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…I was advised, and it will change your life.

Katt w_straps

One of my students, Jay, is a retired (at 43) Navy SEAL. I am convinced that the SEALS are some of the toughest and most resourceful humans on the planet. When Jay went out for training he couldn’t swim and swimming is a keystone for these guys (they are required to hold their breath under water for two minutes without releasing a single bubble) and yet, he made it into this elite Military Unit. He has performed maneuvers in 147-degree Fahrenheit as well as below -57 degree temperatures. He has survived hand-to-hand combat in Iraq and now he is challenging himself in a new way by becoming an actor.

I was doing some private coaching with him when he showed me a commercial he’d shot for his reel; he was skydiving. The aerial footage was quite visceral, taking the viewer through a free fall somersault two and a half miles up in the sky. As I was watching, I shook my head and said, “I would NEVER do that!” I couldn’t imagine summoning the courage to actually step out the door of the airplane. His answer was, “If you did, it would change your life.”  Out of all the harrowing things Jay has done, he says skydiving takes the most courage and it changes your life. “Really?” I asked incredulously.  He was adamant in his belief, and then he said, “C’mon, I’ll arrange it. We can go next week. Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.”  I have never wanted to skydive. I have a bit of acrophobia (fear of heights) and yet I heard myself say, “Okay.” I’d been feeling a strong need to change my life and this offer seemed very fortuitous. Somehow I knew I needed to do it and I would understand why afterwards. I agreed to jump on Wednesday, even though I had a bit of a cold, because it was the first break in my schedule.

Jay arranged for me to jump with his friend Nix White who is considered by many one of the best skydivers in the country. Nix is also a retired Navy SEAL; these two guys have gone through harrowing life and death experiences together. They just look like ordinary happy go lucky guys; you wouldn’t see them in the produce section and think, “Wow, there are a couple of supermen,” but they are. I felt that I was in good hands, but many things about the day surprised me.

I got up at 5AM so I could meet Jay in Pasadena and carpool with him down to San Diego for a 9AM jump. I learned a lot about the SEALS on the trip down and I already thought I knew a thing or two because I’d written a movie whose lead character was a SEAL, but here was a real guy in the flesh.

After I’d signed away all liability if I was killed or maimed, Skydive San Diego processed me and I got all strapped up, got my instruction and then waited.  It’s kind of like the movie business.  You get all amped-up and wait. Our 9AM plane ride actually took off at about 10:30. It wasn’t wasted time; I got to know my jump partner Whitey a bit.  He has kind eyes and an easy impish smile.  You’d never know he was a lethal weapon.

Whitey & Jay

Whitney and Jay

After an hour and a half of cooling our heels, we boarded the jump ship. I had been pretty relaxed up to this point, but now I was in a Cessna Caravan ascending to 13,000 feet with twelve excited adrenalin junkies.  Did I mention I am a yogi and a great appreciator of serenity? I began to feel very emotional. Whitey suggested I look out the window and enjoy the view; his eyes were compassionate and concerned. I looked out the window and saw what I was jumping into. The aerophobia kicked in and I whipped my head around, looked right into Whitey’s eyes and tears started running down my face.

The excited adrenalin junkie next to me announced, “Oh My God! There’s someone on the plane who has real human emotions!” He was trying to lighten the mood and it worked, everyone laughed including me. Then someone said, “We do this so we can feel something, but you already know how to do that.”

Whitey nodded toward the open door of the plane as we continued to rise in altitude and asked, “Have you ever been on a plane with the door wide open?” I laughed through my tears and admitted I hadn’t, I’d only seen that in some action movie starring Denzel Washington.

The wiry little adrenalin junkie next to me was very curious and softly said, “Why are you crying?” All I could say was, “It’s not fear, it’s something else.”  But it was fear and many other things too: Overwhelm; having to trust; facing death.

Whitey and I were jumping together and as he strapped me to him, I watched several people jump out of the plane. Being tandem, I thought I’d just be along for the ride. I thought I could just close my eyes and he’d do it all, but it was entirely different than that.

