When I was twelve, my father took us to an amusement park and I went on a large roller coaster for the first time. I opened my mouth wide and screamed from the first descent to the very end of the ride. I was terrified and it wasn’t fun. Fifty years later, I went on my second roller coaster, one that was for children, and I found it almost as scary, and still no fun.
What makes the difference? On the ferris wheel, I can feel some fear, but I can breathe; on the roller coaster, I’m either screaming or totally frozen.
Fritz Perls, the psychologist who developed Gestalt therapy, famously said “anxiety is excitement without breathing.” We could also say “it’s exciting when there’s a little fear, but not so much that I can’t catch my breath.”
I’ve been on enough ferris wheels since I learned that quote that it’s become easy to stay within my breath the whole ride. I find it a useful lesson to remember when I find myself freezing in a new situation—can I find my breath? If I freeze, can I find it again? In…out…
Photos: a funicular in India