As the side door flung open, I swung my legs over the edge. Dangling high in the sky, over 16,000 feet above the Great Barrier Reef, a deep awareness came over me as I accepted my life up to this point. There I was in a janky, puddle-jumper plane with a tandem skydiver strapped to my back. He had a video camera in his hand to capture my experience, asking, “Any last words?” Adrenaline flooded my body and I managed to mutter, “I love you, mom!” Before I could get all the words out, we leapt out of the plane, free-falling to the ground below. Having heard of out-of-body experiences, I found myself in this strange place of surrealism, shocked that I actually took a literal leap of faith and jumped out of a plane. This jump was the pinnacle of my travels and time in Australia. It was in these moments of free-fall, before the parachute cord was pulled, that mindfulness took on a whole new meaning for me.
Eight months prior, I was living in a small farming community in rural Northern Michigan waiting tables at a restaurant. I truly felt like Journey’s ‘small town girl’ from their hit song Don’t Stop Believing. I had just celebrated my 24th birthday and for the past several months taught in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was starting a new adventure of nomad living, hopping from one hostel to the next with just a backpack and a few belongings. I was setting out to explore Northern and Eastern Australia, soon to move on to New Zealand and the Fiji Islands. When I started this journey, I was not anticipating creating a bucket list item, let alone checking it off, but the opportunity to skydive over the Great Barrier Reef was screaming my name.
I was a small-town girl turned international traveler; my senses were fully turned on to a whole new world of possibilities. I was searching for adventure that would give me meaning and purpose. Leading up to the leap, I had already experienced several amazing things that stretched me culturally and professionally, building my mindfulness in various ways. But skydiving – skydiving forced me to connect with my environment and absorb, fully, the feelings and emotions in the moment, a moment I wanted to bask in. I wanted to remember what it felt like.
Life has its highs and lows, routine or mundane things that seem redundant and sometimes pointless or painful but I came to the realization that I could stew in this negative thought pattern or I could use my experiences to build my mental toughness and a healthy mindset. For me, mental toughness means pushing through the hard and preserving when things seem out of control. To stay mentally strong, I use positive self-talk and read or listen to things that encourage and strengthen my mind, creating an overall healthier mindset that focuses on the positive rather than the negative, helping me be a more mindful person. Psychology Today describes mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention to the present… described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings” which often “encompasses two key ingredients: awareness and acceptance,” creating a receipt for a healthy, strong mind (2023). Free-falling forced me to shift my mindset from drab, ordinary thoughts and feelings to extraordinary because in those moments, I began to view life as an awesome challenge with twists and turns rather than dreaded, forced tasks to procrastinate on or avoid.
Finding purpose, meaning and desire to feel alive increased my mindfulness. While I may not be a professional skydiver, I have applied mindfulness in the work I do and people I engage with. As I work with teams of people, my mindfulness helps to uplift and encourage others in theirs. Some find gardening therapeutic; others enjoy reading, others utilize physical activity like biking or running and some find meditation or journaling great ways to get in touch with who they are, what they have to offer, and how they apply themselves. From my experience, mindfulness can breed awareness, commitment, collaboration, accountability, trust and respect to help sustain a strong, healthy mind through challenging times. What makes you feel alive? What connects you to your senses and makes you aware and accepting of the things in and around you? How can you be more mindful?