Rappel from a mall rooftop? I’m glad I said “yes” to myself
Thursday, May 9th. It was just a day like another with intense, stressing hours of work at the office. Since March I’ve felt like I was pushing myself to the limits. Long story short, I was living on my own for the first time, while learning how to deal with 2 simultaneous, different lives: one as a copywriter and content manager of a digital agency and other as an entrepreneur, with new storytelling workshops coming up week after week.
To make things harder (I’m a pro on that), we can add daily meditation, stretching, doing laundry, cooking, eating healthy, Kung Fu training, writing my diary, updating “maximize longevity” Excel file, managing my monthly budget, catching up with friends, and… Breathe! Feeling the pain of accumulated tiredness day after day, I knew it was too much for me to handle, especially after the emotional and financial instability I had gone through the months before.
Over these days I felt like I needed a window of opportunity to simply stop and focus on something that could give me steady serenity and peace of mind; something that could catapult me to a new deep zone of personal development, out of this urban capitalist disorder.
Overall, something that could make me feel alive again.
TIME OUT FOR A CHALLENGE
In this scenario, there I was again… Scheduling, editing and publishing Facebook and Instagram posts like there was no tomorrow. Then, on that Thursday afternoon, I see a Time Out news saying:
“Do you want to rappel down Amoreiras (shopping mall) tower? It’s free!”
“Hum… Interesting!” I thought to myself. I clicked on the link to get more information, which turned out like this:
“Doing rappel from Amoreiras Tower is not for everyone, but if it’s for you here’s the good news: you won’t have to pay! From May 11 to 12, the most adventurous ones will be able to celebrate the ‘miradouro’ birthday with an exciting radical activity, which starts at the top of the tower and ends at the roof of the shopping center.”
“Damn… I want to do this so bad! I’ve already ridden a roller-coaster, but this is a completely new level!”
I shared this sudden thrill with my work colleague and she asked me:
How many meters?”
“That’s high! I wouldn’t mind doing it, you know? It’s just that I’ll probably have vertigo.”
Nevertheless, I’d appreciate having some company, so I texted a couple of friends to see if they were up to join. The answers ranged from “maybe! We’ll see” to “I’d love to but I can’t, sorry.”
A ROLLER COASTER OF THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
Well, well, well… I got the idea. If this is something I really want, I can’t rely on anyone but myself. In fact, rappelling down Amoreiras tower meant way more than a simple radical activity.
It meant stepping out of my comfort zone; something that a shabby 10-year-old kid was not capable of doing when going climbing with his schoolmates.
He let himself for last for a reason: he felt like he couldn’t do it and he didn’t want others to witness his failure. Following the first and second attempts, he gave up. Frustrated and embarrassed, the kid ran away towards the football field, where his superhero friends were playing for long. Now, 17 years later, it was time for him to become a hero.
I had 2 days to decide whether I should go or not and believe me: it was a nerve-wracking process. A constant exchange of crazy thoughts between me and my pillow, before trying to fall asleep: “what if I paralyze? What if I get stuck halfway down? What if I die? I probably should reply to every pending email in case something bad happens. Then people would still have an answer from me. Ah! It’s better not to tell my mom otherwise she’ll freak out.” Now you see how maniac I am.
However, the desire to overcome this challenge took over any fear stuck in my mind. Along with my previous stories, life has constantly whispered me that stepping out of our comfort zones is one of the secrets to achieving personal and professional excellence. After all, this rappel thing was the perfect chance to add an extra layer of mental strength, self-confidence and character-building inside of me. Why? Anxiety, conflict, uncertainty, insecurity, danger… Those magic and beautiful boundaries that humans tend to avoid crossing, at all costs. The truth is that “in the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” — Joseph Campbell.
As if this wasn’t good enough, I complicated it a bit more: “will there be a photographer there? I’d love to perpetuate that moment…” Pum pum, pum pum. My heart was beating faster and faster. Soon after, I started dreaming about making a video concerning the whole experience. A storytelling piece in the style of a documentary short film to add to my portfolio, that I could be proud of. I had recently watched an Oscar-winning documentary called “Free Solo”, which tells the journey of a rock climber who’s about to achieve his lifelong dream: scaling the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without a rope.
