Over the last few weeks, tightening of travel restrictions and deteriorating weather have made me really appreciate the freedom I enjoyed this summer. Not working, just climbing and flying whenever possible was the silver lining of an otherwise extremely tough year. It seems ironic that the greatest loss of freedom I have ever endured, actually paved the way to experiencing new freedoms, which I had never previously had the time to pursue.
It takes a lot of optimism to see opportunity in a crisis. In my daily life I spent many years as a serial pessimist by default, so it can take me quite a long time to reach an optimistic outlook in challenging situations. The exception to this for me, has always been chasing adventure in wild environments. In the mountains I am almost always able to cultivate a positive outlook on situations, however difficult they may be.
When the pandemic brought an abrupt end to the winer season here in Scotland, I was left with little in the way of optimism. After a few months of lockdown boredom, I began investing a lot of time into paragliding. I have been flying speedwings for several years, so the idea of flying a larger wing was not a huge leap for me, though it is certainly a different game. The possibility of flying high above the mountains and traveling great distances using the power of nature alone, was something I had long been captivated by. Eventually it proved too hard to resist and so from the depths of lockdown I had somehow finally managed to see opportunity in the crisis. Optimism prevailed and I ordered a paraglider.
In the months that followed as freedom of movement was slowly restored, I flew my new paraglider at every opportunity. I flew in Scotland, central Spain and the French alps. With every flight I learned something new and over time I started to realise that in paragliding, like in almost everything else, the key ingredient is optimism.
When flying a paraglider the general aim is to remain airborne for as long as possible so that you can travel long distances, or just enjoy being in the sky. To keep flying you must always find lift. Rising air, in the form of thermals or wind blowing up hills and mountains, is invisible so finding it can be a rather nuanced art. As soon as you give up and stop actively searching for lift, your flight is over and you’ll soon find yourself landing in the valley.
As my paragliding experience has steadily increased, I have started to appreciate how much intentional will power is required to continue searching for lift, and the unwavering optimism you must have to believe you will find it. Perhaps more importantly, I have also realised that cultivating an optimistic mindset is a skill that can be learned. This ability is built on past experience and accumulates with time and practice.
Every time I fly now I think about the importance of optimism and having the right mindset to make the most out of the conditions on the day. It’s not always an easy thing to control, especially in challenging times like those we have collectively faced this year. My hope however is that like in flying, the challenges we experience in life will ultimately leave us better equipped to find optimism more quickly in the future.