I am now on my way back into Mozambique after traveling around South Africa for almost three weeks. I will write a short account of my experiences in South Africa later, however I had the opportunity to jump off of a bridge and afterword wrote up a short account of my experience:
“I am fully committed; in my mind I’ve already jumped” I told my friends and colleagues as I stepped into the harness at the world’s tallest bungee jump. Two hundred and sixteen meters separated me from enjoying an incredible river gorge overlook and becoming a bloody pulpy mess should there be any equipment malfunctions. I breezed through the safety briefing and walked out onto the jumping platform with the other would be jumpers. The view from the bridge was absolutely incredible; a beautiful forested river gorge stretching up into mountains on one side and a clear view of blue waves crashing in the ocean on the other. The time was late afternoon with a few patches of sunlight peering through the cloud layer allowing for momentary warm interludes to the otherwise cool and gusty conditions on the bridge. Like in my experience of skydiving, the gravity of the situation of what I was about to do didn’t hit me until people started falling out into the abyss.
Our jumping order was assigned based on a number system, and the man in charge of the operation was constantly busy seeking out the next in line. His eyes roved the crowd of 20 jumpers as I coolly watched him check the number written on each hand. I glanced down at my number, 161F, knowing that number 160 had just jumped. The choking feelings of anticipation, fear and excitement swelled up into my chest and neck as the boss man laid his eyes upon my marked hand. Our eyes met and we held the gaze for a split second, in which I felt an amazing calming feeling; as if he was communicating with me and telling me “trust me, you will be ok”. He signaled for me to cross over into the staging area and I was fitted with ankle pads and a safety line. The boss man asked me my name and where I was from. I said “does it matter? I am going to die right now!” He laughed, hooked the actual bungee cord to my ankles and told me that I was now the safest man in the world. Two workers picked me up from the arms and lifted me to the edge of the jumping platform. They said to me “you will jump in ten seconds”.
I must say that those ten seconds, standing on the edge of the bridge, were some of the most intense ten seconds I have ever experienced. First off my body was in a state of absolute panic. “No way!!” it said, “You absolutely must get away from this ledge, this is very dangerous!” The adrenaline was shooting into my veins like an IV drip, my palms were sweaty, my heart beat rapidly and my senses were absolutely alert and ready to spring, cat-like, in order to evade this most atrocious situation of falling from such a height. My body was doing everything it should have done at that moment to avoid certain death. My mind however was resolute and clear, and it said: “You are jumping; you know that you are safe, you are committed, you are calm, you are the Buddha, you are but a drop of water in the ocean, you are trusting, you will do this, you are jumping and you know it.” And as this war was waging between my mind and my body, between my physiology and my resolute will, the seconds slowly ticked off the clock as they inevitably always do, and the moment of truth arrived, as it inevitably always does.
The instant my feet left the platform the extreme acceleration began. Wind whipped my falling face and body as my stomach and vestibular senses were sent haywire. The monkey body is simply not meant to fall through the air in such a way! As I sped downward with my hands outstretched above me I immediately felt an uncontrollable urge to scream. This scream drew its power from a source deep within me, as my most profound existential fears were ripped out of me and exposed during this state of absolute surrender. As I hurdled towards the ground I screamed my guts out in utter terror as I felt my imminent death approaching on the dry river bed below. In an attempt to better describe this almost superhuman howl that I unleashed the phrases “heart wrenching”, or “soul shattering” come to mind but just sound cliché and trite in comparison to the strength of the emotions that precipitated it. And just as the fire of fear burned its brightest blazes in my experience of free fall, and I had accepted my gruesome fate on the rocks below, the bungee cord began to stretch. My fall began to slow as tension built up in the cord, the feeling of gravity grew and blood began to rush into my head and arms. In my moment of profound existential reckoning I had of course forgotten that in fact I was safe and secured in my fall. The cord stretched to its limit and I began to rebound, up towards the precipice from which I had fallen. I was going to live!
The next 2 minutes of bouncing on the line followed by being reeled up back onto the bridge were enjoyed in a state of mental peace and tranquility rarely found in everyday experience and routine. I felt the breeze, observed the gorgeous scenery and bounced my body around is if for the first time. The man who helped my back up onto the bridge greeted me; “well, how was it?” All I could reply was a dazed smile, probably still with a little drool hanging from the corner of my mouth and a word “dude….”
He laughed and said “first time eh?” I mumbled some response concerning the state of my soul and the terror that gripped me as I was forced to come to terms with my impending doom. He gave me a blank stare and said “dude….” Clearly everybody’s experience is different.
So why do we seek these adrenaline filled brushes with disaster? Why is it that in these moments where we are closest to death and destruction do we feel so alive? And where does this pursuit for novelty and excitement end? Will I have to seek out a higher bridge to satisfy my craving for adrenaline? These are questions that for me inevitably loop back to my mental conditioning that says bigger, better, faster, more exciting is always better. I believe that two forces within the psyche are at work, firstly that human beings can habituate and addict to practically anything, and secondly the human desire to transcend one’s self. I think that if you examine any culture in the world you will find these two ideas at play in various degrees. But looking at the Universe on a macroscopic level tells a similar story. Why didn’t life stop evolving after the formation of the first self-replicating molecule, which existed in perfect simplicity? Since its formation (which nobody really knows anything about) the whole strategy of the Universe has been to construct more and more complexity and more and more novelty. Is there some transcendent goal to the Universe itself in which one individual human life of novelty seeking is a fractal representation of the whole? These questions obviously have no correct answers.
Or perhaps simplicity can still be a virtue after all, and people can go jump off bridges and then just go out for beers and cocktails without writing up philosophical treatise and posting them on the internet.
Evan! This was such an exciting read which put me directly in your ankle straps! Please never stop sharing systematic writings of your epic experiences, as this allows myself and others to connect with aspects of the human condition that are all too often ignored. Your writing surfaces what it means to be a part of not only humanity but also the Universe as a whole. You are The Buddha and I love you, friend. What an adventure you’re on!
Wow what an experience! I hope all is well and can’t wait for your next entry
It has something to do with not being allowed to ride in the front seat of a car, or without a seatbelt, as a child.