GETTING INTO THE DEEP ZONE
This movie had a very positive effect on me. It made me realize that nothing is impossible. It’s all about how controlled our grey matter is; how prepared and focused our minds are. In this scenario, I also wanted to leave my mark on the world and all the prep was crystal clear. “We need to get there early on, before people arrive, to capture the magnificent view at dawn. Then we move to the overall atmosphere: the building, the rappel equipment, the staff, me… Finally, the moment of truth: doing rappel on top of an 80-meter building, with testimonials here and there. Even more important, I need to ask filming permission to the event’s team!”
You can imagine how hard falling asleep turned out to be… I simply couldn’t. I was taking notes on the smartphone every other minute, turning lights on and off to the taste of a vibrant idea-generation. Back to earth, the video plan was canceled. My videographer friend wasn’t available to shoot over the weekend and it would take lots of unfeasible work to make it happen.
Anyhow, “just shut up and do it” was my motto from that moment on.
Friday went by quite fast, all day on “Rhianna’s mood”: work, work, work; content and more content. No time to breathe. Once in a while, the week’s hot topic popped up with extra doubts: “Saturday or Sunday: which day should I go? Sunday morning is more chill, works out better I guess…” Fucking procrastination! On Saturday afternoon, amid replying to those pending emails, I see a Facebook post of a guy rappelling down the tower. Full of butterflies in my stomach, I send him a message right away so that I could test the waters:
“Hey! How was it?”
“Hi, Tomás. It’s an interesting experience because it’s almost 80 meters down there. I suggest you to be there a little before 11am since only 2 people go down at a time. It’s worth it! I hope you enjoy it!”
Alright… Good to know. Inside information is always handy. It calms us down and sets the tone for what’s coming. To pursue that mental clarity, I decided to spend this Saturday by myself. I turned down hanging out with friends to be 100% focused on the mission set.
This challenge was being taken so seriously that I went for a 45-minute run the night before to feel mentally and physically fresh. Looking back, it made all the difference… It uplifted my spirit.
It allowed me to release most of the tension and pressure put in my shoulders over the last few days. “Look at what you’re doing… Working on yourself. Enjoy this moment. You’re doing the right thing. You’re going to do that shit tomorrow and you’ll become a stronger person accordingly.” All things considered, tomorrow is rappel but who knows what can be next? Business meetings, job interviews, oral presentations, dates… Put another way, decisive moments where one must perform at their best.
RAPPEL: IT’S NOW OR NEVER
Finally, the day has come. The alarm rang at 7am for me to comply with a relaxing morning routine without hurry.
First, 10-minute meditation for nerve-control and visualization. The idea was to narrate the experience in my mind, creating effective imagery of how successful it will look like. So I saw it happening. I saw myself rappelling down that 80-meter building under a blue sky and bright sun, with a confident smile on my face. Seconds before touching on the ground, I was like “fuck yeah… I did it!”
Secondly, physical appearance. I needed to look handsome to impress myself and activate the self-esteem mechanism. Straightening my hair, wearing comfortable clothes and good perfume were some of the “techniques” applied.
Next? Music. My precious Spotify playlists. Along the way to the mall, I listened to those uplifting songs that shake up my mood, telling me “you’re the greatest. You’ll conquer the world. You’ve got this.” In other words, I hired a motivational coach in the shape of miraculous melodies.
Clean sky, warm sun, and no wind: ideal climate conditions for radical activity. I left the mall’s closest metro station and walked up to the street until I had my first visual contact with the Adamastor.
“Ok… This is happening. You and I. Somehow I’ll be on top of you and then getting down, down, down, very slowly…” A solemn moment.
P.S. I know what you’re thinking and you’re dirty-minded.
It’s 9:30am and I see half a dozen people sitting on the floor, as soon as I arrive in the lobby. They’re all in a good mood, having a chill talk as if they were having a coffee with friends. I introduce myself and in-group integration becomes quick and easy. Curiously, these adventurous souls couldn’t be more diverse: a father and daughter; a group of friends on their 30’s and a charismatic older man called José.
Has ever happened to you meeting someone new and thinking like “wow… I see me through your eyes when I get older”?
That’s what José meant to me. He’s a brutal force of nature. He’s a Philosophy teacher with than 60 years old, bald, average height and a super fit guy. As a first impression, José is a talkative, friendly person whose enthusiasm for living life inspires everyone around. It seems like I’m watching the movie ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ in loco. It’s simply amazing.
