If you missed the ABC live broadcast on June 15, close your eyes and imagine that you’ve just stepped onto a two-inch steel cable stretched into a cold, heavy mist. The mist obscures the other side, but you know it’s four football fields away. Within minutes you’re beyond the clamor of well-wishers, walking alone 20 stories above a raging river. This was Nik Wallenda’s recent experience tightrope-walking across Niagara Falls.
Beyond the entertainment value, what I appreciated from the event can be summed up in Wallenda’s own words: [When it comes to fear] “I have to really monitor how much of that I take into my own mind.”
Being mindful of the thoughts we take in isn’t new, but it’s encouraging to hear this view expressed to millions of viewers. It was natural then for Wallenda to insist on a quiet time before the crossing to collect his thoughts. And not surprising that he could be heard calmly praying aloud and thanking God as he made his way across.
This feat was considered so dangerous that ABC insisted that he be tethered to the tightrope in case he fell. No one had ever before crossed the Niagara Falls Gorge at its widest gap. Wallenda’s mental discipline did not allow fear to control him as he confidently put one foot in front of the other and completed the task in 25 minutes. It was inspiring to watch.
Afterwards, he cautioned ABC viewers about the fear that is sometimes promoted in the media: “It [tightrope-walking] is dangerous, but the more you feed that stuff into your mind, the scarier it gets…playing up how dangerous [it is], it becomes debilitating to me.”
His comments made me think of the health fears that bombard us during many television commercials. Researchers have found that anxiety, fears, and negative expectancies have indeed proven to be debilitating and unhealthy.
Although not mentioned in the broadcast, Charles Blondin (1824-1897) has long been known as the first daredevil to walk on a tightrope across the Niagara Falls Gorge, although he was never allowed to cross above the falls as Wallenda did.
Blondin was so fearless he once crossed the tightrope on stilts and another time walked to the midspan where he cooked and ate an omelette! His feats seem inexplicable. A contemporary of Blondin’s, Mary Baker Eddy, author of Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures, explained his abilities in this way:
“Had Blondin believed it impossible to walk the rope over Niagara’s abyss of waters, he could never have done it. His belief that he could do it gave his thought-forces, called muscles, their flexibility and power which the unscientific might attribute to a lubricating oil. His fear must have disappeared before his power of putting resolve into action could appear.”
For me, watching my thoughts has always been an important part of caring for my health. I’ve never set foot on a tightrope, but I have overcome fear, including that associated with a painful paralytic condition. When I managed to let go of the fear and found a sense of spiritual peace, I was soon free of the problem. I remember calming my thought with the Bible passage, “God hath not given man the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.”
Expressing calm, hope, confidence, fearlessness, and an expectancy of good were common to Blondin and Wallenda. These qualities of thought are also being acknowledged by many in the health care community as beneficial for fostering good health. On a tightrope or dealing with our own health care, when we begin to master fear and cultivate our thoughts in a helpful direction, it is encouraging to see what’s possible.