Risk!

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

T S Eliot, poet

Life is not defined by the number of breaths we take, but rather by those moments that take our breath away – and one of my most memorable was when I took a giant leap of faith and stepped over the cliff-edge alongside Maletsunyane Falls in the African kingdom of Lesotho.

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On the world's highest single-drop commercial abseil you are just this tiny yellow dot alongside a thundering waterfall

None of the preparatory training or gut-wrenching middle-of-the-night moments of fear equipped me for the breathtaking reality of the next few seconds. First I spiralled alarmingly on the end of the rope, gradually stabilised and stopped spinning, then realised with a sense of wonder that all fear had evaporated, to be replaced by adrenaline-charged awe and gratitude.

The view was like no other I’d ever known, especially as I dropped lower and lower until I was engulfed in spray from the waterfall. This is one way of confronting a fear of heights, although the surprise was that it was magical beyond my wildest imaginings. This is living, I thought, picturing all those poor souls toiling indoors in offices far removed from the loving and exhilarating embrace of Mother Nature.

Maletsunyane Falls might lack the sheer thundering spectacle of Victoria Falls, where the mighty Zambezi River plunges over a series of gorges separating Zimbabwe and Zambia to earn its status as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Nor does it pull tourists with the power of Iguazu Falls between Brazil and Argentina, or Niagara on the US-Canadian border. But it is significantly higher than any two of this famous trio combined.

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Note the phony smile as Geoff pretends that he's not scared

And better still, if you are an adrenaline junkie, it provides the setting for the world’s highest single-drop commercial abseil – the dizzying 204-metre descent guarantees it a place in the Guinness Book of Records!

I’d ostensibly signed up for the abseil to help my friend Inga Hendriks confront her terror of heights, while in truth I was meeting my own demons and learning about faith and trust. “What if the rope tangled or snapped? What if the mechanism jammed?” I’d tortured myself with all those questions before discovering the sheer joy of the experience.

Clad in a yellow waterproof jacket and protective helmet, I pondered the words of my host Jonathan Halse, who explained: “The abseil brings you down to earth. You are just a yellow dot hanging next to these giant cliffs that are millions of years old. It gives a sense of scale and a measure of your importance in the scheme of things.”

This adventure was back in 2008 and since then I’ve had many more opportunities to test my theories about the importance of sucking the juice out of life. When I’m 90 and sitting in my rocking chair, I don’t plan to look back on any regrets. Fears maybe, regrets no.

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Mission accomplished ... Geoff (left) at the South African scientific and research base in Antarctica

At the beginning of 2011 I scared myself silly during an expedition in Antarctica where I became the first person to drive a conventional 4×4 from the edge of the ice shelf some 300km inland to the South African research and scientific base. Once, when in the grip of a terrible dread, I even wondered if I might die in this frozen and lonely place.

Instead I encountered indescribably beautiful landscapes and the magnificence of the human spirit. It is an impossibly harsh and dangerous world that seems to bring out the best in us, and has done so for more than a century of exploration.

Entertainer and writer Andrew Denton summed up my feelings when he said: “If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater: the only place on Earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it!”

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Fears forgotten, Inga in party mode

A few months after my personal mini-exploration of the white smudge at the bottom of the world map, I went from Petrolhead to Pilgrim, turning my back on my former life of money, materialism and expensive cars. I chose instead to walk with messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth. And while it should have been scary, it mostly wasn’t, a strong sense of purpose propelling me forward.

Now, at Findhorn, I continue to explore inner and outer landscapes with the challenge – and the gift – of meeting my true self along the way.

Probably my greatest fear is of living a life of mediocrity where I don’t fulfill my potentials. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said it nicely: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk … in a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

I guess my daughter Bonnie understood that sentiment when she gave me a present of a coffee mug that features a quote by Neale Donald Walsch, author of the Conversations with God trilogy. It says simply: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Thanks Bonnie.

Geoff Dalglish

Geoff also writes for Odyssey Magazine as their Earth Pilgrim At Large.

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