Monday, July 5, 2010

After the fall....

John Harlin III comes from a lineage of adventurers. His father, John Harlin II, was a legendary climber who fell to his death climbing the north face of the Eiger which is taller and harder than anything on Everest. John eventually was able to complete the climb that killed his father and fulfill a life-long dream.

In the summer of 2010 John made a plan to bike, paddle and climb about 1900 kilometers around the border of Switzerland. However while climbing the Aiguilles Rouge du Mont Dolent, John had a fall and broke both feet. Reflecting on the events leading to his fall, he said, "...Sometimes you get a bit full of yourself and think that you can control things that can't be controlled, or maybe you feel clever enough that you'll solve every problem whatever the mountain of life might throw your way. ...and so far I've always managed to keep it together despite knowing that any time a piece of the mountain might collapse out from under me.

The problem with such success is that it makes you ever more full of yourself. So when we reached the col and looked at the Swiss side of the Grand Gendarme and saw its hideous loose mess of rock blocks held together by rapidly melting snow, the proper reaction would have been to turn tail and retreat."

Unfortunately among the loose and treacherous rocks, one did not hold John. Afterward he said, "You might think that after 54 years of navigating life in and out of the mountains, I'd have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting myself into. But mountains, like life, often throw up surprises. They catch you off guard, knock you down, lift you up."

How often do we get overconfident and ignore signs that we need to back off or change our plans? Even though John was careful, when his hands finally touched a big loose block, he barely gave it a thought because he just climbed over a hundred rocks that were much worse. Even things that are familiar can change. We can be careful but ultimately we do not have total control over what happens. Sometimes we can prevent accidents or misfortune by listening to the warning signs but not always.

How do we respond to the lessons learned when things do not go as planned or something painful or tragic happens? John was lucky to have survived this 20 meter fall when his climbing rope caught on a sliver of rock and held. Instead of getting angry, he said, "Right now I feel an incredible lift, a fresh enthusiasm for living, a joy that swells and embraces the world and the future. ....I have to thank that block of rock for pulling out like it did. My hubris had been building from too much success. Terrain like that can never be made safe."

Life tests us, but our response can bring us a deeper appreciation for life and the gifts we do have. Tough times can be an opportunity for growth. Lessons are not always easy. This is not to say that we should not take risks, but we will have to deal with the consequences. Every day we are still alive is an opportunity to learn and grow.

How does yoga test us? Our ego can get us into trouble when we do not listen to our body. If we are injured or not ready for a difficult pose, we need to respect what our body is telling us. When we open to grace and remember the bigger picture, it is easier to let go of our ego. When we realize there are things beyond our control, we can be gentler with ourselves. Even as we open to grace, we need to remember our individuality and responsibility. Our breath can bring us into balance. It connects us the the life force that moves within us and around us.

Sometimes we may get injured when we test our edge or lose our focus. What can we learn from that? We pulse back and forth between awareness and carelessness. Life is in balance when we see its infinite possibilities and take responsibility for our actions. Letting go of the idea that we can control everything allows us to see the beauty of being alive even in the challenges that inevitably come our way.

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