Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

From Obstacle to Opportunity

Suiting up in a harness, I felt like I was going off to work for the phone company.  I had my nylon straps wrapped around my inner thighs, up the front and back of my torso and over my shoulders with steel carabineers and a zip line contraption attachment.  I was ready to go with my boys into the magical forest at the upper part of Holiday Valley Ski Resort, only we would soon be like tree monkeys with a hundred other brave humans at the Sky High Adventure Park.  With no preconceived notions or expectations I ascended the slope with my boys for a little three hour adventure this past Labor Day weekend.

Quickly learning that Sky High Adventure Park was an off the ground obstacle course, the next three hours would turn into an opportunity for me to confront my fears and to live moment by moment, step by step working with the present “obstacle” before me (on this course they call them elements). I began to gain more confidence with my body as it resided and moved through space high up in these sacred cherry and oak trees.  And I mean sacred, since each time I completed an element, overcoming my fears one at a time, I would go from scared to a moment of sacred, as I leaned my physical presence into each tree that I would meet on the next platform high above the ground.

As I started out, I entered the course via the same route as everyone regardless of which level course would be chosen.  I took some modicum of comfort in the fool-proof safety system of the double carabineers; one was always assuredly locked to a cable on the course while the other was open to attach to the next element such as a ladder, a zip line cable, or a cable across one of the open spaces between the trees.

The trick was to meet each element as it arose with the body and mind synchronized not getting too ahead of oneself in the mind, like overthinking the course, or what was to come next or when it all would this craziness all be over.  The idea was to go step by step, breath by breath.  I felt very scared, no terrified, in the beginning on the first baby course.  For me it was a big deal.  I am afraid of heights and experience a sense of vertigo and have been questioning my body’s ability and agility for the past year.  Still I found myself bending down on my lately creaky knees, letting go of my fears, my anxieties as well as my petty irritations as I moved through the first course.

One of the staff below saw my trepidation and was kind and aware enough to help encourage me while not enabling my dependence on him.  He saw my capabilities clearly beyond what I saw.  I grew to understand pretty quickly that the course was as much about my mind, and what I thought I could do, as it was about getting my body to actually do it.

As I made my way to the second element of the initial course, I came upon a tree trunk that was tilted at a slight angle from one tree platform to another, the total distance spanning about 10 feet in all.  To me walking across that truck seemed unfathomable.  I saw only the obstacle as I met my first fear of the morning on this course.  I stood at the edge of the platform ready to bail.  My guide below egged me on saying this was the hardest element of the course and that I could do this by simply placing one foot in front of the other (just like in Rudolph was urged to do!).  With my carabineers attached to the cable, I spread my arms out like a tightrope walker and faced down my first fear.  Miraculously I got to the other side in one piece, both body and mind.  I started to wonder was this more about my pride not being bruised since falling would not have meant certain death but rather a blow to my ego.

My confidence had shifted perceptibly and I continued on with less need of encouragement.  When I came to the first zip line, I figured out how to attach my lifeline to the cable, but suddenly froze at the edge of the platform.  How could I possibly trust this harness to hold me?  I had to walk off the platform and fly through the air like Tinkerbelle, or rather Sandy Duncan on stage. The only thing I was missing was my faerie dust. 

I moved into thin air with my feet forward and was propelled to the other side where a solid platform and a mature cherry tree welcomed my arrival.  Suddenly I clearly saw that our bodies, all these human bodies on this course were capable of so much more than we give them credit for, and that our mind often is the culprit in creating the obstacles we face every day. 

Upon graduation from the baby course, I decided, with a wee bit of encouragement from my guide, to try the next level up which would take me to heights of 25 feet and more challenging elements.  I once again entered the new course with a renewed sense of my purpose, my body, my potential, my genuine intelligence to meet the obstacles/elements.  Just like we meet the elements every day in our moment by moment encounters on earth, I was getting the hang of meeting the elements of this course.  I ascended and began to feel the groove and movement of my body.  My mentor called up to me as I moved this new course, “Jean, you could do any course here.”  Half believing him, my confidence grew; rather I remembered the confidence that has always existed within me.  And my aches and pains seemed to magically dissipate.  I hurt less; felt more, my mind expanded outward into space.  I was in a groove, in the zone, as my youngest son is wont to say.

When I came to one particularly challenging element, another cable tightrope with a triangular shaped rope to hold onto as I walked the twenty or so feet span across open space, I did a practice that I had learned as part of my meditation practice and have been applying to my daily living called “raising your windhorse.”  As I quietly said the words to invoke my confidence, I placed my first wobbly foot out onto the steel cable in the open space before me.  And within a minute or so, I had made it safely across to the next landing setting in the cherry tree 25 feet in space above the ground. 

I just kept chugging along on the course and was grateful for all the basic goodness surrounding me like the family in front of me,  a dad with his three children who gave me reassurance through his kindness.  I came to one of the final elements, and I took a breath, raised my windhorse, and began to cross but on the first step off I knew that my balance wasn’t there and I was in trouble.  The gentleman behind me instinctively reached out to bring me back to the wooden landing and I called out to me helper below, “How do I cross over this one?”  He said walk sideways on the cable tightrope all the way across.  I stepped off again holding onto the cable and shakily held the other cable for my hands and moved across the open space again methodically and deliberately breathing and concentrating on each and every step.

Life itself is like Sky High Adventure Park; we move from obstacle to opportunity in space and are continually touched by the elements throughout our entire life.  Challenging ourselves, taking a cleansing breath first before we meet a challenge, centering our body and relaxing our mind, are all things that I found I had to do first to make my journey through this course of elements and wide open spaces.  I trusted in my body, let go of the fears in my mind and found that this was a wonderful way to wrap up the summer and to begin a new school year.





  1. Awesome Jean--Miss you VERY much and SO enjoy reading what you write. Keep it up (and the stuff that pushes us beyond our limited perceptions of our capacities and ourselves)!
    Love ya,

    1. Hi Nicole! Thanks for reading and miss you, too, so much! I trust we will be getting east and maybe sooner than later for Kailen's crew well my fellow friend and warrior!! Love you too .... xoxo

  2. I had missed this one! Wonderful exploration of our limitless capabilities.