Somewhere along the way I learned that the first thing we should say on the morning of a new month is “Bunny, Bunny,” so it seemed like an apt greeting for today. Welcome back to standard time for those who’d left it for the increased light of daylight savings time (I believe Arizona and Saskatchewan abstain). I remember hearing once that they tried daylight savings time once in Ecuador–I must admit I never quite understood as the sun rises and sets at the same time there all year because of their proximity to the equator (though at the same time, I think it’s always good to try new things). It’s definitely a change to have moved from Southern Hemisphere Spring to Northern Hemisphere Autumn where the light is leaving instead of arriving. I appreciated the few extra weeks of making vitamin D!
I am back home after some marvelous weeks of adventure and new experiences. It’s hard to know what to write about first. One quote that informs my teaching and living comes from the book “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” where Richard Bach claims, “We teach best what we most need to learn.” I also try to embrace and invite situations where I am uncomfortable or are a stretch for me. Thirdly, I believe it’s critical for teachers to regularly return to the role of student so we can remember all the fear, anxiety, excitement, and joy of learning something new. The first day of the Association of Experiential Education conference provided an invitation that addressed all of the above values.
There was a poster inviting participants to spend a workshop session “flying.” Not metaphorically. Flying for real. On a trapeze! I have to digress a bit to say that I have always been a fan of the circus and the trapeze artists are some of my favourite acts. I even considered attending the Barnum & Bailey Circus Clown school as a young adult (they only admitted US students at that point). After seeing Cirque de Soleil in April, I must confess to checking out their website to see what it took to become one of their performers. So naturally, when offered the opportunity to fling myself into space holding onto a trapeze bar, I jumped at the chance, as did my dear friend and colleague, Karen Warren. Karen signed up her 16 yr old daughter, Amelia, as well!
About 17 others joined us and our first challenge was to find our way to Trapezium by the Montreal metro! I instantly recalled my challenges in Moscow navigating the subway using Cyrillic signage. I appreciated the bilingual world of the Montreal underground. Excitement was running very high in the group, as this was a new activity for all. We arrived and were greeted by our three instructors. “Don’t worry,” they consoled us, “We’ll have you flying in minutes.” Many of us weren’t sure we wanted to be airborne that quickly.
A quick demo of how to put on the safety harnesses and “Heidi the Brave” was already climbing the ladder to a blue wooden platform suspended 25 feet off the ground. Along with the belay lines, there was a net to catch us that was held about 6 feet off the ground. We al stared up with amazement as within ten minutes of arriving, Heidi had swung out from the platform, brought up her knees and hang upside down by her knees from the bar, let go of the bar with her hands, and then righted herself and then dismounted from the bar with a backflip!
Spontaneous applause and nervous twitter erupted from the group! Heidi had shown us exactly how it was done! A few turns later, it was my turn. As I climbed up the ladder, I noticed that a herd of butterflies had assembled in my midsection and were doing their best imitation of “River Dance.” The beating of their wings and feet in time fanned the intensity flames of the experience and I noticed I was on an edge, both figuratively and literally. It was different sensation, as heights don’t often bother me (though I don’t usually fling myself off them purposely either). I came round the ladder and got hooked into the belay. The instructor on the platform moved things along with a practiced rhytm.
My left hand grasped the ladder and I was told to reach out for the bar with my right. Even though I had been warned, the bar was heavier than I ever imagined. Its weight immediately dragged me closely to the edge and to the looming drop below. On command, I grabbed the bar with my left hand and, without the aid of the instructor holding me back, I would have been catapulted into the void. Hung out over edge like a chicken waiting for slaughter, I jumped as soon as the instructor said, “Hep!”
