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3 Lessons from the Trapeze


When I say that I had a go at the flying trapeze one summer, some people blanch and reply, “I could never do that!” Others laugh and give an admiring stare. Most everyone wants to know more about the experience.

I describe the process of climbing a totally vertical ladder with my attention riveted to the rung in front of me and the next one. Making the transition from ladder to platform was scary and I confined my focus to grasping the support bar and blessed the trainer who then clamped the guide ropes to either side of the padded, 5 ½ -inch wide safety belt around my waist.

I blessed him again for firmly holding that belt as I placed my toes over the edge of the platform some 30 feet above the wide net – 40 feet from the ground – and stretched to grab the trapeze at eye level. Though the net and guard ropes were doing their job every moment of the process, they didn’t occupy a front position in my awareness until I got the dismount instructions at the end of each round. While it didn’t happen in this session, it’s very possible that I could follow an urge to move at my pace rather than the instructors’ and miss or forget a part of the instruction. At that point I would swiftly become aware of (and be grateful for) those safety devices.


The most important thing in the trapeze session is to listen to the instructor who tells you exactly what to do, when. “Ready” (bend your knees); “Hep” (take a bunny hop off the platform); “Hook your legs” at the apex of the first swing, (bring your legs through your arms and around the bar). At the apex of the swing back he instructs “Hands off the bar” so that you begin the second forward swing hanging by your knees, body arched forward with your arms stretched in a reaching position.

Two rounds of this instruction (two climbs up the ladder, etc.) prepares you for the final round when on the second forward swing there is another “Hep” – this time from the trapeze artist swinging on a second bar – you unwrap your legs from your bar and fly through the air towards outstretched arms.


It strikes me that we face a metaphorical trapeze many times in our lives, whenever we come to juncture points in careers, relationships, life transitions. The lessons I learned while on the literal trapeze may be helpful at those times as well.

  • Assess the challenge of the opportunity. We want to acknowledge and respect whatever emotions we experience without being overwhelmed by them. Healthy fear brings an alertness that facilitates focus. Healthy shame provides an accurate assessment of whether or not the risk of the challenge is greater than our ability to grow through it. Healthy excitement channels our energy to take action. 
    Trapeze experts were demonstrating the art the first time I came across the apparatus. A shiver of fear threatened to land into the pit of my stomach, but as I imagined the freedom of letting go I thought, “I think I can do that.”

  • Grow trust in yourself and others involved. Ultimately at each point along the way, climbing the ladder, taking the hop off the platform, letting go the trapeze and reaching into another’s arms, it’s our internal dialogue that determines our choice and action. In trusting our whole self we can feed off the fear and/or excitement and harness energy for moving into the challenge. On the other hand we dissolve self-trust when we feed the fear until the excess energy either frightens and paralyzes or siphons off into anger and impulsivity.


When I watched the trainers working with others on the trapeze I realized that these experts were going to do everything in their power to make it a good, successful experience. Once we’ve established the relative trustworthiness of others, we have the option to entrust ourselves to those who are there to help us. We grow to trust our self to let go and trust our spiritual and physical guides. We put faith in unseen nets so that even when we miss the mark or make mistakes we’re as protected from harm as possible.

  • Focus fully in the present moment. Nothing deserves our attention more in a challenge than being fully present to it while at the same time not being wholly identified with its successful outcome. When I was wholeheartedly in each moment of the trapeze lesson, my attention naturally focused on the process. By sharpening my focus to the priority aspects of the moment I remained alert to the continually evolving nature of the challenge. If my attention narrowed to only my perspective of the situation, I didn’t take in the guide’s information. 

When we show up and pay attention to what we’re experiencing we uncover and access inner resources that help us move through the challenge. We have more of our self available to listen for and respond to instruction. However, when we define our self by the (lack of) successful outcome we are confined to a limiting sense of self, as I observed in the trapeze session a person repeatedly declare, “I’m no good at this, I won’t be able to do it.” They succeeded in failing.

   I have no plans to receive the next level of instruction on the flying trapeze. I’m happy to have learned the lessons from knowing first-hand such a challenge. I developed my feeling of balance and expanded a sense of freedom in wholeness. 

   These lessons freely translate into counseling, which is a partnership between therapist and client. As the therapist I help you tame the inner dialog of the conflict mind when facing the challenges of change. I’m one of the Life “trapeze artists”; sometimes I’m the one attaching guide ropes, holding you by the belt, steadying you as you lean over the edge of the platform to grasp the bar, and saying ‘ready’, ‘hep’ (jump). Sometimes I’m the one holding the ropes, guiding and encouraging you as you take each step in the process of moving through change. 
   You grow to trust your self to let go and trust being part of something beyond yourself that includes “invisible guide ropes and unseen nets.” You encounter and begin to accept your energy of excitement or fear and harness it for action. You learn to stay focused on the present moment, listening and responding to information from both yourself and the counselor.
    In the process of moving through challenges in Life Changes, you can gain freedom and facility to utilize your inner resources. You have more of YOU, alive and ‘flying.’

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