Decisions are not easy to make, especially when one is fearful of the impending outcome. The choices we make today will ultimately bring about a change tomorrow; it’s the not-knowing-what’s-going-to happen after making the decision that is terrifying.
Lately, I have been fixated on what faith really means. It is defined as a belief or trust in someone or something. It is the personal willingness to take a chance without knowing the outcome. It makes sense. To have faith, you must have trust.
I had been feeling a bit at my wit’s end and on the cusp of allowing myself to spiral downward due to my inability to live with the stifling fear of impending change. It occurred to me that I needed empowerment to make changes within myself. Little did I know that I was about to embark on a journey which would become the most “out of the box” experience for me. I would be poised to face fear and allow it to inspire me, rather than defeat me. The flickering light within would fight to become a steady flame. The time had come to move beyond my comfort zone and make a better “me.”
It happened when a friend mentioned “Campowerment.” She simply described it as a women’s three day camp program in the Malibu Mountains that was intended to inspire and help “wake-up” our natural need for mental and physical liberation.
As it was, I had been feeling like a canvas of anxiety when it occurred to me that I would be interacting with new people, better yet, strangers, who could paint strokes of judgment on me, which is what I so desperately try to avoid at all costs. It was the overwhelming possibility of impending rejection that flooded my entire being as I recognized that perhaps #Campowerment may be just the experience that would embody my first step in conquering the desperate feeling of being less than or abandoned for being who I really am. How could this camping experience be “my” cure then if it was causing such intense anxiety within my gut? I had to trust.
It was a warm, breezy drive into the Malibu Mountains on September 19, 2014. As we were driving to our destination, I began to regret the silliness of going away to a women’s camp, thinking I was really just using the camp experience as a way to leave home for a few days.
The descriptions of a place in the mountains overlooking the ocean where a woman can go to get in touch with herself sounded like a cliché from a spa advertisement. I could live with that. However, when I arrived and was confronted with the actual agenda, it became clear that this adventure would be a bit deeper than a day at the spa. I wondered if I had the courage to expose my true self. There was great hope that learning to relax could have a positive effect on a nervous system that could no longer sustain itself under what felt like a nail pounded by the hammer of insecurity. My renunciation to allow myself to be confident and self-assured had instantly become the catalyst that brought me to the point of taking a step towards self-discovery. Daring to learn more about who I really am inside, I craved the courage to turn off the old, destructive tapes that linger. I was prepared to defy the horrific feeling of low self-esteem and the conquering of fears that have haunted my life. Kudos for me for stepping out-of-the box and moving away from my comfort zone.
Once I got my bunk and gear situated, I began to connect with other women, as it became apparent that we were going to be spending some profound time together. I actually started to cozy up to the idea of eating in a mess hall, sitting around a campfire, and listening to others’ fears of freeing themselves of the self-inflicted binding ropes which hamper our meager existence. Most of the women, like myself, appeared to share some of the same baggage that I carry around, mainly the lack of confidence to make changes or move on. Change with no direction, lacking trust in others who have negatively impacted their lives, and the challenge of having the courage to speak to strangers about personal experiences was the core goal of the camp.
“Ah hah,” it became clear that trusting did not necessarily have to debilitate me as it once did. I pondered the times when I did leap. The stand out examples were running from home to New York City without knowing anyone, without a job, with only an address to call home. Then there was making the maternal decision to bring three off spring into this world “naturally.” But, then I realized that running away with no direction was like an adventure just as the bravery of natural childbirth was a temporary moment of empowerment. Yes, these were leaps of faith, but for some reason, it felt more like me reacting to situations instead of taking control of situations. Somehow, participating in these activities were merely physical leaps, whereas I was now looking to leap emotionally.
Thinking of myself just one day ago, I was looking at my image in the mirror. I realized that at my age there might be fewer years ahead of me than behind. This seemed to create a snowball effect that I never could have predicted. In that one instant, the simple understanding of my mortality nearly scared the life out of me. The sounds of silence around me were a reminder of the fact that I was alone, just as I came into this world; I would exit the same. Thus, I was nothing more than anyone else who had different experiences that they were contemplating which caused them the same loneliness and fear as me.
In choosing the three-day package of activities, it was recommended that I really perform a leap of faith in the literal sense. Little did I know what lay ahead for me. On my way to what they called the infamous “ropes,” I began to slip back into my familiar pattern of allowing myself to fall short. I teetered between a soaring eagle and a chicken. I thought I had convinced myself that I could do the leap and was ready for the process. We stopped at a clearing where I viewed a telephone pole high above the ground. Looking upward, women in my group were clutched together as we watched a body like ours slowly climb the spikes to the top of the pole.
A young man with a calming smile assisted me with what he called “safety gear.” He gently told me to enjoy the experience. My heart skipped a beat. Here I was at the infamous “ropes,” part of the Campowerment experience. Staring at my surroundings, beauty was everywhere. This was a place where the mountains met the oceans, where women went beyond their self-inflicted mental limitations and found freedom to unbridle ourselves. I was one of these women.
