By Molly Johnson, Pure Life Field Guide
A few weeks ago, I was deeply immersed in one of my longest stretches of bad mood in recent memory. What seemed at the time to be an overwhelming amount of stressful and irritating factors had all arisen at once to result in a feeling of being flushed into a downward spiral of self-pity, insecurity, and resentment. Yuck.
Though I have plenty of advice to give out to students who face similar problems at Pure Life, I could not get myself out of this particular funk. At least, not until I adventured with some friends to the top of a mountain.
It was a rather grueling mountain hike that leads up to an amazing pool in the jungle with a terrifying cliff jump.* In all rationality, from the top of the cliff to the water is probably no more than 25 feet. To me, however, standing at the top of the cliff, the jump looked to be at least 50 feet and I imagined that hitting the water at the bottom would definitely feel like falling onto solid concrete.
I watched fearfully and enviously as my friends skipped one-by-one to the edge of the cliff and gracefully floated down into the water. They made it look easy, but as I looked over the edge of the cliff calculating the amount of free-fall between me and the water I was almost positive I couldn’t do it. Still, part of me wanted to try.
Over the next hour, I crept slowly out to the ledge and then scuttled back to safety probably 15 times. I talked myself into jumping and talked myself back out of it. I worked myself up into a near-hysteria and then was calmed back down by my patient and supportive friends. One friend gave me her necklace for bravery, and another gave me a warrior princess hairstyle, and yet I still did not feel courageous.
Toward the end of that hour of standing and deliberating at the top of the jump, my friend asked me, “Why do you want to do this?” I responded, “To conquer something.”
But what exactly I wanted to conquer, I wasn’t sure. In my head, I was battling the obvious anxiety and fear of making the leap, but on a deeper level I was also wrestling with all the self-doubt and uncertainty that I had been beating myself up with for the past few weeks.
Finally, I found myself standing at the edge of the cliff gripping one friend’s hand on the left and another friend’s hand on the right. I was as nervous as ever, but when I heard my friend’s voice count, “One… Two… Three!” I jumped.
I remember feeling surprised that I had actually made my feet leave the ground as I fell toward the water. When I reached the pool, the water was nowhere near as solid as I had expected, nor did I plummet straight to the bottom and get stuck there as I had briefly considered while standing at the top. I came up to the surface laughing and smiling euphorically as my friends celebrated my success.
And then suddenly, unexpectedly, the euphoria wore off and the intense emotions of the last hour and of the entire extent of my bad mood all came to the surface. So I plopped myself down by the side of the water and cried a good cathartic cry. As I sat there tearfully reflecting on my jumping experience, I realized something profound had happened to me.
While I was submerged under the water, I had had a moment of complete clarity. For just one moment, I was able to recognize who I really am, separate from the angry little voice in my head that had slowly and steadily dragged me down into my bad mood. For the first time in a long time, I did not see the need to identify as insecure, anxious, or lacking. For one small moment, I was free from those negative thoughts, and I could call them out for what they were. This adventure was one of the most pivotal moments of my life so far.
After having gone through the process of deliberating, jumping, surviving the jump, feeling happy and proud, and then feeling emotionally overwhelmed, I was finally able to look up and take in the beautiful jungle around me. I walked down to the end of the pool and saw where all the water empties into the canyon below it. I felt a particularly strong sense of appreciation and camaraderie with the elements, the wilderness, the rawness of my environment.
Reflecting on that day in the following weeks, I realized that finding the type of experience like the one I had at the cliff was exactly why I came to Costa Rica in the first place. I came to push myself, to grow, to do new things, to do them with the support of my friends, and while I do those things, to be taught and amazed by the nature around me.
I was reminded that these are exactly the types of moments that we provide for all of the students participating in Adventure Therapy at Pure Life. Through our daily activities, we’re trying to provide an atmosphere where students are faced with discomfort in hope that that they can rise to the challenge and overcome it. So even if it’s just for a second, they can find a space where they can shake off the pressure and labels that they put on themselves in the past and prove to themselves that they are capable, they are brave, they are strong, and they deserve to treat themselves with kindness.
It seems almost ridiculous to say that a total re-wiring of one’s thought patterns can take place just by going on a hike, rafting down a river, or jumping off a cliff, but I’ve seen it happen and now I’ve experienced it for myself. I’m a believer.
*Please note that this story is our guide’s personal experience outside of work. Pure Life students are not permitted to cliff jump. It is our hope however, that this story helps explain how challenge can create permanent change in all of us.
Thoughts From the Field is a blog written entirely by Pure Life Field Guides. Through their knowledge, wisdom, and passion, our talented guide team forms the backbone of our program as they work tirelessly to help our students. We hope you learn as much from them as we do. They are truly amazing and inspiring people.