Each person had reached the same spot, and the same dilemma; to cross or not to cross. In search for a lookout known as “Hanging Rock” in the Blue Mountains of Australia, my friend and I reached a chasm which now stood between us and the lookout. Among us were several other adventurers, each connected through their shared fear of this gap. The jump was not inconceivable, nor even that difficult. It was only about a metre long, yet to fall into its depth would be fatal.
Being my rather lanky self, I could practically step right across it. And yet, my mind prohibited me. All the potential errors had been worked out, and my mind could see no justification to cross the divide.
I leant over the edge, and stared down the yawning chasm. Vertigo had stolen any stability from my legs as I now quivered in the face of the divide. This was more than just a small hop, but rather a leap of faith. A leap, into the chaotic, foreign arms of nature. Fearful, I stared into it, unable to jump, yet unable to look away. And nor could the others who stood beside me.
Now realising the fragility of my life at this location, I began to wonder, why did I come? I was not forced to come here, nor was I tricked. I willingly chose to place myself here, in the face of a deadly abyss. What was I thinking? At this point, all I wanted was to return to my bedroom and watch television – a place where my life would not be put into question.
We all stood, thinking the same thoughts, sharing the same fears. Every five or so minutes someone would summon the courage to leap the gap, resulting in cheers from the onlookers. But for me, seeing this only added a greater burden. I could see just how easily the gap could be jumped, and yet my mind still would not relinquish thoughts of the consequences.
What if I fall? What if I die?
My thoughts had commandeered my body, and any attempts at rationalising only made the situation worse. I was petrified, and yet deep down, I knew that if I allowed this one act to conquer me, so too could the rest of my life be conquered by fear.
To quote Ernest Becker,
“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”
So which did the chasm represent? Was death staring me in the face, or was life?
In order to find an answer, I reached into my mind and pulled out memories of home. Congested, claustrophobic and routine. I now remembered why I was here, and why I’d left the safety of the city; I came to hunt butterflies. Not ones which required a net however, but the ones which now flapped their wings ferociously in my stomach. It was this pervasive, inescapable fear which I sought. The fear of the unknown, of the new, of the chaotic. And so I ran toward the edge and leapt.
Before I could even digest it, I stood at the other side. I had done it. This was why I came. Blood rushed through every inch of my body, awakening every sense I had. I walked to the edge of the cliff face, soaking in the glory of the view. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I was alive.
From the cliffs edge I could see the entire world. Forests beneath me, an ocean in the distance in front of me, and blue sky above.
It was at this moment, in which I also came to realise that there isn’t really such thing as humanity versus nature, as is so commonly spouted. Instead, there is only humans versus ourselves. Nature represents the transient, the uncontrolled and the unknown, all of which present great fear to humanity, as these are all the qualities of death. We fear our own mortality, and so we sculpt the world to remove its chaos – to avoid remembering that we are not in control. Life forever slips through our fingers, but we instead remain too fearful to diverge from the trodden paths. We choose safe careers, live within societally sanctioned schedules, and avoid danger at all costs, all in the hopes that we may live just that one moment longer. Though is this really living? As humans we are able to ponder the infinite, and comprehend the immortal, and yet we remain chained to the one thing we fear the most: our nature.
Louis O’Neill is a 21 year old Graduate from Macquarie University in Australia, having completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Writing.
Photos by patsuraseang