Feeling incredibly small, I contemplated the forty-foot telephone pole in front of me, which appeared as if it were a hundred feet tall instead. It was my turn to climb this gigantic pillar. I had already watched others accomplish this feat. Logically, this seemed easy. Emotionally, it was like scaling a mountain of anxiety. Fighting my discomfort, I made the decision to take “The Leap Of Faith.”
I was tied to a bungee cord, which had four women at the other end balancing my life with rope and chains around their bodies. Taking each step one at a time, I began to climb the pole. With each rung, I would look up at how far I had to go, then I would look down to see how far I had come. It was a very slow, methodical climb. With each step my foot grabbed hold of the small spikes sticking out from the post, keeping sync as my hands grabbed each gaff.
At last, I saw the top of the pole. I held on tightly to the last four gaffs, refusing to let go, refusing to take the final step up to the pole’s crown. I knew I had to trust my left leg and put it on top of the pole. Then, my right leg would no doubt follow. But, my hands were locked to the gaffs, sticky with self-doubt. My arms rejected movement. How could I trust that I would not fall and break my back when I took my right foot off the final gaff and onto the crown of the pole? What would my arms do without anything to hold onto? I had to balance myself. Accomplishing this feat became crucial. Other women had climbed this pole with ease. Yet, I remained stuck. Tears and mucus melted into my face. I could not breathe. “Take a leap of faith, Stacey.”
My right foot refused to move, and my left thigh was shaking with a panic enveloping me like a blanket. I needed to maintain my shaky balance on the left side while in a squatting position. Having to move my entire body with my right foot felt impossible. How could I trust and have the faith that the four women holding my rope below would not let go? My heart was pounding. My body felt wet with sweat. The Leap Of Faith had to be done. I had to take the final step and move my right foot, or I had to go back down the pole, which would be a symbol of going backwards in my life, staying engrossed with fear. Suddenly, I heard the words from below, “You are brave! You can do it.” And I remembered what I just learned a few hours earlier, which was “you are the “what” that follows the words “I AM.” My mind became a beacon of light, whispering, “I AM brave.” Repeating those words again and again until I was shouting, “I AM brave.” Suddenly, my right foot made the ascent to the crown of the pole, now boldly standing side by side with my left foot. My trembling body slowly rose from a mere squat to a full spread eagle upon the pole. I had finally reached the crown. I was free from fear. At least, momentarily, I was brave. A feat not of physical, but of emotional strength.
I allowed myself the moment to relish in an accomplishment that was new and freeing. I stared at the ocean, at the mountains, and focused on the unity of voices that said I could take the next step. Next step? I thought I had conquered my fear and was done. Not so fast. As I stared out into the distance, I was told I had to grab an acrobatic swing, which was far beyond my reach. More trust, more faith. I was now running on emotional fumes.
After a few immobilized minutes, the countdown began, “Five, four, three, two, one!” A rush of adrenaline filled my soul, and I leaped from the pole, seizing the distant swing with both hands. I trusted that I could grab the swing, without any proof that I even had the physical ability to do so. I did not fall. Instantly, I felt alive. I had become the soaring eagle. My body was solid as it embraced the wind. I was resilient, I was alive, and I felt a strength within that had been hiding. So, I just kept swinging. Swinging, back and forth, up and down. Liberty. I had taken a leap of faith.
But as soon as I was comfortable with my brave swing, hanging in the wind, I was told to let go. “What, I have to let go, now? I thought I already let go. I did the hard stuff.” More mucus and tears of terror were running down my face. I now had to wrestle another act of faith. Again, hysteria throughout my mind. “Shut up,” I told the voices of my past. “Just let go, Stacey. Let go.” But what was I letting go of? FEAR. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown.
The women were cheering me on. There was a force field surrounding me. I knew I had already come so far that there was no turning back. I had to let go of this suffocating fear I lived in and breathe the air of courage. As if an angel said I would be all right, no matter what, my fingers let go of the metal swing, and I dropped. In that one instant, I knew I had truly taken the leap of faith! I did not have to choose be afraid any longer.
I realized that my living in fear was not the result of outside forces but my lack of trust and faith within myself. The telephone pole and swing were the tools; but the craftsman, the artist was me. I conquered me.
In a quiet moment, I questioned myself. What made me take The Leap Of Faith that said I could climb to the top of a giant pole, stand straight upon the crown and then leap to a swing that I feared was beyond my reach only to let go of the only security I believed I had?
Honestly, I suppose the leap of faith began with my long wish for conviction that I didn’t want to continue to go down the path that my current life had been taking me. I wanted to have the courage to change and take leaps through challenges.
Change is terrifying. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is agonizing. But, if we don’t do this, if we don’t trust ourselves to evolve and grow, we know deep down that we will be missing out on a life that could be amazing! Take the Leap Of Faith. Believe you can be amazing. Remember, “I Am…” whatever the rest of the words are, you will become. “Today, I Am amazing!”