The warm sun filtered through the trees onto an unfamiliar path. My afternoon date kept a brisk pace as we hiked through dense woods above the Ashland reservoir. Eventually the path wound out of the trees into a small open area, and surprised us as a wide channel of water cut the trail in two. The narrow log that spanned the divide looked weak, but offered the only option to continue.
We’d met through mutual friends at an African Dance class. He was the new chiropractor in town and we kept running into each other at art events. Our first outing alone, this hike was supposed to be an easy jaunt through the woods that ended at Lithia Park near downtown.
My date apologized and offered to turn back, but I didn’t think a simple water crossing should defeat us. I’d grown up cavorting in creeks and hiking mountain streams, so I encouraged him to continue. Besides, I was eager to impress my new friend.
He crossed first. The slender log had a small circumference and when he reached mid way it bowed a bit under his weight. Like a tightrope walker he maintained balance with arms askew, wobbling side to side before regaining momentum to reach the other side. As I watched him almost slip, I rethought my bravado.
Doubt nagged at the back of my mind as I stepped onto the log. My friend shouted encouragement as I took four quick steps—and froze in place. Acutely aware of the swift water below and weak spot ahead, my feet became riveted to the log. I knew I could cross safely, but my body refused to budge. Frustration mounted with each attempt to take another step, but fear held me firmly in place.
Finally, feeling foolish but desperate to continue, I squatted down, straddled the log and scooted my bum across the entire length. Consumed by humiliation, the rest of the hike was a blur. My date was gracious, but I couldn’t forgive myself.
So a week later, alone and determined, I hiked to the water crossing and stood again at the edge of that same narrow log. Disturbed by the previous experience, I couldn’t understand why I’d lost control of my ability to move forward. I needed to redeem myself, even though no one else was there.
I took a deep breath and started to cross…one, two, three, four—BAM. My feet stuck like glue in the exact same spot and I almost fell. Body memory had taken over and superseded my conscious choice to keep moving. For the next twenty minutes I tried everything I could think of to get my stubborn feet to move. No one was watching, I could take all the time I needed, but my feet refused to respond.
Eventually I stopped trying. I was no longer mad at myself, or fearful—just curious. I simply stood in submission and looked across the log to the other side. Surrendered to where I was stuck, I let go of attempting to do anything and simply focused on where I wanted to be.
“I want to be over there…I want to be on the other of the water…that bank…”
Like in a meditation, my focus was so glued to the other side of the trail that I crossed the log before even aware of moving. One minute I was standing on the log completely stuck, and the next minute I was safely on the other side. My body had calmly walked the entire length without a hint of wavering, or conscious thought.
Awestruck, I stood on the other side in joy. What just happened?
When I focused on what I didn’t want—fear of falling—my body reacted accordingly and kept me from moving forward in self preservation. But when I focused on my goal—to be on the other side—I unconsciously did what was necessary to achieve it.
I never did have another date with the chiropractor. But for thirty years the lesson I learned that day has been a guiding factor in my life.
Focus, not fear, keeps me moving forward.