I came across a word some time ago that has never left me. It’s a hindi word and there is no direct translation in the English language.
It means one’s desire to live fully and to carry on living.
I had considered, at one point, getting this tattooed onto my body but I don’t like needles…or pain. Unfortunately, two common factors associated with cancer.
This word was part of my life way before cancer but cancer has definitely helped me to expand my understanding of what this means to me.
So today I decided I wanted to embody my own 'Jijivisha' and go rock climbing.
I am afraid of heights. When I say ‘afraid’, I have put myself in multiple scenarios to challenge this fear to try and shake it but to no avail. Sometimes a conscious effort, at others times just as a result of circumstance. And actually, until today it had only made it worse.
I have the enthusiasm of a puppy so when I see something adventurous, I run towards it fearlessly. I say YES to the hot air balloon ride over the River Nile at dawn, I say YES to rollercoasters, the world’s tallest slide, iconic awe-inspiring city architecture each one fighting for the title of world’s highest or most impressive. Cable cars are the worst, yet I always get in them along with everyone else. I say YES without further consideration. And then I panic. There is a moment and it happens every time, sheer terror kicks in when I realise there is no going back. I have committed, be it in childlike exuberance or fear of missing out, but I can’t turn back now and other than needing a team of firemen to rescue me (WHY IS THIS IDEA ONLY JUST COMING TO ME NOW??) I need to either let go – obviously not literally…accept and appreciate the opportunity for a different perspective and find a sense of peace or just figure out how to get back down as quick as possible.
Back to today. I like to do things out of my comfort zone. It feels cliché to say ‘this is where we grow the most’ but there is definite truth in that. I have been bouldering many times before but today I was having a 121 training session to allow me to take my children without instructor supervision using belaying methods, basically harnesses and ropes. Traversing walls much higher than you would on a bouldering wall. I have never done belaying / belayed / had a belay experience before. Because I don’t like heights. And the harnesses don’t look comfy nor flattering for either gender lets be honest. Today felt good. To be fair I wasn’t the one climbing dizzy heights but rather the belayer which brings it’s own personal challenges around trust to put it lightly. Especially when the climber you are stabilising traverses back down the wall or mountain face leaning back, supported only by your rope tension. That’s another story altogether.
So that went well, and the children go for their instructor led climb tomorrow during my own assessment and bobs your uncle we can go climbing together. Without extra supervision for my kids.
Here’s where the tale turns darker. This afternoon, after my positive belaying experience, my seven year old son and I are booked to go to GO APE on a treetop ‘adventure’. He went previously with his dad, loved it so much and wanted to go with me. So again, the excitable puppy dog in me was raring to go. I booked online the night before and thought no more of it. We harnessed up (at this point I had given up in trying to look cool with ropes squeezing my thighs and bum) and I followed Jack up the steps. Which, from the ground didn’t seem as high as they obviously were.
Then it hit me. The sheer terror. It is like I simply forget that I have this paralysing fear. It lays dormant until the very last minute when, like a peacefully sleeping toddler, it decides to wake from it’s slumber and jump up and down before it sprawls it's body over you, all the while screaming, relentlessly.
So we’re up. 30 feet above the forest floor, the only thing preventing disaster is a cable attached to your own harness and the safety wire above you. The idea is that you traverse individual walkways, cargo nets and obstacles that are spaced out between small circular 'resting' platforms where there is minimal to hold on to. I'm talking olympic style gymnastic balance beams 30 FEET IN THE AIR or even more creative, a tightrope. If I got the ‘funnies’ and lost a footing, I’m a goner. Well technically I’m not actually a 'goner' as that is what the harnesses and wires are for but even still! The fear is the same.
So obviously Jack goes ahead shouting back to me to stop screaming as it’s embarrassing – he’s seven. He then gives up waiting and says he’ll meet me at the zip wire because I am too slow. To cut a long story short, I get to the zip wire where he has been having a lovely chat with the instructor, he sees me and then takes that as a green light to go. I watch him soaring in mid air clearly having the time of his life, whereas I, now see the extent of the zip wire, freak out. The instructor can see that there is a window of opportunity for me and the zip wire but it is a small one. He briefly explains how to land and what to do when I realise, I am in fact, still alive. I start crying, not wailing but panic cries (not a commonly heard cry I have discovered) and in between intakes of breath, explain to the instructor the importance of doing things that scare you because you only have one life and you could die tomorrroooooooooooooooooooooooo……..
I land. Backwards. My bum has skidded along the wood chipping landing strip for a good few metres. I stand up, my only concern being whether the entire back of my adidas leggings have been rubbed off like sandpaper to reveal my bum cheeks. Almost hoping for this outcome so I would have a worthy excuse to admit defeat. Jack is waiting for me. My leggings have survived.
‘Come on mum! It’s the second part now!’
So here we go again. This time is different. Jack has gone on ahead and is no longer calling back to me every two minutes for me to watch him or to check I’m OK. The instructor who I imparted such wisdom on earlier, stops me before I go off again and lets me know with sympathy that there is a slightly more challenging part towards the end of this route and if I decide that I want to miss that bit out, I can. He will let me skip that part.
SKIP THAT PART?! SKIP THAT PART???!!!
There she was! She had awoken! I’ve come this far my friend, I am not skipping any bloody part, least of all because I would rather my son tease me for irrational fear for the rest of my days than risk him see me avoid something that, yes was obviously more challenging, but ultimately, although I could technically conquer, I would give up because I was scared. That is not a ‘lesson’ I am willing to have any part in him learning. I have cancer for fuck sake. I can handle some wobbly boards and rope nets above some tall (very tall) trees.
So I did it. Slowly. I completed it all. To give you an idea of time scale, by the time I had finished, Jack was three quarter of the way round his second go of the whole treetop ‘adventure’.
I did it quietly. One foot in front of the other. Until I got a little bit more confident / borderline cocky before the ‘challenging’ bit and threw myself at the cargo net - Gladiator style from Jet and Lightening days, only to have the metal pulley swing down and clonk me on the mouth, resulting with me having a fat lip and a fair amount of blood to swallow.
I walked over the tightrope section with only a few dangly ropes to stop me from falling 30 feet (and the metal wire / harness / very secure safety system designed to keep everyone safe) and at some point something happened. I'm not sure when it happened. I forgot that I was afraid. I mean, I didn’t forget entirely, I was still precariously balanced above trees and fully aware of this fact but a human can’t sustain that level of terror. I had been up there for well over 40 minutes by now. I think my fear moved quietly into concentration. All I could do was focus on the present, what is happening right now and deal with that. And feel other feelings aside from fear. I had moved into a space of peace. I could see Jack having fun and making friends with other daring kids, my logical and rational brain understands that I wont fall and even if I do, I am safe. And I have a choice. I didn’t have to do this. I could have let him go on his own and watch from the forest floor. I could have completed the first part of the route, finished at the first zip wire, made my excuses and sat out. I could have nearly got to the end and SKIPPED A PART (yeah right) Or I could finish it. A step at a time.
So I finished it. I inhaled before I zipped down the final wire. I exhaled on the way down. And I lay in the wood chippings with a deep sense of achievement, hips lifted still suspended by the harness, until the instructor told me to move for the 6 year old girl who was waiting to take her turn.
Jijivisha. The desire to live fully and completely. I would rather live feeling all the colours of the rainbow than filter out the colours that are not my favourite just because it’s easier.
So I will keep climbing, and I will keep trying to face my fears because avoiding them doesn’t make them go away. And I will teach my children the same. The sense of pride and achievement felt by doing something that you didn’t have to do, was probably easier not to do but you did it anyway, is pretty awesome.