and takes action. I’ve pondered what is going on with me when I don’t act on goals—procrastinating like we all do? It’s a whole field in clinical psychology. Prominent researcher in the field Tim Pychl’s summation on how to overcome it is simple—Just get started—NOW. Not someday.
But then many people never commit to or get started on their Someday /Bucket List? I think it often boils down to the “C” word—courage. Procrastination comes from failing to do the aversive tasks it takes to achieve goals. What is an aversive task? Something perceived as difficult, boring, risky, and / or expensive. And is it possible to adjust our attitude to be more open to new experiences and the attendant risks they bring? Can one override the reptilian brain that seeks to protect us from danger?
I pondered that at the edge of the gorge. I had made it, I saw Vic Falls, I heard the roar, I felt the ‘smoke that thunders’, but then there was an add-on. Egged on by my 25 year old guide from Switzerland, who said she would jump the gorge if she were allowed by the employer. After a couple drinks I one-upped my traveling companions who had chosen to take a riverboat ride, instead, I declared, “I dive into the abyss tomorrow”
The next day sparkled with mist rising from the falls and several rainbows. Arriving at the jumping spot, I handed over my camera to my guide and calmly waited my turn in the three part experience. First ride was a zip line across a narrow part of the 400 foot chasm. Easy and fun. Next, another zip line but this time with a fast drop of 80 mph. The coup de grace was the Flying Swing—A free-fall leap of four seconds followed by swinging back and forth across the chasm.
A group of South Africans, burly men and sturdy women, all in their thirties, waited in front of me, giving me 20 minutes to rethink this—the Leap. I watched the line shrink as they one by one disappeared into the void. Some hesitated, some dived in head first. All cried out.
The mild weather suddenly turned warm and humid. Sweat dropped from my eyes, my hands got clammy. Before any thoughts of fear my body expressed it. I spent the next 18 minutes reminding myself that the jump was safe and secure. I vowed to ‘just do it’ when I got to the platform.
When the last one fell from sight, I knew my time had come. I walked to the edge and promptly stepped into the void. Instant bliss washed over me and a grin spread across my face. Big fun! Fear vanished. Adventure prevailed.
But courage is like the proverbial bath—once is not enough. It’s a practice. That leap led to reflection on how often lack of courage holds me back from adventures and fun:
- Flirt with a potential date and promise to call and don’t?
- Promise to go to a group or party and then flake?
- Fudge on my true feelings with someone just to maintain their friendship?
- Allow self-absorbed narcissists to dominate a conversation because I don’t want to upset them?
- Ignore issues In a friendship because I don’t want to upset her?
- Complain about some social ill and never do anything about it?
- Dream and talk about moving to a tropical island and do nothing.
Sometimes there may be valid reasons to hold back. But what about principles? Do I stand for something or not? It is a line in the sand that moves constantly, depending on my mood and the circumstances? Sometimes discernment may mean not acting, but it could also be— Laziness? Cowardice? Lack of information?
On my Someday, now Bucket list are many places to see and experience. For many years I traveled solo and loved it. I also have taken tours and enjoyed that. But lately my taste for solo travel has waned and at the same time, I want the excitement of discovery that regimented and organized tours don’t offer. I have contemplated the options. What would be courageous, the tour or the solo trip? The Tarot offered me a clue on this: Do nothing and the answer shall arise— patience and trust. Not liking this answer, I then threw the I Ching and it said, ‘furtherance of the small’ or watchful waiting. Not a time for rash action.
Psychologists have discovered that forced decisions are not the best. When I feel a compulsion to make something happen, I explore my creative self. Artists know it as the Muse, others call it god. Regardless, it is that aspect that can’t be seen or touched.
One form it takes is in the ‘ah ha’ moments in life. Coaxing it out of the unseen and unknown takes determination and patience for me. A coach, therapist, or minister may stimulate those moments, but it comes in its own time. Calm, discipline, and faith set the stage, but it still takes courage to say YES to the unknown—-that mysterious call to do something just because. Regardless of the results, when I do it feels good.
Sitting at the 18th St coffee house in Santa Monica, CA, surrounded by other ‘laptop’ workers, I reflected on the above adventure and looked at the excuses I tell myself to avoid taking action and risk failing. What’s at stake? A totally illusory sense of safety that my comfort zone will protect me from negative emotions? Bogus! My moods swing like The Flying Swing, up and down and sideways. The best I can do is to be real and face the fear, anxiety, and impatience and step into the unknown. As one teacher says, the result is not guaranteed, but you will grow. And for me, that is living my dream.