By Matt McGregor, Arts and Features Asst. Editor
Jesse Goldman knew he could calm the wobble.
The first few times he tried standing on the slackline, the frenetic sway knocked him off.
Eventually, Goldman found an inward solution to standing on the two-inch nylon webbing tied between two trees.
He drew parallels. The unpredictable, side-to-side sway resembled life.
He breathed deeply and found a center. In an uncertain, wobbly world, Goldman achieved a little stillness.
After more practice, he shed the noise of thought and pursued quietness of focus.
The slackline beneath his foot became a barometer of clarity in his mind.
Eventually, slacklining made sense.
“Slacklining is a physical manifestation of the meditative process,” says Goldman, political science student at UNC Asheville. “You get on a slackline, and many of the same principles apply. You find that balance point, even if it’s just for a second. Your mind starts to wander, you lose your balance and you fall. The same as your mind wandering in meditation and coming back to the breath, your focal point is staying balanced on the slackline.”
Goldman says he felt a calling to share this stillness with others. His friend Patrick Green taught him how to slackline behind Mills Hall their freshman year at UNCA. The two were inspired to start a slacklining company after attending the Kinnection Campout, a four-day community building festival organized by a group called the Tribal Council.
“Everyone at the Tribal Council was encouraged to give a workshop,” Goldman says. “Patrick and I set up a bunch of slacklines and left them up. People used them all weekend. It was awesome. We realized we had created a space for people to come and interact with each other.”
They called their company Slack-Librium.
Goldman and Green came up with the concept of connecting mindfulness to slacklining, started a Facebook page, designed a logo and sent out emails applying to different festivals. Goldman says the more festivals they workshopped slacklining, the more their resume grew.
Sydney McGary was a health and wellness major at UNCA when she encountered Slack-Librium at the Three Days of Light Gathering, a community-building festival.
“There was something about the environment they created,” McGary says. “I got on and fell off and got on again and eventually something clicked. I experienced an awareness of my body within space.”
Though she had never wanted to commit to a team, she says Slack-Librium gave her a sense of purpose, and she wanted to contribute.
“I recognized what I could bring to the table from an artistic standpoint,” McGary says. “I painted signs, added some decoration and have helped to facilitate the spatial aspect of it. What sets Slack-Librium apart in so many senses is we create this space where people can come and it’s like a playground, or an impermanent home. We walk into a space and use our creative process and see how we can transform it into a playground.”
From behind Mills Hall, the UNCA Quad and later to the festival circuit, Slack-Librium found itself in Asheville Middle School with a grant from the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness.
“I was taking a service learning class taught by Dr. Ameena Batada which required community service,” Goldman says. “I went to Ameena and said I wanted to teach slacklining in public schools.”
Goldman got the green light from Batada, assistant professor in the health and wellness department, and, with all of his professors’ permission, skipped a week of classes to orchestrate Slack-Librium in the Asheville Middle School gym.
Goldman says they arranged slacklining, meditation and yoga groups, as well as a history and math curriculum.
“Now what I’m doing is structuring the class around a history and culture of slacklining,” Goldman says. “We’re doing slacklining math and science, such as knowing your center of mass, examining the conditions for equilibrium and things like that.”
The program is successful, Goldman says, and he has a vision of its expansion.
“I would love to see a slacklining and mindfulness program in every school in the country,” Goldman says. “The kids like it. Introducing mindfulness through slacklining in the public school system could be transformative.”
Green, co-owner of Slack-Librium, agrees, praising the benefits of slacklining for kids.
“This is a great download of your body into time and space,” Green says. “Slacklining is a great way to force yourself to shut down, initiate body awareness and to get a moment of freedom from distraction and stress. That’s why we are at Asheville Middle School. We just feel that it is good for them.”
Green admits one of the many joys of teaching slacklining is seeing everyone start from the same uncertain place and gaining confidence over time.
“No matter where you are coming from, if you are a 5-year-old, a professional athlete, a ballerina, you all start out exactly the same the first time you step on the slackline,” Green says. “There is that wobble, then they start to tame the wobble. They start to believe they can do this. There is engagement throughout the body. Taking those tiny successes and building from there, they figure it out.”
Goldman wants to see slacklining at UNCA continue long after he graduates. He says the campus recreation department plans on purchasing slacklines for the school for students to rent, or students can come to the slackline gym where there will be instructors from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesdays.
“I don’t want slacklining here to die,” Goldman says. “My hope is eventually this will develop into a club and other people can lead it.”
At an evening Slack-Librium class, Goldman stands on the slackline on his right leg, sliding his left leg back along the line, lowering his body into a lunge and, from there, sinking into a meditative, cross-legged seated position while maintaining balance on the calm, steady line.
He maintains a low-wobble frequency.
Green later makes a noble attempt at piggybacking McGary on the slackline, but he can only sustain the feat for a few seconds.
They tumble off, laughing.
Looking back at those early days of Slack-Librium, Green says he knew they had something valuable, but he didn’t know exactly where it would go. He and Goldman talked and dreamed together, bouncing ideas back and forth.
“The stuff we talked about is all happening,” Green says. “Now I feel like we’ve created a stable organization that is committed to being active in the community, and I feel like we are making a positive impact in the city and with the kids.”