As we talk, I get to know many of his travelling adventures across the world: he began to travel alone at the age of 15, when studying in the UK; he did an interrail in 1973 (one year after the program’s launch), repeated later with his 3 sons, did bungee jumping in New Zealand recently, and, as if that were not enough, he got all the way around the world! “It’s the best way we have to know ourselves properly, which many people don’t! You meet new people, live new experiences, learn from different cultures, adapt to unexpected happenings, and constantly challenge yourself.” “What a free spirit!” I thought.
We kept talking for so long that I had already forgotten what brought me to that place. In turn, I was more interested in absorbing important life lessons. First, planning. José came to the mall yesterday to check how things work. Second, communication. He clarifies any newcomer about the details of this rappel activity. Third, self-love. “We’re our best friends, from the moment we’re born to the moment we die. We can only count on us to be who we want to be. We must love ourselves. If so, I guarantee you that we’ll never be alone.” He shows me that since the very beginning and that is music to my ears.
Before such a breeze of fresh air, I was 200% sure of why I was there. Peace of mind, confidence, and courage were invading my spirit. With him by my side, I knew nothing could go wrong. “C’mon! Let’s get it started!” And so we did. Following a 1-hour wait, both of us were going up the lift carrying a helmet in our heads, as well as wearing every other safety equipment. Then the view…
“Wow… Look at this!” Up and high, it’s a 360-degree view over Lisbon. In theory, I would simply wet my pants, right? After all, I was about to go down from an 80-meter building; but no. I kept calm, enjoying the view without getting too close to the railings. Next step: instructions. “Have you ever done it?” “Just tell me what I need to know as if I were a 10-year-old child!” I listened to the monitor’s words carefully, followed by several rappel simulations to get the feeling.
With suspended legs and my feet leaning against the wall, one hand grabbed the rope and the other adjusted how fast I’d go down. The trick was to find and maintain the body balance through smooth, slow moves. Repeat once, twice, three times and “ok, got it. I’m ready.” José is next and all these things seem to be a piece of cake for him. As I am approaching the descending area, José talks and other monitors ditto. I don’t give a shit. I don’t hear them.
I want to enjoy the silence inside my head. It’s only me diving in a deep zone of focus and trance, distant from the outside world.
I take deep breaths with my eyes closed. Breathe in, breathe out. I take my seat and the fun is about to begin. It’s the moment of truth. They take some pictures and let’s smile at them!
“Ok, it’s happening. I’m rappelling down.”
THE HERO’S JOURNEY
Many things come to mind but I can’t even describe which ones. In reality, it’s just me fighting for myself, like I wanted to. I’m calm and focused. With my feet leaning over the glass windows, I control the downward movement to make sure it’s always smooth. When feeling more comfortable, I look from side to side to admire the view and to actually believe in what I’m doing. “This is cool!” Behold, but when I no longer have feet support from the building!
That is to say that I got into the danger zone. I’m 100% in the air and those 2, 3 endless seconds flooded my body with multiple goosebumps.
Welcome to the real rappelling experience! The trick to getting over it is “don’t stop, keep going, keep going.” All of a sudden, the ropes turn around and so do I. In this scenario, I have no option but to look ahead and what do I see? Lisbon! Belém, Monsanto, the Castle, the Bridge: all unforgettable moments. From there on, it was pure joy…
2 minutes later, I was touching on the ground happier than ever. “Uff! It’s done!” Mission accomplished and adrenaline rush. We then waited for everyone to finish, sharing words of praise and encouragement between each other. “Hey! Good job! How was it?” To celebrate everyone’s achievement, we end up going back to the ‘miradouro’ for some cool pictures.
Looking back, all of us went there for a reason and the smile on our faces proved how right we were in pursuing it until the end. In my case, there are some peculiarities about being a storyteller and one of them is that we can’t say no to a new experience. Why? A new story can be told.
This one was tough but totally worth it. My doubts and fears were transformed into a character-building experience whose benefits can already be seen. Besides self-confidence and mind strength, I’ve recently joined Atitude Outdoor: a military training group in which José goes for almost 10 years. Do you believe that I’ve always wanted to try something like this? In the end of the day, I’m glad I said “yes” to myself.
The kid has turned into a hero.