My Fear of Heights and a Hot Air Balloon

Hot air ballooning is a different kettle of fish. Now I know hot air balloons fly (sort of) however there are no in-flight rations, flight attendants, movies, headsets, or pressurized cabins. There is just a big balloon (also called an envelope – I paid attention during the pre-flight briefing), a basket, a gas burner and a group of excited people. To me this was not flying, more like drifting and floating randomly above the earth.

What possessed me to voluntarily take a hot air balloon flight I’ll never know.

A flight was booked and as luck would have it, perfect weather conditions. We arrived at the departure point on a cool, crisp morning before the sun rose. The other passengers had already arrived and were eagerly awaiting the pre-flight briefing before take-off.

That was the good bit.

Fear washed through me, it became difficult to breathe, and my heart was pounding rapidly. It took supreme effort to keep my panic in check and instead, not wishing to put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm, tried to appear as nonchalant as possible.

As time for take-off approached my fear intensified. Finally, as the ropes were released from the basket and the balloon slowly made its way upward, my knees turned to jelly and the urge to rid myself of the previous night’s dinner became overwhelming.

Totally trapped I silently screamed as we rose higher and higher from the ground.

What did I do next to overcome this panic?

I changed my state.

I remembered to breathe, and with that was able to centre myself (knowledge of meditation helps!) to step fully into the present moment. It also helped to shift my focus and become more curious, about the purple hills I could see on the horizon.

My focus then shifted to experiencing how serene it was up in the sky, only occasionally hearing the sound of the burner as it blasted hot air into the balloon above.

From experiencing this serenity my focus turned to the burner and feeling the heat of the flames.

Happy with experiencing what I was, I began asking myself probing questions about my fear. With each answer I would then ask “and what is important about that?”

Remaining centred and controlling my breathing, I continued to answer each question fully to myself until there was nothing left to ask.

From answering my own questions I discovered my fear was based on the fact that there was no jet engine, steering wheel, seat belts, escape chute and we were in a basket attached to a really big balloon!

From those answers I then:

* Determined that the likelihood of disaster was minimal to nil.

* Knew the present moment was the safest place for me.

* Future paced me. I imagined myself eating my champagne breakfast with the other passengers after the balloon flight, and retelling my story.

* Realised I was actually having an experience of a lifetime which I probably will never do again and decided to make the most of it.

Not only that, the captain seemed to know what he was doing (always encouraging), I knew the equipment was in great shape (I had a good look), and there was someone following the balloon in a vehicle below.

Taking several deep breaths, I refocused on my internal world and connected with peace again, silently giving thanks to my years of meditation practise.

At last I was able to truly enjoy this exhilarating experience! The peace and tranquillity above the earth with the sun rising in the East, and the green rolling hills below was absolutely awesome – I was in heaven!

Being in the present moment, focusing on controlled breathing, as well as becoming centred helped enormously in dealing with my anxiety. Not only that by asking the question “and what is important about that?” got to the heart of my fear.

Try asking yourself that question sometime when a need crops up. You might be surprised as what you discover about yourself.

Michaela Scherr Transformational Coach