I faced a recurring crisis on the playground as a girl.
It went like this:
I am scrambling to the top of the jungle gym. At the top, there is a huge, elegant, thrilling slide.
I want to get to that slide.
My blood is pumping. My gaze remains steady at the top as my muscles propel me upwards. With every rung I conquer, I inhale and get another rush.
“Be careful!” call adults from the sidelines.
I ignore them. I am fully certain of the strength within my bones.
I fly to the top and hoist myself up to the final platform. Beaming with pride, I exhale. My muscles soften. I lower my eyes from the sky, passing over the horizon, and then onto the ground below.
My muscles lock in place.
My breath catches in my sternum.
My confidence swiftly dissolves.
I burst into tears.
“Help!” I scream throatily to my mother down below. “Help!”
I clutch the railing—the same railing that I had used only moments before to gleefully swing upward.
My mother looks back at me with an expression of bemusement. Her shoulders are shrugged, as if to say, “You got yourself up there. You can get yourself down. Or you can handle what comes next.”
Sometimes, I wailed until an adult consented to rescue me. Sometimes I climbed back down to safe ground, feeling defeated, perhaps resolving to try again.
Sometimes, I took the leap and hurled myself onto the slide.
To this day, I find myself back there. I set my sights on somewhere distant, begin climbing with vigor, and freeze in terror once I’ve reached a new height.
The moment in which courage turns to fear is where my practice lies. When I encounter that moment now, I try to remember to pause.
Pausing changes everything.
In a pause, new growth gets digested into existing musculature. With slow breaths, oxygen finds its way back into the blood.
Pausing allows me to acclimate to a new altitude. And from there, I can take in the marvelous view.