If you hung about in any London parks this summer, you may well have seen a group of twenty-somethings bouncing around on a line between two trees. This is known as slacklining and it must be tried.
On Sunday a friend and I went to a slacklining lesson taught by the wonderful Harry Cloudfoot. We learned how to balance on the line, how to walk a few steps, turn around, bounce, and even sit. It was great fun. But it was much more than that: Harry brings a wise and insightful perspective to the lesson that makes it much more interesting than just bouncing around in the park.
He started off by telling us that the best way to learn is through play, so the lesson would be about playing with the line. It’s a simple concept, but it made a massive difference to me and got me thinking about other stuff I do. Usually I am a huge drama queen when I can’t immediately grasp how to do something. I would’ve got in a big steaming flounce about repeatedly falling off the line if Harry hadn’t shifted my perspective so deftly before we started. And of course, if you’ve ever tried things that require balance you’ll know that the more frustrated you get, the more rigid you get, and the more you lose your balance.
Playing is how kids learn to do pretty much everything; it’s how lion cubs learn to hunt; it’s how gazelles learn to leg it away from danger in a split second. It is universal, and yet we forget it as adults. We take the concept of repetition and we club ourselves about the head with it, rather than letting it come naturally through messing around. We get frustrated until we get it right. Watch a toddler and they’ll do the same thing again and again, but they’re doing it because they’re enjoying themselves not because they’ve got a timetable and a training plan and they’re going to damn well use that chair to help them stand up by Friday.
Balancing on a slackline is one of those activities that brings mind and body into perfect focus. If your mind wanders, you fall off. If you over think things, you fall off
By the time we began the class, I was already starting to think of Harry as some sort of monk in jeans and trainers. He continued to dole out little bits of wisdom throughout the lesson. About the role of the mind in balance, about the perils of too much effort, about breathing…all sorts, physical, mental and philosophical.
Balancing on a slackline is one of those activities that brings mind and body into perfect focus. If your mind wanders, you fall off. If you over think things, you fall off. If you try too hard, you fall off. You have to sort of let it happen. You must find stillness and calm and be all soft and maleable in mind and body.
There are other things that do this of course. For me they’re climbing, martial arts, and even running (when the internal monologue stops bitching about it being 6am and my rhythm settles and I just start floating along). It is otherwise known as the zone. Slacklining both demands that you find the zone, and helps you get there.
I floated around for the remainder of the afternoon and had to resist the urge to stroke people’s faces affectionately on the tube.
As a result, we left our session feeling very peaceful and light. Given that I started the day with a monstrous hangover and a head full of self loathing at having tried to drink whisky, this was no small achievement. I floated around for the remainder of the afternoon and had to resist the urge to stroke people’s faces affectionately on the tube.
Unfortunately it seems slacklining can get a bit of a bad rep. A bit like poi, it is often done by people on beaches in Thailand who just look like they’re attention seeking instead of reading a nice bit of smutty fiction like everyone else. But you must ignore that and do it anyway. That’s like avoiding horses because you think they’re only for very loud posh people, or not going surfing because you don’t have the perfect bikini bod.
Try it. Better still, try it with Harry, who travels the country in his van to teach people everywhere.
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