You would think that jumping out of an airplane 2 1/2 miles above the earth would be a crazy, dangerous thing to do. But you would be not only wrong, but wrong on any number of counts.
Statistically, you’re more apt to be injured on the way to the airpark than you are jumping out of the plane. Not only that, but you’re more likely to be stressed for a much longer time than it takes you to return to earth, and … you don’t feel anywhere near the same sense of exhilarating relief when you do finally reach your destination.
Jumping On an Impulse
A couple of weeks ago my friend Rebecca was here visiting. On the plane ride up from Texas, she made the decision that she was going to do a tandem skydive. I volunteered to chauffeur her (chauffeuring is a great, relatively safe way to do reconnaissance ahead of any jump I might want to do :-)).
When we got to Skydive Snohomish, we discovered that even though it was housed in an old airplane hangar, the office was immaculate – a place for everything and everything in its place. There were 10 laptops arranged on a table just so to be used for registering; there were four lines of cushioned folding chairs set in straight rows for viewing the preliminary instructional video; the carpet where clients would be laying, practicing their “freefall” posture was spotless.
One reason that cleanliness is next to Godliness is because it sends an unconscious, neuroceptive message to the body and brain – this is a safe place. People have the time to pay close attention, to care. When you’re jumping out of an airplane at 13000 feet, you want people caring and paying close attention. Cleanliness also has the implicit ability to help us regulate our stress hormones, which, as you might suspect, are already in quite a heightened state before we even walk through the school’s front door. Cleanliness also helps to reduce crime as the New York Transit Police happily found out (see here).
As I sat on the clean, new sofas in the waiting area, I watched as the tandem divers began arriving. They were mostly male and each had their own locker where jumpsuits and parachutes were neatly stored. They unceremoniously changed into them, bought an energy drink from the vending machine, and then sauntered purposefully out to the staging area.
Out in the staging area I watched as the first jumpers landed on the grass without incident. Each instructor then gathered up his chute and brought it back to the packing area where they began meticulously repacking it, arranging the small pilot chute which releases first and pulls out the main canopy. Then they precisely folded the main canopy, followed by all the suspension lines gathered up and wrapped with rubber bands around the perimeter of that packed canopy. A chute carelessly repacked could end up being your last.
Caring Makes It Happen
Throughout the two hour experience, client care and service were unquestionably at the top of everyone’s priority list. From making sure all questions were answered, to assuring each person that their safety and well-being were paramount, to personally fitting each jumpsuit, goggles and helmet. After landing, debriefing and removing and putting away the equipment, a personalized DVD of the jump, complete with a picture of the jumper on the DVD cover free-falling at 12000 feet was already prepared.
Much of our growth and development in life is about managing risk well. It’s about caring for ourselves and the others in our circle with the same care as a skydiving school does. It’s about identifying The Places That Scare Us – as Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron reminds us – and doing whatever we need to do in order to turn towards those places, rather than away. Over and over again. It’s about letting go of the person we are, and being open to the possibility of becoming the person whispered inner impulses continually invite us to become.