The first time I went caving I got stuck. After rappelling into the cave entrance and walking through the early passages I was introduced to my first “squeeze”. I was coached to extend my arms and wriggle into a vertical slot smaller than the girth of my shoulders and chest. The technique for wriggling through such squeezes is to exhale in order to compress the chest wall and then inch along through the constriction. Not far into my first squeeze in my first true cave, I panicked. In trying to back out with an acute sense of claustrophobia my body became rigid. The constriction of muscles lodged me in the squeeze and forceful jerks to get out only made the situation worse. My two brothers had to calm me down enough so I would relax and work my way back out.
I have never been so terrified in my entire life. It was then that I clearly decided that I was not a caver.
That is until over two decades passed and I ended up as the Operations Director for Horne Lake Caves and circumstance invited me to face my acute fear of tight places. I have built a career as a guide and outdoor educator that eventually funnelled me into organizational administration. Much of my career has focused on using adventure based activities for personal growth, walking people to their edges and inviting them to expand their comfort zones into wider realms. I developed my own personal practice to expand my edges as well with moving meditations in the mountains largely but also on rivers, lakes and the ocean. I found fear to be a gateway to insight and expanding personal capacities. Fear marks a threshold to broader circles of being.
I had been in the caves at Horne Lake after the the terrifying squeeze instance but I was very reserved about any tight spaces. I stayed away from my edges, and the fear that they prompted. When a series of synchronic event funnelled me to the job with Horne Lake Caves, I reflected on this premise of fear as a gateway and took the opportunity to expand my edges beyond preconceived notions. I still feel a deep physiological aversion to squeezing and find tight crawl ways a challenge but I can take what they teach me about myself.
In all the various mediums that I have worked with – rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, high ropes challenge courses, and more – crawling through geological wonders in absolute darkness feels like the most direct and dramatic means to cross internal thresholds.
Working in caves provides me a fantastic means to practice expanding my edges by addressing doubts and preconceived barriers. Fear is a gateway that leads to ever more resilience and fulfillment.