We’d been briefed to listen to the instructor on the ground who would let us know the ideal moment to swing our legs up, turn upside down, let go with our hands, return to the bar, and then drop the bar. I must admit that I’m not sure I heard a word he said on that first go, as sensations of flying and falling inundated my brain. However, I did swing my legs up on command but neglected to bend my knees. I tried again on the second swing and got my foot nearer the bar but still fell short of the task. I dropped to the net without waiting for the command and so got a stern talking to about listening more carefully for the commands. I think the butterflies’ dance had deafened me to the sounds of the outside world.
It was new to be less physically competent than the rest of the group–turns out that I’d been too strong but under-flexible. I turned my attention to Karen and Amelia and the butterflies stomped off stage right. It was so cool to watch Amelia hit it perfectly on her first go! After everyone had a first round go, it was time to try it all again. As I climbed the ladder, I rehearsed the move in my mind and imagined my knees bending enough to allow my legs to come through my hands. The butterflies briefly migrated through but this time, it was easier to stand on the platform holding the bar since the sensations were more familiar. “Hep!” I’m flying once more but again my feet strike the bar on both attempts. At least this time, with more spaciousness inside my belly, my ears seem to work and I follow the instructions and pull off a beautiful back flip when dismounting the bar.
As I flip off the net, I’m given the keys to the city. Simone, the head instructor says he has just the technique for someone like me who has little flexibility…”Hold your hands close together and swing your legs straight wide and around.” I waited for my third attempt sad that while others are graduating to “being caught,” (leaving the safety of their bar to swing from the arms of another instructor) and I was still working on the prerequisites. I climbed the ladder seeing my new move in my mind, leapt off the platform, flew through the air, my legs swung up and suddenly my knees were effortlessly on the bar! On command, I let go of my hands and arched my back looking towards the rafters-perfect position for being caught next time. I end that round with another back flip and the place erupted in cheers! “I did it!” I yell to myself and I pump my fist in the air.
Simone says, “Leave your harness on–I want you to go up again soon.” Once again, the butterflies are back, this time flying in a unified swarm bouncing hard from one side of my belly to another. I’m amped! I’m charged. The adrenaline is coursing through my body. A few turns later, I venture up the ladder once again–hoping to follow Amelia’s lead and fly perfectly into the arms of my catcher. I’m nervous thinking I will screw up. I’d only had one go at my new technique. The platform instructor advises me to listen carefully to Simone as she noticed that I’d gone a little early than one of his commands on my previous go.
Left hand holding the ladder. Right hands reaches out for the bar. Left hand joins it. Hanging out over the net. The catcher begins swinging–this time, he calls the “Hep.” I launch. I swing. Legs arise at the right moment. Knees catch the bar. Hands let go. Back arches. Hands grasped. Knees release. I’m swinging lower now held by someone who is hanging by his knees! After a big arch, he drops me into the net and I enjoy both the moment and the cheering support of the group. I am already thinking about how I can fly again. Not today. I’m done–stick a fork in me. The wayward Monarchs have pressed all of the adrenaline out of me rather like those who stomp the juice from grapes to make wine.
Karen, Amelia and I speak excitedly about the experience the entire metro ride back to the hotel. We invent a greeting of raising our hands and saying “Hep.” We bask in the glow of a new and challenging experience. We’ve lived at our edges and now can celebrate all of the insights that come from being there.
For me, it was fabulous to observe our instructors work with folks in the trapeze environment. I loved watching good teachers and being taught well. I enjoyed feeling the sensations and feelings of student-hood and pledged to remember how that felt the next time I begin a class or ask a student to step closer to her or his edge. I will ponder my reaction to the challenge of taking several tries to get it and appreciate my tenacity in trying. Finally, I will cherish sharing the experience with Amelia and Karen and I’m certain that the next time we see each other, we will relive the experience over and over again.
So, I’m out of time and space to talk about kangaroos and koalas–that will have to wait…after a few weeks of little physical activity, I look forward to the next phase of training that begins tomorrow! Drop me a line to let me know where your edge is hanging out these days. Happy November and have a great week!
PS…There are pictures nestled safely in Karen’s camera. I’ll post them when I get them!