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Defying Death to Optimize Life: Lessons from the Tarzan Swing

I stood at the edge of the little metal platform high up in the trees near Arenal, Costa Rica, and stared at the tiny clearing far below me. My heart was pounding and I could feel the blood throbbing in my ears. I could barely breathe, and my legs were shaking, but I clung desperately to the cable line attached to my safety harness.

“Just sit down,” the guide behind me said. I looked at him and wished I could wipe the massive grin off his silly face.

Sit down?

“You’ve got to be joking,” I said. Sitting down would undoubtedly launch me off the little square of security I was perched on, and out over hundreds of metres of nothing but air. Saying “yes” to ziplining had seemed safe enough. But the Tarzan Swing? What had I been thinking?

The day had started out well enough. Ziplining has been on my bucket list for years and I was finally getting my chance to try it. The staff at the Arenal Ecoglide Tour had given us a nice safety demonstration at the beginning of our day and they had been courteous and helpful as we zipped through the trees. The views had been spectacular and we had seen evidence of the wildlife for which Costa Rica is well known. Up until the guide had steered our group towards the Tarzan Swing, I had been in heaven.

“What is the Tarzan Swing?” I had asked, as our guide efficiently buckled me into the heavy-duty “supplementary” Tarzan safety harness and nudged me towards the edge of the platform.

“Just try it,” he said.

“Can you demonstrate it first?” I asked.

“No, it has to be a surprise,” he said.

And that comment had led me to the edge of reality contemplating my imminent demise.

“Just sit down into the harness,” he said again.

Although I knew the tour company would not invite headlines that included “death of tourist,” I truly did not see how I was going to get out of this alive.

I sat down into the harness that secured me to the cable that reached many metres up into the trees and, sure enough, the action launched me out above acres of nothingness. I let out a blood-curdling scream of terror.

But, as I swung out at the end of that Tarzan Swing cable, I found, to my very great surprise, that I did not die. I stopped screaming. Relief flooded over me, along with something else. Was that joy? Yes, yes it was! I was filled with a glorious feeling of happiness as I swung back and forth on that damned cable, a human pendulum marking her time on Earth with a massive, triumphant, life experience.

It wasn’t quite the same as conquering death, of course, as anyone who has actually done so will be quick to note. But the Tarzan Swing certainly—surprisingly—matched my idea of optimizing life. I may never get another chance to try the Tarzan Swing. But if something similar ever pops up to terrify the daylights out of me, I just might try it, too. For there, out on the other side of terror, it appears that there is great joy. And I like the idea of more joy.


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