The Best Lesson Life’s Ever Taught me on Bravery (Or, Thoughts on Cliffjumping)

I walked over defiantly, having jumped off the smaller cliffs, now ready to jump off the bigger one that some others had just jumped from. I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with excitement, a smile, a pulsing heart running through my body. I put down my bag near the ledge and walked over, toenails running over the last bit of cliff before air. I peered below. Why did this look so far down? The view from across the cliff looked doable. Besides, I’d done this before, six years ago now.

Loch Raven Bridge

Photo: MO 2009

It was a warm late May night with friends and we had just graduated university. We drove out to where suburbs meets scenic rural and one by one, my friends jumped into the dark water below. It was my turn, and I was scared. Come on, Mel, my friend urged. We can even do it together! So next thing I know, my body hit the water with a force that left my tailbone and butt hurting for a week. That summer, we came back to this bridge in the daylight and climbed up a hill to spend quite a few afternoons cliff jumping. A year later, I came back to celebrate my 23rd birthday with a jump in the early spring cold water.

And here I was, five years later, with a kind of scared running through my body that felt like paralysis. “You can do it!” A couple jumpers encouraged. I handed one of them my phone. If I’m doing this, I at least want some kind of video. I walked back over to the ledge, trying to figure out how much higher this cliff was than the others I’ve jumped from. Trying to figure out how long that uncomfortable free fall would be. In other words, thinking… a lot. “Ok, I’m gonna start recording so get ready… Come on, one, two…” Nothing. I chickened out, twice, confused and embarrassed by just how afraid I was.

I didn’t realize while standing n the edge that there were a few young women from China who had been watching me. As I retreated back to my backpack, one of them came up to me and gave me a hug. “I’m sending you power. You can do it! You are brave!” She enthused. I smiled wide and almost wanted to cry, touched by the outreach of a stranger. What is it about sisterhood and the kindness of people you don’t know who go out of their way, or their comfort zone, to approach you a timely word of encouragement? 

That’s when I discovered a cliff on the other side that had a gradient in which you could choose how high you wanted to jump. I rushed over and picked one that felt equally challenging and doable. Splash. Exhilaration. 

This is what we were made to feel, I thought, and jumped again from a ledge higher.

I walked back to the original high cliff that scared me. I put my bag down. I was ready to be brave.

Because this was for all the brave things that came along the way of my past four months of solo travel. Solo hikes in the dark from having stayed at the mountaintop too long. Riding the busy streets on the left hand side of the road on a bicycle in Thailand, only to fall off after a motorcyclist came the wrong way down the street head-on in front of me. This was for navigating cities and maps and languages I can’t speak and new physical, mental, emotional experiences that at times have simply left me stunned over the gift of being alive.

I swung my arms forward into the open sky. I’ve never enjoyed leaving the ground more than I did in that moment. And when I landed in the water, I wanted to do it over and over again.

Is that the way life is?
Are things less “do or die, now or never,” or is there a cascade into those scary brave experiences we crave in which we grow, metamorphose, go through a process that takes us down all sorts of feelings and things we didn’t know about ourselves?

I applaud the “do or die-ers,” the moments in which we simply say yes and go all in. I’m sure we all have some of those moments, and they compose the fibers in our muscles of courage.

But sometimes we can neither do nor die; we have to pause. We may linger in fear, only to learn that instead of killing it, we can take its good powers, the powers that evolutionary have kept us alive when a car got too close to us, and whisper kindness to it. We can say “thank you” to it for looking out for us, and invite it to go on our journeys as we whisper, “We really are gonna be ok.”

Because the best lesson I’ve learned from life so far?

You don’t have to be brave all once.

Since that realization, “not having to be brave all at once” became my beckoning call, my rally cry. It’s not an excuse to sit when it’s time to stand, nor permission to let fear control your every move. But it’s the freedom to not have to be perfectly fearless, to give yourself grace while you’re readying your heart toward action. It’s part pep talk, part compassion, partly getting a clarifying sense on who you really want to be and uncovering what you really want.

I say it again, you don’t have to be brave all at once.
All you need to do is honor where you are and take yourself to just that next step.
And watch yourself unfold.
Take the biggest thing in front of you and break it down into small braves until you’re ready to meld your soul into the big brave you envision.

Because we have that big brave in us.

Tonight, my Whatsapp has messages from that smiling woman who hugged me before she even knew my name. Who’s warmed my heart and inspired me to spread encouragement where ever I can, to honor someone’s human need for a good pep talk once in a while.

Here’s to those souls who leave our hearts feel connected. 

Here’s to having thoughts and letting them be there, floating through your mind without having to latch onto them. 

Here’s to the fear that keeps us alive, and the fear that we get to speak kindly to, whispering into our insides, “It’s ok. We’ve got this.”

To afternoons spent navigating air, ground and water with your body. 

To envisioning your bravest self and having the patience to get there because we don’t have to be brave all at once. 

Stretch your legs. 

Look to the sky. 

It might be your time jump, darling, our taste of human flight. 


Photo: MO 2015, Grand Canyon, Chiang Mai, Thailand

“The moment I let go of it was the moment I got more than I could handle.
The moment I jumped off of it was the moment I touched down.” -Alanis Morissette Lonely Planet Thailand Amazon



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