I have been afraid of heights since I was a child.
The fear of heights is more or less present in all people. In fact, it is believed that this is one of the two fears that are inherent in a person since birth (the second is the fear of loud sounds). But in my case this was not the usual “normal” fear.
When I was 5 years old, I was afraid to go out onto the balcony of our flat on the 4th floor of a typical “Khrushchyovka” apartment block – I thought that the balcony beneath me would fall through. Needless to say, the commonplace roundabout rides so loved by all (well, almost all) children horrified me.
As the years passed, the fear decreased slightly, but remained very strong. Finally, I decided that something should be done about it. I resolved to choose some kind of sport – an activity associated with the fear of heights, in which I would not just have to be high above the ground, but also need to do something purposeful while I was up there. At the same time this activity needed to be as safe as possible.
At first I thought about paragliding. However, two flights with an instructor (in a tandem flight) showed me that the fear is so strong that paragliding is unlikely to be safe for me. And then I came across the Via Ferrata.
Via Ferrata is rock climbing for dummies. In contrast to ordinary rock climbing, the route along the rock face is already laid out. The metal safety wire is stretched out and the iron steps are driven in. There is no need for any preliminary training (I’m talking about “amateur” routes – there are also complex professional ones, for which one needs to be in very good physical form, and sometimes climbing technique is also required).
A fairly safe thing – relatively, of course. If one falls, one may break an arm or a leg, but it’s unlikely that one will fall to their death. Attached to the safety line, one will not fall more than 2-3 meters.
At the same time, the “feeling” of altitude remains. On many Via Ferrata routes one is 200 meters or more above the ground. Different bridges (e.g., monkey, Nepalese) make the sensations more intense. An excellent opportunity to become thoroughly scared.
In recent years I went through a dozen or so Via Ferratas. Has the fear of altitude disappeared altogether? Alas, not entirely. But it became much, much weaker. It can be said that it is now almost absent at the level of the senses, but the old “fearful” thoughts about how it all seemed so terrible earlier are still with me in part.
For those who, like me, are subject to this fear (and to any fear in general), I want to share the technique of “pacifying fear”.
Instead of the fear, I focus on the action. My attention is spread all over my body in a mixture of concentration and deconcentration. The concentration on the active part of the body (the arm, for example) is stronger, but the rest of the body is also felt. Plus, objects with which some interaction is taking place (a section of a rock, for example, or a step) are also in the field of focus.
When there is no action to concentrate on (i.e. one is hanging from the rock face on the safety line), then one needs to simply focus one’s attention on the body. The technique is the same, but external objects disappear from the field of focus.
The idea of the technique is to not pay any attention to the terrifying thoughts that arise in the mind.
Will I ever be able to regard altitude as calmly as fearless climbers and paragliders do? Perhaps not. But each person has their own limits, which must be surpassed, and their own challenge. This is illustrated by my favorite joke below.
An American general walks along a line of paratroopers. He asks every one of them the same question:
“Well, son, do you like jumping with a parachute?”
And they each answer:
“Yes, sir, I like it a lot, sir!”
Suddenly one of the paratroopers answers:
“I hate it, sir, I am very scared, sir.”
The general looks at the soldier with astonishment:
“So what are you doing here then?”
“I’ve always wanted to be among those who like jumping with a parachute, sir.”