The Invisible Child • How I Discovered that I Do Matter

At one of my 100k/10/98 retreats, I stood at the bottom of a vertical ropes course that reached into the tree tops. With a decade of Antigravity Yoga and aerial silks under my belt, I knew I could ring the bell at the top of the canopy. Easy peasy.

Something possessed me

Then the facilitators shuffled our pairing. So instead of a sturdy man, I was paired with D, who was a heavyset woman and had mobility challenges. Uh oh. I knew how I could get up there, but I had no idea how we would get up there.

Old me would have pre-meditating a plan of attack. But this me just stood at the bottom of a 10-rung chain ladder, clueless. “Don’t worry, I’ll climb right behind you” fell out of my mouth. I tapped my right shoulder, “You can sit on my shoulder. We’ll climb together.”

Being twice my size and weight, D looked at me with big eyes, “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can!” I fisted back. I felt suddenly possessed by an invisible, unnamable “something” that turned this shy, scraggly little girl into the might of gods.

Buoyed by my mighty conviction and a knowing inside D, we climbed. Thought I kept my right shoulder close to her left butt cheek, she never needed it. Before we knew it, D had reached the top of the rickety chain ladder.

Her face glowed with awe that we had turned the unlikely into the possible into the achieved. To some, it may have looked like a miracle. But to me, it was a done deal. I knew she could do it. I knew.


Something showed up again

The next rungs being further apart, one of us had to climb on top of the other. If I climbed first, there’s no way I could pull D up. But if I could somehow first boost her up then take a wild leap, we may have a chance. I had faith in my upper body strength. And you could say, I had faith in the lesson of this exercise, I just didn't realize it yet.

So I knelt on one knee trying to use my other leg as a step stool. After a few tries, D fell off the ropes course, and dangled in the air from her harness. I couldn’t see her face but I could tell that she was afraid she might hurt me.

The facilitators urged her to get back onto the ropes course. Then that "something" showed up again. It sat my butt down on the lower rung, T-shaped my arms, and white knuckled the chains on either side. Then it ordered D, “Just step onto my shoulders!”

And then... everything dimmed to pitch black and silent. It felt like I had fainted, even though I knew I was still sitting and gripping the chains. There was no forcing, no straining, no pain, no nothing. I have no idea how much time passed. 

Then a thundering roar snapped me out of the dark. Below us, our tribemates were howling and cheering, as D made it to the top rung. She looked down with tear-filled eyes as if to say, “I thought I was going to break you, but I couldn’t have gotten up here without you.”


I'm here because of you

It was only when we watched our filmed footage at the end of that retreat that I saw D take several leaps and attempts at climbing my shoulders, then my head, with my helmet bobbing around like a drunkard. I was fiercely adamant though. I wasn’t going to budge. I held stead no matter what.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry from the footage. I don’t remember any of it! Where did I go? (Is this what happens to mothers who lift burning cars to save their babies?)

When I came to and gathered myself, I summoned my last breath, took that big wild leap and caught the upper rung. And D did the rest: she lifted me by the back harness, like a tigress her cub in her teeth, with such ease and meant-to-be-ness. I know for certain I would have fallen if not for her tug. I had nothing left within me to take another leap.

We sat on that upper rung, shoulder to shoulder, head leaning on head, both drenched in tears. In silence, her eyes said, “I’m here because of you” and my eyes said, “I’m here because of you.”


Hyperachiever R.I.P.

We sat and we cried. We cried and we sat. The sun never shone so bright. It never crossed either of our minds to keep going, on the 3 remaining sections of the ropes course.

Bell, what bell? And for the first time in my life, the vicious screaming inside my head of, “Ring that bell! Ring that f*cking bell! You’re a desolate failure and worthless piece of shit unless you ring that bell!” vanished. My hyperachiever saboteur died on that ropes course. Who the f*ck knew that "failing" at a ropes course could lead to such R.I.P. freedom?!? I sure didn't.

I could have kept going on my own and rung that bell for both of us. My hyperachiever would have. But that “something” that swooped in earlier knew that I was complete... because we were complete. That moment of grace, of transcendent love and partnership, they were all too delicious to pass up for some bell that would prove that I have worth.

The facilitators slowly lowered our harnesses. And the moment my feet touched the ground, a lightning bolt of truth shot through the back of my head, neck and shoulder blades. “I matter,” said the voice.

I sank to my knees sobbing, “What? I matter?” With hands and knees clutching the Californian soil, I wondered, “How have I never mattered before? How have I never mattered, ever? How is this the first time?”


Knowing I mattered

I cried in agony for weeks, then months. This is why I never worry about global drought. I’ve got an endless supply of tears to refill all of the Earth’s oceans.

Mattering was a completely foreign concept for me. Just like new ice skates, 45 sit-ups and orthodontics hurt the first few times, mattering hurt.

Over time, and with practice, this experience completely recalibrated me from punishing patriarchy (reaching the top at all cost including self-harm) to liberating grace (cherishing people over tasks and trusting in the unfolding).

Tell a child they matter and they’ll believe you. Tell an adult they matter and they won’t believe you. They have to experience “I matter” for themselves to body-knowing that their mere existence has worth.

Oh, and it turns out, that “something” was… my soul. Hahaha, I never knew I had a soul!

Live fierce and free,

xo, Ella

(First Published Jul 19, 2015)



Having navigated 131 countries, 87 emotions, 46.5 traumas, and 16 careers, Ellany Lea inspires and guides phoenixes, overachievers, entrepreneurs and wayshowers to live fierce, fulfilled and free.