Leap Before You Look – Paragliding in Bir
I’d read it somewhere and felt it resonate – The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.
Every mountaintop I’d met had affirmed this. A staggering serenity always stood in wait at the top, like an old friend to be rediscovered against a new backdrop.
But not this time around. At all. Serenity and Zen were not even the last things on my mind. The ‘plan’ was to run off the mountain’s edge with a paraglider I didn’t even know the name of. The hope was that the elements would let this insanity pass without incident. Standing at the edge all strapped up and helmeted – I struggled to recall from which angle this whole affair had once seemed like a bright idea. How did this even make sense? But this was no time for sense. After all, no great story ever began with “Once upon a sensible decision”.
Given my cornucopia of trust issues, anxiety issues and control issues, I’d half-hoped to chicken out after one look down the mountain. “Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think.” I kept telling myself, trying to shut down my brain. Fears of all shapes and sizes had crawled out to vote against this decision to paraglide. From the obvious biggie – ‘What if I die?’ – to the more trivial but equally valid ‘What if I’ve to pee while I’m mid-air?’ But then, as is always the case with my internal elections, curiosity had won against fear in a landslide victory. Fear could frolic all it wanted but it wasn’t allowed to make decisions for me.
“Just run straight down when I say ‘run’ and don’t try to jump or anything” – I was instructed by a boy who didn’t look a day over 18 and in whom I was entrusting my life. “Okay” I nodded, like I totally knew what I was doing.
“Run” came the instruction, a few long moments later. I ran all the way to the edge and then some more, until the ground had been replaced by wind, and the running had turned into flying. Letting the excitement flood every cell in my body, while my brain wanted no part of this insanity.
We were mid-sky. Floating through a sea of thick winds, the air felt like a solid entity up here. Surprising myself, I sat there calmly enjoying the views like I was watching NatGeo at home. Turns out nature soothes me even when I’m suspended in thin air without a clue. Hungry eyes refusing to blink despite the cold winds, I gawked at all the impossible views this unnatural vantage point offered. Totally grateful for every bit of insanity and curiosity that had led to this moment. Something a lot wiser than my brain chimed in – Your brain fools you all your life, it’s only fair and necessary that you fool it right back sometimes. For getting even. And for moments like these.
Aware of every passing millisecond, there was nothing I could take for granted up here – not even myself. You’re all you’ve got and you’re up for grabs anytime the elements decide you’ve had enough fun. Two big choices stared me in the face – Absolute Trust or Absolute Terror. And in the span of 20 (very) odd minutes I swung between them like an out-of-control acrobat. Speaking of acrobats, my teenaged-looking paraglider decided it was time for a plot twist, meaning peacetime was over. Some highly disorienting spins and turns were in store. I’d had a scare just moments ago when he adjusted the straps to straighten my seat, and now the horizon and my body were tilting in opposite directions. I screamed with a volume and pitch I’d never imagined I was capable of. From a deep dark attic inside where I stash away my fears. The kind that make one desperately yearn for boredom. One long lung-shattering scream later, a wave of serenity rushed in, as if on cue. I felt lighter, as if some long-held fears had just been expelled into the winds for good. “You’ll release your fears” he had said moments ago and turns out he’d been right. The next few spins and turns felt a smidgen less freaky each time, as I oscillated between screaming in terror at my impending doom and whooping with exhilaration at the sheer madness of it all.
A random dot in an endless sky, one feels utterly inconsequential and immensely significant at the same time. With nothing to latch on to and everything to let go of, my trust muscle was getting a serious workout in all this. How much trust could I muster from within me when there was nothing familiar or tangible to place my trust in? Not a lot apparently, but at least my score was improving. I got better at keeping calm as the minutes slowly played out through every new spin and twirl of the canopy.
Learning to trust life is a lifelong assignment for most of us, and experiences like these show us how far along we’ve gotten. I landed on my butt to the absolute glee of a group of kids nearby – who had gathered there for the sole purpose of laughing hysterically at graceful landings such as mine. Beats the hell out of television any day!
I dusted off my pants, amused and astonished at how much of myself the last 20 minutes had shown me. I look forward to meeting the sky again, taking along a lot more Zen with me the next time.