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Falling within

I’ve always preferred being outdoors. I love the sensation of open space and the palpable connection with natural surroundings, with the elements.

Yet put me at the edge of an open landscape with a 360 degree panorama or by a very high cliff and I can barely walk, add a very strong wind into the mix and I end up on all fours trying to crawl my way out.

Fear of heights or falling I hear is connected with past traumatic experiences, a past fall for example.

I did have a near death experience about 20 years ago. I fell off a bike whose brakes suddenly failed when I was cycling down a steep road leading to a very busy crossroad.

In complete panic the only thing I could think of was crash into a tree by the side of the road. My right hand hit it first and I can still hear myself screaming Noooooo! as I somersaulted (as a witness told me) and landed back on the footpath.

I was very lucky, I did not lose consciousness, did not have a concussion, just a broken wrist and a massive shock.

I was cycling back from a meditation class when it happened and I used what I had just learned to bring me back inside my body while in the waiting room in the hospital. Connecting with breath slowly and gently held me and made me feel safe again.

I also remember calming myself with hand contact on my forehead and my heart. Not only did it help but it attracted the attention of a kind nurse who decided to take care of me there and then.

I have recently felt this sensation of complete helplessness and terror when attempting to visit a magnificent Cathar fortress called Queribus in the south of France while the local wind, la tramontane, a hurricane force wind (11 knots strong ) was blowing.

Cathar castles were built in the 10th to13th century at the very top of rocky mountains overlooking the most astounding panoramas: perfect vantage points to warn, guard and defend. They are mesmerising.

My companion and I began the ten minute walk to the castle on a narrow path going up by a very steep drop with an astounding wide open view of the Corbieres mountains as the Tramontane wind confronted us in waves.

I walked slowly, breathing long breaths in order to avoid switching on my fight/flight vortex.

Then stairs appeared and the tramontane's salvos became fiercer, blowing at us from the cliff face. There were small stone walls on either side but nowhere near high enough to create safety.

I could see the stairs climbing steeper and higher up to a gateway as the fierce, fearsome fortress towered above us.

I could not go further. I sat down, my hands gripping the stones, in complete terror while strong gusts were whipping by.

My companion told me to sing to bring me back into my body but I could barely speak never mind singing. I did a little eventually but it was too late I was out of my body in full flight mode and all I wanted to do was escape.

My companion held me by the hand and we slowly went back down. It was probably crazy of us to attempt such a climb with such high winds.

As I looked back at Queribus, the sun had just gone down and I saw beside her a magnificent fire-like cloud sitting motionless on its throne while all else broke loose and flew by it. I thought of the saying that at the very centre, the very core of a tornado is a space of utter stillness.

If only I could have stayed connected with the stillness within. But how?

I had nightmares of falling off cliffs and stairways into the abyss that night.

The wind like the sea has its crests and troughs. In the days that followed, the tramontane (meaning across the mountain, a high winter wind that blows from the Atlantic across the Pyrenees) was our companion, I learnt to listen to its dragon-like inhalations and exhalations and walk in its path.

It was a reminder to breathe and stay within, to feel my whole body and let my self circulate within and be contained rather than retained by this mighty air.

It was such a humbling experience, forcing me to respect as I had to surrender and kneel down, overcome by the sheer might of this natural element. A falling within...

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