I first got on stilts in January, doing the Wise Fool NM program, ELEVATE. The very first time, I was relatively comfortable on them. The second time – a few days later, perhaps – I was terrified. I felt anxiety where I’ve been feeling it strongly in recent years, the center of my chest. It took a lot of mental something or other to get me to leave the support of the wall. I saw a video of our end of program performance and my ears were up in my shoulders and my movements halting. Six months later, I’m stilting again in a program performance (BUST). Getting back on stilts has been the equivalent of saying “Ok. I’m going to step into the ring with fear.”
Only, this time, it hasn’t felt like a boxing match.
The first day we got on stilts, I felt wobbly and nervous, but definitely more comfortable than previously. Every saturday, for the past five weeks, we’ve been getting up on stilts. Each time, I have felt a bit more comfortable, while also being aware of the Nerves paying a visit. Sometimes a specific new move might call in the Nerves. Sometimes, they just pop up. Yet, I have been determined. During open studio evenings, I made a point of strapping on stilts. The Nerves, clingy couple that they are, tended to come along.
They persisted. I persisted.
Something that made a difference was music. One evening, Dee brought some earphones and we started dancing to music on her phone. I found that this tended to relax me – particularly when I thought about a teacher’s (Alessandra from Peñasco Theater) comment that if you can move it off stilts, you can move it on stilts. Focusing on dancing tended to push the Nerves into a dark corner where it was hard to see or hear them.
A few days ago, we were having a practice for our stilt act. Yes, I chose to be in a stilt act for our BUST performance. You know, pushing myself. Also, though, I’ve come to enjoy stilts. This isn’t to say, however, that the Nerves have totally gone away. Nope. They definitely still hang around. They popped up in this practice session the other day. The task at hand was to get down to the ground using a person as a base. The base is on hands and needs. The stilter leans over and lowers down to the ground by pressing on their upper and lower back. The first few times I did this, the Nerves were in a frenzy.
Two days later, during a rehearsal for our Act, I had to use this lowering technique. I started out by doing the descent using mats on the other side of the room from where we were practicing our acts. The mats are higher than using a person as a base and, thus, less scary. Eventually a teacher said “Come over here and I’ll be your base. If you keep working on the mats to get down over there, you’ll keep spending a lot of time and effort crawling on the floor to get back over here. ” I stilt walked over and to her, while she got down on all fours to base my descent. With wide eyes, I stared at her back, all laid out for me to drop down onto it. It seemed very far away.
I felt the Nerves tug on me for a second. I exhaled. The Nerves went away. I leaned over without hesitating and did my descent.
I can’t exactly tell you what is now allowing me to do that move fearlessly. I can’t be sure that the Nerves won’t come back while doing the same move.
I can tell you that the experience is liberating. One day something terrifies me. Two days later it doesn’t.
I’ve just had imprinted on me the experience of being released from the shackles of fear. Maybe this has happened before in other ways. Maybe this isn’t the first time I’ve gone from fear into security. Yet, this particular experience is resonating strongly with me right now. My mind is going “If that can happen in this instance, in what other instances might it happen? In what other spaces am I able to step out of fear, to keep the Nerves at bay?”
And from those thoughts rises the question: “What kind of possibilities might open up to me, the more I become released from the shackles of fear?”
And from those thoughts rises a smile. The kind that starts in the center of my chest – in the same place that fear normally hangs out – and moves through me, turning up the corners of my mouth, flashing my big teeth and then continues to rise until it shines through my large eyes.
BUSTing out of the shackles of fear. Experiencing the freedom of busting out of the shackles of fear.
The USA is a country with many fear-full people. This fear shackles us, doesn’t it? This taste of fearlessness makes me wonder how different our lives and ways of living together would be if we weren’t so fear-full.
What are the ways in which fear keeps you in shackles? Keeps communities in shackles? Keeps an entire nation in shackles?
(photo of mural at Peñasco Theater, painted by Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski and Rebekah Tarín)