To Rappel or Not to Rappel that is the Question
Harnessing fear to propel you towards success
Leaning back in your harness above a gaping void and a 50 meter drop to terra firma leaves you with precisely three options.
Option one: You look down fearfully to the cliff’s base, which inevitably creates that shaky-knee queasy feeling. You then look back at your rappelling guide with eyes that scream “What have you done to me?”. Your pulse becomes increasingly loud inside your head, and you begin to question your resolve. The image of sitting in your quiet air-conditioned living room comfortably on a couch with a good book surfaces in your mind and is quickly juxtaposed to the image of your present predicament. At this moment, you do what any life-valuing individual would do and lunge back towards your guide and call it quits.
As you return to the safety and comfort of the solid ground far from the cliff’s edge, you immediately begin to wiggle out of your harness and unbuckle your helmet, those woeful reminders of what was just about to happen, and within seconds your heart and mind begin return to normal. Abandoning ship has never felt so good, at least for the time being. But have no fear, quitting always has a way of catching up. As you backtrack your way towards the end of the day, you will likely be joined by thoughts that say “You could have done that” or “You should have done that” or “Look how everyone else is having so much fun doing it”. Was it worth it? That’s a question only which only you can answer.
On a scale from one to ten, (ten being ideal, one being, well, a total fail) I would venture that Option One ranks in at about a Three.
Option two: This scenario makes Option one look like a walk in the park, and only happens with incompetent guides. You have waited till the end of the day to do the unthinkable, you have watched everyone else in your group take the plunge. Each time you wondered “How are they going down that cliff with this rope?”. You have conjured up a million reasons why you will absolutely not go down, but the instructor will not have it. The day is late, and your only way to the car is via a 55 meter stretch of twisted nylon. Now its your turn, your time to shine has come. Welcome our good friend Fear, or better yet, mind-gripping terror, as you visualize leaning back onto the rope and beginning the descent. As you peer over the edge your heart rate starts to soar. Your harness is on, helmet secure, and your guide smiles apathetically as he tells you that “This is nothing, you will love it!”. You slowly move backwards, clutching the rope till your knuckles turn white. As you continue, your composure diminishes in direct proportion to the distance remaining between your feet and the abyss. Tears begin to well up in your eyes (for all the men in the crowd, more males go through this stage than females). You feel as though some outside forces are possessing you to continue, those forces are the setting sun and an impatient guide. You refuse to move, the guide refuses your refusal. Your tears become sobs, then pleas for mercy, then all out wailing. But the drama has little effect, your guide lowers you down the cliff face, kicking and screaming the entire way.
At the bottom, your feet touch the floor, and you try to regain a sense of stability. Like waking up from a nightmare, you are not sure what just happened, all you know is that it was not pleasant. From this moment, your fear of anything steeper than a staircase can give you flashbacks of your experience with Option Two.
Overall ranking: I would give it a solid Zero.
Option Three: Relative to the previous two options, Option Three is in many ways much more difficult, but it is well worth it. Put yourself back in the harness hotseat. Same trepidation, same nervousness creeping in. However, this time something is different. You have decided to look at Fear straight in the eyes with a fierce determination to get down the cliff, on your terms, at your speed, and at will. With your feet planted firmly on the ground at the lip of the cliff, you look down, breath, focus, and move forward.
You have turned Fear from an obstacle into a motivator, you have accepted the challenge to embrace your fear and have it work for you, instead letting the fear embrace you. As you rappel, you begin to realize how much hype and exaggeration all that worry was. Those ominous and scary thoughts are now minimized and put into a healthy perspective. Of course, this is easier said than done. Anyone who has been through this process knows exactly how much focus and commitment it takes to do what logically you know you can do, but emotionally you feel you cannot. It takes courage and strength to step well out of your comfort zone and into an area that, until now, has been an unknown. But it is possible, and that is what matters, everyday, people do this and reap the rewards. Like anything else worthwhile, the price you pay reflects the quality of what you gain. With this option, when your feet touch the ground, a euphoric rush of accomplishment and success take over. Not only have you reached your destination in the safest fashion you have saved yourself from many unpleasant feelings (see Option One and Two) and more importantly you have acquired a new tool for the future.
Overall rating: a perfect 10.
I have seen all of the three options listed above played out in real life, in real places, with real people. I have seen people quit just before success and regret thereafter, I have also seen people pushed to take the ropes down in tears and terror, never to try again. Thankfully, I have also seen countless moments of triumph.
Not long ago, I was guiding a school rappelling trip which included some of the teachers. One of the teachers present was a middle-aged married women who came along with her class. She waited till about two thirds of the group had descended and, with a slight hesitation, asked if she could be next on the ropes. As she was clipped in, it was clear that she was not a big fan of heights and that she was already beyond her comfort zone just knowing she was on deck. She asked for instructions on how to rappel, took a quick glance down to the bottom, flashed a nervous smile to some of the students, and took a deep breath. As I explained the basics to her, I could see she was determined to do, what was in her mind, the impossible. She was focused on her goal, she trusted the gear, the guide, and most importantly herself, and nothing was going to stand in her way. Off she went, each step took calculated effort, acute focus, and sincere determination. Within a few moments, she reach the bottom of the cliff and was greeted by an explosion of applause by her students. But more important than their recognition of her accomplishment was her own assessment of the transformation she had just undergone. She had culled from within herself the perseverance and fortitude to conquer a challenge through harnessing the fear. This was a mile-marker for her and she will carry it with her wherever she goes.
Now, this is not about the ropes, the cliff, the view, or your family tiyul. This is not about thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies taking unnecessary risks. This is about you and your ability to push beyond the limits that hold you back. This is about making discomfort, fear, uncertainty, or difficulty an implement instead of an impediment. This is about recognizing the priceless value of making a conscious decision and a concerted effort towards achieving whatever goal that has been eluding you until now. The rock, the rope, the harness, and the helmet are merely an effective vehicle that make this process accessible to all. Are you ready for the challenge?
Ariel Fishman runs Adventure Israel, an action-packed adventure travel provider that fuses all of its trips with powerful and transformative coaching. Rappelling, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, caving, and survival trips are available, as well as, ODT workshops, corporate programs, and adventure therapy. All trips are safe, fun, and empowering, and the intensity of the adventure and the coaching is decided by you. From extreme expeditions to super-relaxed family trips, Adventure Israel’s staff are here so you can enjoy and challenge yourself like never before. Ariel can be reached at 058-536-4938. For pictures and more trip options visit www.adventure-israel.com.
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