Lessons From The Waterfall
“This is totally fine,” I thought to myself, as I watched a stunning Blue Morpho butterfly lilt lazily through the air, riding the draft of the waterfall that I was about to rappel down.
“If that butterfly can do this, then I can too.”
Never mind that the butterfly was in her natural environment, doing what butterflies do, while I was standing on a wooden platform at the edge of a cliff in the Costa Rican rainforest, watching my travel companion work his way down the waterfall, outfitted in a plastic helmet that I’m certain was designed more for emotional protection than for any actual, physical safety measure.
I had no idea how high up we were. I still don’t. I’ve searched and searched for any piece of info on the interwebs to find out just how tall that waterfall actually is, but to know avail. All I can say is it was a pretty strenuous hike to the top, and from up there, it looked a looooong way down. I’m gonna guess somewhere around 75 feet, perhaps? Maybe 100? I don’t know and frankly, it doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that I was standing at the top about to do a thing that until a few days earlier had never so much as crossed my mind.
“I’ve rappelled before and you’ve totally got this,” my friend had said, convincing me to join him the next day.
“Okay,” I thought, borrowing his confidence in me. “How hard can it be?”
So there I was. Standing at the top. Looking down at the rocks and the water and the tiny people below.
“You ready?” the guide said. No backing out now.
And then I was in it. I was IN the waterfall. Shimmying my way down, inch by inch. Feet slipping. Arms burning. Getting pummeled in the face by icy cold water.
It was epic.
It was challenging.
It was breathtaking—probably due to the ice cold water in the face.
And it wasn’t scary at all.
The scariest part, I realized, was before I began. Looking over the edge. Thinking about all the things that could happen—that could go wrong. But none of them did.
Once I’d taken that first committed action, that first step off the edge of the cliff, once I was in it, it was all adrenaline and momentum. And there was nothing to do but focus and move forward (or down, as the case was).
As anxious as I was standing at the top, looking over the edge, once I got started, I felt f*cking invincible.
When I reached the bottom, I thought, “That wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”
My friend blurted out, “That was WAY harder than the last time I did this!”
I was thinking back to this experience recently, as I’m about to embark on my sixth trip to Costa Rica in as many years.
While that first trip came with a whole slew of growth edge experiences…
- Navigating my way through a foreign country where I spoke only fragments of the language
- Stretching myself financially to even make the trip happen at all
- Allowing for more abundance than I’d ever experienced while staying at a beautiful retreat center and getting a magical upgrade to a poolside cabana
- Attending an embodied movement teacher training intensive that would stretch my emotional bandwidth and spiritual perimeters in ways I could never have imagined
- Traversing class 4 rapids when part of our group got pinned against the rocks dumping the entire raft full of passengers into the river and having to drag a person out of the water with my own two hands
…this upcoming trip wasn’t feeling very leading edge.
I realized that there have been seasons of my life where I’ve taken great leaps, pushed all the boundaries, lived intensely beautiful expansive experiences, and once upon a time these trips to Costa Rica had bumped up against my ever moving growth edge.
But now, years later, these journeys had become occasions for rest and retreat and were no longer expanding my life experiences in the same way.
Which is to say, they were healthy and nourishing and wonderfully supportive. But what I was craving—what I AM craving—are experiences that push my edges, like that first trip did.
So I started thinking about what I can do on this trip to make it a growth edge experience. And as I went through the list of all of the possible activities and adventures one can embark on in Costa Rica (Should I do a night kayak trip with the caimans? Jump out of an airplane?), what I realized is this:
Over the years I’ve had so many of these growth edge experiences and then just ran right on to the next adventure without taking the time to be present, to reflect, to consider the significance of the experience and what I could take from it into the next chapter, the next season.
And then I realized that the growth edge experience I’m craving now is an internal one.
It’s not about doing a new thing.
It’s about doing a thing with new eyes.
It’s about experiencing life at a more intense level of observation and presence and intimacy than ever before.
It’s about going deeper.
So, what did I learn from the waterfall?
→ That I’m stronger & more capable than I realize (and so are you)
→ That sometimes you have to borrow someone else’s confidence
→ That the scariest part is right before you take that first committed action
→ That trusting yourself and trusting the process is the best way to navigate uncertainty
→ That once you start down the waterfall, there’s no bailing out—you have to stay focused until the very end
→ And if you do, you’ll feel (and perhaps BE) f*cking invincible
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