Rappelling Together, Downward and Inward

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 5:30 am

Rappelling Together, Downward and Inward

Here’s a “Memo to Self,” lest I forget. Years ago, I went on an amazing, week-long Outward Bound program. I say “amazing” now. At the time, what amazed me was that I was paying good money to do things that scared me to death!
One of those things was rappelling down a 110-foot cliff on Hurricane Island off the coast of Maine. I was not alone in my fear. Most of the ten people who came on that program were fearful about rappelling, as well as the other physical and mental challenges we faced day and night.
I’ve forgotten how to rappel. But I will never forget the way ten strangers offered each other constant encouragement and support that week. Not once was anyone ignored — let alone scoffed at or shamed — as they wrestled with their fears. Instead, we talked openly about what scared us, and offered each other the kind of compassion that gave everyone courage to make it through.
When I came home and went back to work, I looked around and said to myself, “If only we could see the ‘inward rappel’ so many of us are making right now — the daunting challenges so many folks wake up to each morning — we’d have more compassion and offer each other more support. If our inner struggles were more visible, more compassion would flow.”
I know there are situations where it’s dangerous to be transparent about your fears — though I also know there are ways to create safe space to get the support we all need. But whatever our situation, all of us can exercise an empathetic imagination about the “inward rappels” others are making, just as the poet Miller Williams urges us to do:


Have compassion for everyone you meet
even if they don’t want it. What seems like conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

(taquiman / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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