After all the waiting on the ground, it felt sudden and surreal when it was our turn. I was shocked when Whitey told me to stand in the open doorway, lean my head back and jump.  “What?! Me?!”  Wasn’t he going to do everything?!  Uh, No. Apparently this one was all mine. Two and a half miles in the air and traveling at well over 100 miles per hour, I stood at the edge of the door and said to myself, “Jump Katt”. I guess when you consider we’re on a planet that’s moving through space around the Sun at the speed of 67,000 mph it’s not such a big deal, and, unbelievably, I stepped out into thin air.

That moment is what I imagine it must be like when we go from being spirit to deciding to be born into the physical world. I believe that before we were born we were energy, one with Infinite Mind, the Divine, the All Creative, in Yogi terms, Shakti, in Western terms, God. We decide to be born into the physical world come what may – because we want the contrast, we think it would be fun!  The instant that I, Katt, chose to step out of the doorway of that perfectly lovely Cessna into thin air reminded me of a moment I have no recollection of – the moment when I decided to enter the unknown and be born into this world — no exits, no going back!!! No way out, until it’s done.

I’d stepped out the door and suddenly I was tumbling ass over teakettle through thin air. Where was Whitey?! He didn’t even exist for me at that point. It was horrible, terrifying, maybe like being shoved out of the womb and into the birth canal, and out into this topsy-turvy circus we call the world. Then the tumbling stopped and we were in free fall straight down, hurtling toward the earth at 120 miles per hour. I couldn’t breathe. Either I was having an anxiety attack or the air was rushing into my nose and mouth too fast – or both. Some people describe the experience of skydiving as “fun.”  How is this fun? Well, maybe if you just naturally have a great deal of faith in life, it’s quite thrilling. I didn’t come to get a momentary thrill though; I did it to change my life.

I was in free fall and FREAKING OUT. I was observing myself on the edge of total panic and I told myself to trust. In my head, I repeated over and over, “Trust Katt, trust Katt, trust, trust, trust. Trust the Infinite Source you say you know. Trust where you came from. Trust who you know yourself to really be. Trust Source. Trust God.” And I calmed down. Yes, even though I was careening toward the earth at 120 miles per hour, I felt calmer. Jumping is like being born and like dying. Plummeting toward the earth at 120 miles an hour is like taking that other leap into the unknown that we will all take when we go back home. That leap is just around the corner. Nothing to be afraid of.

I heard Whitey’s voice and I remembered he was there; he told me he was going to pull the parachute cord. It felt like we were jerked upward, but in reality we just slowed way down. And that’s when this trip really felt like an amusement park ride, a mellow serene one. He steered us this way and that as if it were a paraglider and I didn’t worry at all about landing. He’s a pro and I was sure he would handle that completely.

I asked Whitey if he was having fun. He told me he was, I’d done everything he’d told me, exactly as instructed and he was happy. I found out later that he has horror stories of people being so terrified they try to kick and claw, going crazy in the air trying to save themselves and nearly kill both of them.

I was quite surprised when we finally hit solid ground, landing on MY ass.

I thought Whitey had made a mistake. I saw the single skydivers landing on their feet. I’d assumed that when I put my legs straight out and UP as Whitely instructed, it was to get them out of the way so he could land us on his feet – but no – it was my ass!

Jumping reminded me that I CHOSE to be here for this limited time ride. I came through the birth canal into the unknown – and we are not supposed to know the future. So, I’ve stopped looking for predictions or guarantees. It reminded me that I’m also on my way out – another portal into the unknown, but I TRUST and that makes me feel calmer.

I feel strongly reminded that I came here because I thought it would be fun to experience whatever this life is about. I will live it to the fullest, make lots of mistakes and forgive myself, and love myself and others greatly. Did it change my life? Yes. I feel so much calmer and more comfortable with the uncertainty and the unknown. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.


One small tip, if you have a cold it’s probably a good idea to wait until you’re completely well, I haven’t stopped blowing my nose.


Katt Shea

About Katt Shea

Writer/Director/acting coach - credits include: "Poison Ivy" and "The Rage, Carrie 2"