In 2003, on a trip to Club Med in Turks and Caicos, I discovered the sport of flying trapeze. I was instantly hooked. When I learned that there was a trapeze school in New York City, I immediately signed up for classes.
My initial intention was to go periodically so that I wouldn’t be as scared the next time I did it on a vacation.
But within weeks, I was attending class multiple times a week. My family wrote it off as my latest obsession; a phase that would run its course like so many of my other pursuits. They had no shortage of evidence from my past to bolster their speculations.
But they were wrong.
20 years later, I’m still flying, and my love of trapeze is as strong as it was when I started — perhaps even stronger.
The most important lessons we can learn from anything are not the ones that we can teach to other people.
Rather, the most crucial lessons, we learn from anything are the lessons that teach us about ourselves: our motivations, our drivers, our values, and how we desire to move through life.
The patterns we find in one area of life often exist in other areas.
So my 20-year engagement with flying trapeze begs the question:
What has given trapeze staying power in my life when so many other previous hobbies couldn’t sustain my interest and affection?
1. It gets me out of my head and into my body
I can tend to be an over-thinker and get caught in my head.
When I am on the trapeze, I don’t have that option. There’s risk involved in the sport, especially when you take the safety lines off. Any time I step off that platform and start to swing on the bar, I must be fully present to my body, where I am in space, and what I’m doing.
A trick might take only 15 seconds, but it requires complete focus for those 15 seconds. I don’t have space in the back of my mind for other thoughts.
Also, I love the physical, especially because for most of my life I’ve been conditioned to believe that my value in this world lies, and what I contribute with my mind.
But if I look at patterns in my life, what makes me feel most fulfilled typically involves doing things with my hands and with my body. Making things tangible things. Using my body to move.
Even when I don’t feel fully confident in my body’s ability to execute certain movements, I still enjoy the process of the challenge.
2. There is an analytical component to it
As much as I love the physical, I also thrive in activities where I can engage my mind.
Whatever stereotypes you might have about circus performers, you might want to lay them to rest.
One thing that might surprise most people who aren’t part of the flying trapeze world is the high level of analytical intelligence that most trapeze enthusiasts have.
As a recreational sport, trapeze attracts many people who spend their days doing high intensity cognitive work: lawyers, doctors, creatives, scientists, coders, finance professionals.
You haven’t seen video analysis until you’ve seen a group of trapeze artists doing frame-by-frame video review.
It’s a sport where understanding physics is helpful – if not essential – to improvement.
3. It’s an open-ended system that builds on fundamental skills
Trapeze is an open-ended system, meaning that there’s no end to the skills and techniques you can learn and master.
There’s always stuff to improve and no ceiling on growth and progress.
Also, the skills build on each other.
This means that time invested in mastering fundamentals pays off in the form of faster progress as you advance.
Once you get the fundamentals, progression is much easier.
Even the fundamentals themselves are continually challenging and always open to improvement.
Flying trapeze is a social sport.
You can’t do it alone.
You need someone to pull your lines. You need someone to serve you the bar and pull your riser.
If you want to practice catching and returning to the bar and the board, you need a catcher and someone on the board to send you the bar and scoop you up.
And even if you just practiced tricks to the net, it get tiring to go up the ladder and do so many reps in a row. It helps to have other people alternate with.
What is cool about trapeze is that while we do it in a group, everyone progresses at their own level. It’s an individual sport that is done in a group setting.
It’s not competitive. in the sense of competing against each other to win at something.
It’s competitive in the original meaning of that word, which means “to seek together.” each of us has an individually, unique path and progression, but we engage in the process as a community.
5. The thrill of accomplishment
I’m not gonna lie. More often than not, trapeze beats me up.
My hands are consistently calloused. Some days, my shoulder feels like it’s going to fall off or like I want to rip it off. Failure is more common than success.
Regression generally outpaces progress.
The results that flow from the work that you put in aren’t always noticeable in the moment; they pay off in the long term.
And when it all comes together, it’s magic.
The variability of the reward — the fact that you never know when you’re going to have that moment, plays a big role. It’s a crucial factor in addiction, and in anything that we do consistently over time.
No matter how defeated I feel sometimes, and no matter how often I threaten to quit, I always find my way back.
6. It’s fun.
There are a lot of bad days, but even the worst day flying is still a day of flying.
You’re defying gravity.
Leonardo da Vinci summed it up
Once you have tested flight, you will forever walk with your eyes skyward, for there you have been and there you are longing to return.
7. It is a vehicle for personal development and universal life lessons
Years before “personal development” and “mindfulness” became buzzwords, trapeze was teaching me about these things.
In flying trapeze, learning to work with your fear isn’t an abstract concept; it’s a concrete reality.
Flying trapeze demands mindfulness and presence.
The techniques and skills I’ve learned through trapeze are not confined to the trapeze rig. They are also skills that apply in life, including:
- staying calm in the chaos
- holding myself together when there’s nothing to hold onto
- being present in the moment
- tuning out distractions
- self-trust and trust of others
- cooperation, collaboration, and communication skills
Through my own experience in trapeze, and by watching thousands of others, I’ve become skilled in reading body language and seeing patterns of how fear shows up in the body and how people move with and through fear.
Trapeze has been a vehicle through which I’ve attained wisdom that applies to life in general.
No matter how much I learn, I’m always getting new insights and awareness that transfer to other areas of my life.