The High-Wire Act of Life

Years ago, I visited a rock-climbing gym in Sacramento with my good friend, Melinda Heryford-Elston. The gym provided belays (people who manage the climber’s rope on the ground) for children who climbed. While Melinda and I were getting in some cardio on the treadmills, we watched as one of the belays, who was taking a break between climbers, jumped up on a tight rope that had been strung between two posts in the gym. A young, fit man, wearing the soft, flexible, gripping shoes of a climber, initially sat quietly for a moment on the tight rope, apparently finding some internal center. After a few moments, he slowly stood up, finding his physical center of gravity and proceeded to walk the tight rope toward the other end.

Fascinated, I watched him glide across the bouncing, shifting rope and expertly make it to the opposite side. He moved quickly and efficiently but didn’t seem in a hurry. As he moved, he would occasionally start to lose his balance, and I watched as he stopped, centered himself internally and then responded to the tilting imbalance with a commensurate, deliberate, counter-balance move. If he tilted to the left, he closed his eyes, carefully finding his internal center and calmly responding by lifting his right leg and arm. He stood still, almost peacefully, until he felt his mind and body come back into perfect alignment. Then he proceeded again… until the next imbalance: Lean to right, close your eyes, find your center, slowly respond and regain your balance. No panic. No fast motions. No knee-jerk reactions. Just slow, deliberate responses to the off-centeredness he felt and a peaceful standing until he regained his balance.

Responding versus reacting.

And so, it is for us. We jump on and walk the tight rope of our lives, careers, and families, and we glide along beautifully until we hit an imbalance that threatens to send us tumbling off the wire — bills we can’t pay, a child’s bad choices, an unhappy or non-compliant client, co-workers making the same mistake for the umpteenth time, an infidelity, skinny jeans we can’t zip…. And then, most of us react. It’s a reaction usually produced from panic, fear, impatience, or anger. How much better would it be if, like the young man on the tight rope, we could feel the imbalance coming on, stop and find our center, and carefully, calmly, and confidently respond to it? I believe, rather than falling off the tight rope altogether and having to expend triple the energy just to get back on it… we would “right” ourselves more often than not.

We react from a place of fear. We respond from a place of calm and strength. When we respond, we are intentional instead of panic-driven. We are acting and communicating in the same way that most of us like to be communicated with. When we intentionally respond, others feel our personal certainty, confident faith, and loving strength, and more importantly, we feel it… reassuring ourselves and refilling our own buckets again and again because every time we do so, we build confidence in ourselves and faith in our abilities to manage our crazy and beautifully unpredictable lives… and stay on the tight rope.

By the way, when the young man reached the end of the rope, he smiled a small, slightly mischievous little grin, flexed his legs and jumped up in the air, twisting his body 180 degrees and, now facing the opposite direction, landed on the rope which almost touched the floor with the weight of his body as it landed. I gasped out loud watching him do this! He teetered deeply to the left, then the right and even dipped forward, trying desperately, and ultimately unsuccessfully, to regain his balance… he fell. As he landed on the soft, cushioned floor, he rolled to his back quietly laughing, seeming to understand that he had definitely pushed the limits of his tight rope skills and, after a long moment… he got up and went back to work… only to return again later (I can just imagine!) to try his hand at conquering that last jump and taking his ability to respond, rather than react, to the next level.


“Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
~~Viktor E. Frankl

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