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Leap of Faith: What A Water Slide Taught Me About Fear

11/02/2016 3:59 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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The "Leap of Faith" at Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai is a water slide located at the resort's in-house water park, Aquaventure. It is at a height of about 60 feet, almost vertical in angle, thus resulting in a free fall. No surprise then that it is considered to be one of the world's scariest water slides.

On an average, people approach extreme activities with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The entire logic of it lies on a bedrock of fear, danger and thrill. It's an escape from the mundane, it's liberating, it's exhilarating, it frees you from the usual rules and feels a bit like breaking the law. It sets you apart from the crowd. It's you who can do something that most other people dread and fear.

On an average, people approach extreme activities with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The entire logic of it lies on a bedrock of fear, danger and thrill.

The "Leap of Faith" water slide is situated in a structure which resembles a Mayan temple, immediately bringing to mind Takeshi's Castle. After climbing three flights of stairs, we were greeted with a queue of people waiting to do the Leap of Faith. "It will make you leave your stomach behind," I remembered a friend's dire warning. The screams that rent the air seemed to support his claim, and I was suddenly comforted by the long line of people ahead of me. It gave me a good 25 minutes to really make up my mind.

The scene did not inspire confidence. At the entrance of the slide, we could see only the shady, white tube which would carry us forward, the gushing water that would initiate the slide, and a handlebar just where the slide began, allowing us to get into position without slipping off. The routine was to get on the tube, lie down while holding the handlebar, cross your legs and arms and then give yourself the final push. It was nerve-wracking, like waiting to be interviewed for something you really want. My stomach knotted up and I jumped around in my swimsuit, hoping to let out the anxiousness.

In a queue of about 20 people, six or seven backed out as their turn came, laughing nervously and stepping aside to let the more daring take on this seemingly impossible task. One woman lost her balance in front of me: getting on the tube, she slipped on the rushing water and fell with a loud thud. Thankfully her grip on the handlebar was tight, or she would have hurtled down the vertical slide into god knows what.

If there was no anticipation, no waiting, no queue, nobody backing out, no intimidating Mayan temple, no warnings from friends there really wasn't that much to it.

I grew more and more nervous as I moved ahead, imagining all sorts of scary scenarios, all involving injury or death. When there were only six people to go before me, I seriously contemplated getting out. So what if was not that adventurous, I justified to myself, it was more important to be comfortable in my skin. If I could not do something, I could not do it and I should just be okay with it. I should accept my limitations... but in the middle of that little speech to myself I saw my 16-year-old sister, who was as scared as I was but whose resolve was unshaken. I grit my teeth and decided to persevere.

Now there were just a couple of people left in front of me. I shut my mind to all thoughts, positive or negative, and zoned myself out, even as the slide in front of me promised to gulp us all down. With my mind almost blank, I stepped onto the tube and heard my instructor carefully -- cross your legs, hold the handlebar tight, cross one arm, push yourself with the other, cross the other and make sure your elbows are tucked in. I followed each instruction to the point and ignored the whirring in my mind, giving myself the kick and taking the plunge.

It was splendidly heady. The entire slide down probably took less than 10 seconds as I almost flew in the air, rushing down at great speed as the water guzzled on my face. It was those two brief seconds when I felt like I was falling, two seconds which left me in control of nothing, and then I felt the slide at my back again, hurtling through the tube into a pool. I landed as smoothly as it was possible, shocked for a moment, expressing my exhilaration to the lifeguard who probably saw this more than a hundred times a day. Yet he smiled at my astonishment, and gave me a thumbs up.

We often fear something only because it is supposed to be feared. Fear is a cultural hand-me-down, an unwanted inheritance...

In the next few seconds, everything changed. The water slide seemed like the easiest thing in the world. All my fear had washed out with the water that had rushed through my back. I could do it a hundred times now, or not even bother to do it again -- it seemed that easy. One of the toughest slides in the world was suddenly a cakewalk, but the truth was, it was never that difficult to begin with.

For if I came down to subtracting a few things, the situation would have been drastically different. If there was no anticipation, no waiting, no queue, nobody backing out, no intimidating Mayan temple structure and no warnings from friends there really wasn't that much to it. In short, without the preconceptions and build-up, perhaps it would have been just like any other slide. Which led me to a very reasonable conclusion.

It is strange, but we often fear something only because it is supposed to be feared. Fear is a cultural hand-me-down, an unwanted inheritance -- our aversion to darkness, our made-up ghosts, and the demons under our beds. It can be seen in the way we treat adventure sports, where the risk is the most important element. It is not the thing which needs to be conquered; what needs to be conquered is our fear of it. It is our fear which makes everything more complicated.

And we must always, always strive to get over our fear -- of anything. Of relationships, of commitments, of sport, of speaking while a hundred people listen to you, of embarrassing ourselves, of asking a stupid question, of appearing unseasoned and unfamiliar. But most importantly, we must get over our fear of failure, for it is fear, and only fear, which can ever result in failure.

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