Riding My Fear... And The World's Longest Cable Car
Nothing could have prepared me.
I'm NOT scared of heights, and can happily stand on stable high mountains, tall buildings and bridges and simply marvel at the feeling. I'm NOT scared of speed, and love driving fast; actually one of my favourite feelings in the world is that moment of take-off in an airplane. I'm NOT scared of dying, have physically held many people through their dying moments and am even curious about that experience of transition, especially after my journey with Mother Ayahuasca.
When my friend, Kate, suggested the new Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills (near Da Nang) in Central Vietnam as a day trip on our travels, she also casually mentioned that it had the longest single track cable car in the world - at 5.801km (3.6 miles). I didn't especially worry about it - I looked at the bridge photos and read about the pagodas, gardens and the natural forest surrounds and said "Sure". I had no feelings of anxiety on the day beyond mild butterflies, until I actually stepped into the cable car. And those feelings accelerated A LOT as the cable car shot out of the station and over the mountain.
I'm still not able to pinpoint exactly what it was that set of such heightened anxiety. Something to do with the movement, height and feeling of speed all combined with a complete lack of control. And the fear was a really primal one - not nausea or motion sickness related at all, but an almost instant sense of paralysis, difficulty breathing and cold sweat. I sat RIGID for the entire 17 mins looking mostly at the horizon. When I turned my head to look over the huge valley we were dangling over, my head hurt.
It helped that there was a woman in the car with us openly talking about her "phobia".... it was as I was talking her through the experience that I really connected with those similar feelings in myself.
So how to manage that intense fear when there is no way out, no stepping back and no chickening out?
- I tried to breath more slowly, with more awareness and deeply into my legs and feet.;
- I mentally-silently talked to myself about oneness - that I am PART of these trees, these clouds, that eagle flying by;
- I focused on the mental image of the hands that hold the bridge that we were heading up to, and reminded myself that I am cosmically held and eternally safe.
I remember holding on to the seat with both hands so tightly that they hurt. I joked with the other woman and breathed and somehow got through those 17 minutes, albeit bathed in cold sweat. When I stepped out of the car onto terra firma, my legs were shaking.
Once I was on the bridge itself, I was FINE - elated, actually, by the cool air, the views, the wind, and a sense of physical expansiveness and profound beauty.
Going down, Kate and I had a car to ourselves, and this one even had a glass bottom to add to the experience! Yikes. Without strangers listening, we were able to chat about the fear, and where it comes from. I realize that I'm one of those people shaped by life and trauma, who isn't aware of being afraid of very much because I CONTROL my physical experience fairly tightly. Somehow this cable car ride slipped under my defensive radar and hit deeply at my primal physical self feeling unsafe, especially when the cable car tipped backwards when it crossed the pylons. To put it more succinctly, this cable car experience called me out on my manufactured sense of safety, and challenged my to relax into the eternal abyss.
What surprised me later - even several hours later - was that there was a real physical reaction. I felt weak and a bit shaky for some hours, just like you do when someone dies and you go into mild shock.
In retrospect, I feel UTTERLY GIFTED by the experience, as it brought into my awareness my buried feelings of not being safe in the world. I KNOW I am, in my head. But now I appreciate so much more that deep fear and phobia is a lingering memory in the body which is out of alignment with our thinking and belief about ourselves, the physical world and the cosmos.
Being HELD has always been one of the most profoundly beautiful feelings for me, and I will take away from Vietnam the new, tangible physical sense of being cosmically held. Eternally AND physically safe. The symbolic image of the hands will stay in my mind forever, I suspect.
Would I ride that cable car again? Oh Yes. I'm putting it firmly on my list for my next visit to Hoi An, simply and only to be able to touch those deep feelings a little more mindfully, and next time to savour the feelings of freedom and enjoy the view.
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