Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, forgot he had this incredible power to fly across vast spaces, until he had to take a great leap from India to Sri Lanka. Bali has many sacred forests dedicated to the monkeys that inhabit them, and Jalan Hanuman is one of the main streets in Ubud.
I bring this up because on the fourth day of the Life Design Lab we were pushed to take our own leap. We’d spent three days digging deep, figuring out our values, trying to recalibrate what our strengths and ‘weaknesses’ truly meant, and now we were being taken on an excursion. It was an ominously damp morning in Ubud, and the day got more and more foggy as we drove north. We arrived at Bali Treetop Adventure Park inside the Botanical Gardens. The trees were eerie and beautiful in the mist, and we looked at each other – what the actual fuck is she making us do?! It was some kind of aerial obstacle course, with zipwires and climbing nets that looked far too high up in the trees.
Tanya was itching to go first, so we made her wait – Amritha, a gorgeous little Indian-Aussie and the least pushy of the three us, would be forging out ahead. We watched Amritha scale a climbing wall that rose more than 30 feet in the air. It looked difficult and slippery, and no one was more surprised than Amritha when she made it to the top. We then cheered her from far below as she traversed seven hanging logs, one after the other, and two high wires. She came to a ledge, high in a tree, and was instructed to pull a lead that brought a heavy rope swing up to her – she looked tiny, and heaved on the rope until she had it ready to jump. JUMP!! Holy crap, are we all doing this?! And jump that girl did – our fierce, strong Amritha Franklin showed us the way, commanding some serious R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
I was next, and Leannah had me reciting the mission statement I’d been working on – it wasn’t concise, or perfect, but it felt something towards where I wanted to go: I am Lily. I’m passionate about wading through bullshit to find truth. I’m good at articulating the beauty and strength in the world around me. I’m inspired by conviction and self-belief, and helping people find theirs. I champion people to see their own magic. ‘What are you letting go of?’ she asked. Self-doubt, guilt and shame. What are you jumping into? My potential. I turned and placed one foot on the first foothold, grabbed a handhold and heaved myself up – my foot slipped right off and I was straight back on the ground. ‘Ok, this isn’t happening!!’ I turned and laughed and was met with resolute faces – they weren’t having any of it, I was doing this climb.
Somehow, slowly, I made my way up the climbing wall. Halfway up I felt exhausted and exposed, and had to pause. The path ahead of me wasn’t clear – that handhold is too far, my foot isn’t going to fit on that… The girls below worked with me: ‘try twisting and placing you right foot there’, ‘can you reach up to that wire?’. ‘You’re doing amazing, Liloncé!’ Their encouragement gave me the energy to keep going, and finally I was hauling myself over the top and onto a ledge. I fucking did it! I had to share a thought with the girls: that even though I couldn’t have done it without their advice and encouragement, that it was basically it was team collaboration, ultimately it was my own strength that got me to the top. Definitely an analogy for me to remember in life.
Next was the hanging logs. Shit. I needed time to recoup some energy, and stood hugging the tree, feeling safe against its solidity, before launching myself onto the first log. It wasn’t as swingy as I expected, and I moved across it and onto the next one – where I was promptly overcome and had to sit down. ‘You ok Liloncé?’ ‘Fantastic! Just need a minute.’ Hauling myself back onto my feet felt like too much, so I shuffled across the next log on my bum – and could hear the girls laughing below. ‘I may not do things the way other people do them,’ I called down, ‘and I may ultimately make life harder for myself, but at least I’m doing it! And I can only do things my way!’ Another nugget of wisdom for me to remember. Eventually, through a series of shuffles, hauls, rests, lols with the girls and slippery steps, I made it to the ledge on the next tree. Traversing the following two high-wires wasn’t too bad – I attacked these quickly, and then found myself at the ledge for the rope swing. I sat down, exhausted. The girls, far below, called encouragement up to me. ‘What are you letting go of?’ shouted Leannah. ‘What are you jumping into?’ ‘My potential,’ I cried back – and promptly burst into tears. I cried out of sheer terror at the thought of jumping off this ledge. I cried about the realisations I’d had on my journey to it – that the normal way of doing things doesn’t work for me, and that doing things my way might be harder, but it was ok, it got me where I needed to be in the end. I cried with gratitude for the girls below me, for their belief in me, for the magic they saw in me. I cried for all the times I couldn’t see that magic myself.
I sat for a long time, thinking about how I didn’t want to leap off this ledge into thin air. Then Tanya reminded me – if I could jump off the top deck of a boat, I could do this. So I imagined I was jumping into water, and kind of slid screaming off the ledge when no one expected it, least of all me. I was free, I was swinging through the trees, and it was exhilarating. It felt empowering. It felt worth the tears. I was helped, shakily, off the swing and clung to Leannah, crying again with relief and all the emotion that had bubbled up. I hugged the girls and laughed and shouted ‘I’m alive!’
Tanya, a New Yorker who seemed to have her shit way too together to need coaching, was up next and it was like watching spider-woman – she scaled the climbing wall insanely quickly, and traversed the logs with no sweat. Across the high wires, it looked like there was no stopping her – until she got to the ledge. ‘I’m so scared right now’. ‘You’re amazing,’ we called. And after some time to think it over, she leapt into the ownership she knew she was seeking. Together we discovered that Tanya was just looking for the right path, and that this was her challenge – because once she’s on that path, Tanya Swift charges ahead without a hint of hesitation or a backwards glance.
What the three of us had achieved that day was this visceral representation of everything that kept us stuck. It was a powerful exercise and showed us, quite literally, that no matter how terrifying or seemingly impossible, we can do the things we put our minds to. It just requires some faith in ourselves to charge forward and take that leap.