The platform loomed 65 feet above my head. I knew if I didn’t make the climb, my team might not stay on course. We had a clear objective, the eleven of us. Now, as eyes turned to me and I clipped my harness to the cable and checked one last time that it was secure, I took a deep breath and nodded my head.
“Ready?” they asked.
“Ready!” I heard myself say while wondering if it was really true.
With my heart pumping, I stepped on to the first rung and craned my neck back to absorb how high I needed to go to reach my target. The women loosening the slack on my cables watched me tentatively move up one foot, steady myself and then slowly bring up the other until suddenly, I developed a rhythm. No looking down for me. I had one goal—to make it to the top.
It was mid-July in the picturesque hills of western New York. I had decided that for a summer break, I would enroll in a weeklong course to reconnect with nature and potentially, myself. I had just relocated my family from one coast to the other for the second time in three years. Moving three-year-old twins, my husband and myself from LA back to New York City had taken its toll. I needed a great big exhale and I figured communing with Mother Earth might be just what the doctor ordered.
Still, when I met the other brave souls enrolled in Wilderness Adventures for Women through Cornell University’s Team Leadership Center, I honestly wondered how I might find clarity in my crazy life among strangers. Our resumes were as varied as our personal lives. Among us, we had a toxicologist, a paralegal, a marketing exec, a healthcare IT whiz and a landscape architect, to name a few. And then, there was me: a former TV reporter and exhausted mother trying to figure what to do with my life after yet another big transition.
Some of the “Wild Women” were moms, too. A few were happily married. Others were recently divorced. We had empty nesters, single gals and two sets of long time partners in our midst.
But from our first full day attempting to master the ropes course near Cornell’s sprawling campus, the eleven of us started to feel a bond. Faraway from the tug of technology and family commitments, we could focus on the mission. We were there to push our bodies and our minds without interruption from the outside world. As we started to climb and balance and lean on other through a series of introductory exercises, we learned we would need to work together as a unit to get through the week.
Each day unfolded with meditative hikes through state forest trails, occasional journaling, picnic lunches and my favorite … yoga. We lugged along mats in our backpacks so we could take a break to stretch and breathe and fully experience our surroundings. Attempting Tree Pose amid the trees invigorated the spirit in more ways than one.
In those first few days, each of us faced inner challenges, a fear of meeting new people, hesitation about public speaking, anxieties about how far we’d hike each day. But on those long walks, some of the most outgoing people grew quiet and some of the more reticent women felt comfortable to share. As we tackled steep hills and sloshed through cold streams, natural leaders followed the pack and typical followers took the lead. It was energizing and liberating all at the same time. The precious time away from our smart phones, families and jobs gave way to some internal shift that allowed each of us to venture out of our personal comfort zones and experiment.
By the fourth day, it was time to face what is known as the high elements challenge course back at Cornell. That’s where I found myself hanging on those rungs moving my legs as fast as I could to the top of the bell tower. When I did reach the top, it was as if I had climbed my own Everest—conquering a life long fear of heights all in the name of team work and … well, to be honest, lunch. A picnic among the treetops awaited the Wild Women if all of us made it up.
Yes, you might think that all it took was the promise of a turkey sandwich and a cookie to get my butt up a tower as tall as a telephone pole. But the beauty of the exercise is that it was truly my fellow Wild Women who motivated me to put my fears aside and as they say, breathe into the moment.
Originally published on TheWell Mom
Photo courtesy of TheWellMom