Saturday, September 8, 2012

Trust Fall

A very long time ago, I used to work as a facilitator at our camp challenge course.  Where we used to zip through the trees, and balance on wires.  Sometimes we did trust falls, but mostly I stayed away from those platforms, unless I had a seriously focused group on board.  In the beginning, I used to think trust falls were simple...almost too easy and cliche.  But then I took a challenge course training, and I never looked at them the same again.

The first thing the training did, was make me become the faller.  Before that, falling was purely hypothetical to me.  But before we were allowed to fall, we had to understand several things about falling.  We needed to know that fallers varied in their levels of trust.  Some fallers were anxious from the moment they stepped onto the platform, and no amount of coaxing from the catchers would change that.  Some fallers were completely trusting until the moment they launched themselves backward into space.  But all fallers had a moment of panic as they hovered in midair.  

It was an actual phenomenon, that the brain would signal the body in that moment, "I should have been caught by now!"  In that millisecond, the brain would scream to the faller's body that the catchers had failed, and they were headed straight for the ground.  

In this moment it was critical that the faller know this, and be prepared for this.  If they were not, they would pull their hands from the carefully configured and knitted position, and give a catcher a black eye or a bloody nose.  Or they would jackknife in an attempt to save themselves, and cut through the mesh of waiting arms with a rocketing posterior.  Knowing wasn't a guarantee, but it helped.

We also had to learn to be catchers.  On the ground, behind the platform, we would stand in two lines, facing one another.  Our arms were outstretched in front of us, alternating with the arms of the catchers opposite us.  From the platform the faller would see two lines of upturned, encouraging faces, and one line of woven arms.  We would not fail the faller.  One person was not strong enough to catch them, but all of us woven together, could cushion their fall, and set them softly on their feet once again.

In a perfect trust falling world, that is true.  Most of the time that is true.  But not always.  As facilitators, we were always instructed to position ourselves at the place where the faller's head would land.  And then we were told the truth.  The catchers don't always catch.  They mean to catch, but somehow they don't.  No one really knows why, but if one person pulls a hand away suddenly to slap a biting mosquito, instinctively the whole group may also withdraw their hands.  One moment there, and the next moment gone.

As a facilitator, it was our job to watch for this, and to literally throw ourselves under the faller if this were to happen.  At all cost, save their head.

Life is a lot like a trust fall.  Relationships are a lot like a trust fall.  That's why we do them.  They give us a tangible, discussable adrenaline rush.  People always have a lot to talk about during the debriefing time after trust falls.

In life I have been both the catcher and the faller.  

In life I have been one set of hands in a woven line, catching and setting down gently.  I have been the catcher who took a hit to the face when the faller panicked.  I have been the catcher who became distracted in an instant, and pulled my hands away, I know not why.  In life I have taken a dive to protect a head or two.  Not often, but it has happened.  

In life I have fallen and felt many arms bear me up.  In life I always, always panic, certain that I will not be caught.  I have flung my arms up to protect myself, and taken out more than a few catchers.  I have tucked my body in self protection, and made myself into a dangerous missile.  Very rarely in life, I have fallen and hit the dirt.  But always there has been someone who saved my head.  They ended up on the ground with me, bruised and dirty, but we were saved.

To this day, my blood begins to rise loudly in my ears, whether I am squaring the backs of my heels with the edge of the platform, or standing on the ground with my arms outstretched.  To fall or to catch, either one is filled with exhilaration and risk, unpredictable enough to never become easy or cliche.