I am constantly amazed by the courage and wisdom that my clients teach me, and this weekend’s aerial workshop was no exception. I learned at least as much as they did about how we experience our lives, and maybe more to the point, about what we miss when we don’t look deeply into every moment.
We were working on “the gate”—a piece of aerial apparatus (because it’s hard to think of some of these creative structures as “trapezes”) that hangs in such a way that the horizontal bars lie on a diagonal angle to the ground, as you can see in the photo below.
Part of the challenge of this piece of apparatus is that it is heavy, made of metal, and hangs on a single point from the beams above, making climbing it and settling into a comfortable balance a bit tricky. So there’s risk involved in engaging with it, and one must think differently about how to climb a gate, move through it and with it, and climb off without injuring yourself or your collaborators.
The beauty of this piece of apparatus is that none of the workshop participants had ever been on anything like it before, so it was a completely new experience. I’m sure all the participants had climbed over a gate before—and this one reminds me of what you’d find as the opening in a corral fence. But a gate hanging on a diagonal from a single point from a 14-foot ceiling—well, that was a horse of a different color. It’s tricky!
The exercise was to climb up to the top on one side, and down the other—not as easy as it sounds, because if you climb up the low side (which is easier to climb up), you’ll be climbing down the high side (which is harder to climb down). Moreover, once you arrive at the top, transitioning to the opposite side is difficult. We asked everyone what the hardest part of the exercise was, and got some interesting answers: one participant said she had a hard time finding solid footing, another said she didn’t know how close to the edge she could get and still be safe, and yet another mentioned finding strength she didn’t know she had.
When I asked each one where in their lives they felt the same way, each could each identify where her footing wasn’t solid, or she felt she’d fall off the edge, or she called on hidden reserves of strength.
The experiential essence of the workshop was contained in moments like these—where we were able to make connections between the physical activities we experienced during the aerial work, and the issues in our lives that keep us small.
My own epiphany came when I stepped off the gate, expecting to find the floor, but misjudged the distance. I stumbled and twisted my foot. Luckily, I didn’t do any lasting damage, but I had to think about where in my life I stumbled upon exit. I connected that experience to the truth that I don’t always bid a clean farewell when ending relationships. I hadn’t expected that insight, and it’s giving me space to think about more graceful and honest exits.
It was powerful work, done in an atmosphere of safety and play. We will now be able to focus on creating other safe places in which we can play around with the concepts of getting solid footing when dealing with a new circumstance or relationship, exploring the tentative feeling we get at the edges of our abilities, and recognizing strengths that may not make themselves apparent at first glance.
I’m a true believer in experiential coaching, and am grateful to have witnessed the courage and authenticity each participant and my co-facilitator brought to the workshop.
If you want to get a taste of what we experienced, challenge yourself to uncover unexpected learning opportunities wherever they arise.
If you trip over the dog, ask yourself where else in your life you stumble over love.
If you surprise yourself by gracefully landing after your stumble, investigate other times you’ve landed after a misstep with grace and style. Whether you spill coffee, talk your way out of a traffic ticket, twist an ankle, or perform superhero feats of physical prowess, notice the details and see what quirky lessons your body can teach you. Experience each experience as fully as you can to mine the richness of meaning that this kind of noticing can bring.