Some Days, We Learn How to Fall

It’s funny how life often teaches us the lessons we need to learn.  And, funnier still, the peculiar places these lessons show up.  

This past week, I spent on the slopes.  Or, (mostly) slope adjacent, to be more accurate.  It should be said – I am not a great skier.  All the less so on this trip.  As a result of a number of factors, I did not find the flow that is usually my tradeoff for putting myself in the face of more risk than my lawyer-brain generally permits.  Still, I was determined to get the most I could out of my time and was gifted with a number of insights and reminders as a result.  

Engaging Our Edge

Looking down from an early chairlift, I saw a snowboarder taking a lesson.  The instructor was standing up the slope, holding both of his hands and helping him find the edge of his board to learn how to carve.  I remembered when I learned this and how counterintuitive it felt.  Often still feels…  Already feeling off-kilter, the idea of leaning into this tiny edge, pitching forward and back, is the farthest sounding thing from a good idea. 

Life can lull us into believing it best to stay in our comfort zone.  Far from the edge where we might teeter or fall.  Except, our edge is where the flow happens and we have to engage it to find that flow.  Paradoxically, we are more in command and have more stability when we’re leaning into that edge.  It can feel audacious and scary at first but we soon begin to realize that’s where we’re most in our power.  And it’s really about getting comfortable and skillful at engaging our edge.

Also, it struck me that, when we talk about playing to our edge on a personal level, it is often phrased in the singular.  However, in skiing and snowboarding, it becomes immediately apparent that we’re talking about taking advantage of our multiple edges.  I love this.  So, not only is it about being brave and engaging our edge (even if we wobble), it’s also about recognizing the power of all of our edges and finding the flow of switching gracefully from one to the other(s).  Harnessing the strength and possibility in holding both.  

We Have to Learn How to Fall

On another lift, I was seated next to two guys, seemingly beginners, one a bit farther along on his journey than the other, talking about how important it is to learn how to fall.  The more experienced one encouraged his friend not to worry about falling per se.  Rather, how to fall.  Because, we’re going to fall.  It’s a certainty.  But the impact of that fall depends on how well we do it.  

What a metaphor.  As the Japanese proverb goes, “Fall seven, rise eight.”   But, it’s about more than just the grit to get back up and keep going.  It’s about embracing and being mindful of the fall itself.  Rather than trying to avoid a stumble (or a face plant), we must explore how to do it in a way that minimizes damage and optimizes our overall experience.  Maybe that’s leaning into it.  Rolling through it.  Staying loose and calm as opposed to panicking and tensing up.  Remaining centered as we get back up to try again.  Embracing humility and managing through our fear.  How best to fall will vary with the situation at hand but the point is it’s a skill in and of itself.    

Also, I don’t know about you but, it tends to be the time when I’m consciously trying to avoid falling that I’m most prone to it.  I think that has to do with what we are cultivating with the energy we’re centering.  What we give our attention to, we feed.  So, when we let fear take over or veer too far into the mental parade of horribles, we bring more of that into being.  When we concentrate on our edges and our flow, we’re more likely to stay in that state. 

Remove the Goggles

At heart, I probably most closely identify as a fair-weather skier.  However, love of a challenge, treasuring time with my family, our collective joy in overcoming and, I’m not proud to admit, a unique combination of FOMO and YOLO get me out there pretty much no matter what.  My default is always to try.  In this case, “pretty much no matter what” included extremely high winds, sideways rain and sleet and a blizzard. 

These conditions made things tough in their own right but the biggest challenge ultimately became their impact on my goggles.  I don’t know if it was the moisture, the contrast in temperature between my face and the outside or some combination thereof but my goggles became and remained completely fogged up.  At first, I tried to ski through it, figuring I could make out the shapes of people.  However, the fog created blind spots and made it impossible to see the nuance of the terrain. 

Acknowledging they were impeding my ability to see clearly and navigate the mountain, I raised the goggles.  But, that was far from a perfect solve, as the sleet and snow pelted my eyes and cheeks.  So, I pulled the goggles back down.  And, so on the cycle went. 

Until I realized… I kept thinking the goggles were keeping me safe, with the intensity of the snow and the sting of the cold.  However, they were actually inhibiting me more than they were helping and, in the unique calculus of this situation, I was much better off without my protective blinders.  Even if it meant I had to slow down, be more intentional and, sometimes, even pause to gather myself.

Making the Best of What Is

There is nothing quite like nature to remind us how little control we actually have.  We can be meticulous planners with the best of intentions, it can be the designated week for time off to do such things and, still, some days, the conditions will stink.  As much as we may want (and have scheduled!) a perfect ski day, it might sleet and rain sideways instead.  Super disappointing, fine.  But, then, it becomes about what we’re going to make of it.  

I have been lovingly described as “tenacious as hell” and, at the same time, I believe firmly in holding things loosely.  (One of my many contradictions.)  I think there’s a wisdom in both, and both together. 

It’s important to appreciate and accept what is.  At the same time, whether that means carrying on and pushing through or racking the skis and doing something else depends on the circumstances.  (Fighting to change what is is another option I like to explore.  However, it is not one that does much good when we’re talking about the weather in any given moment…)

I’ve always loved The Gambler by Kenny Loggins.  As with most life situations, it applies here.  “You got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em.”  We can’t just give up every time things get difficult or don’t go the way we want them to.  On the flip side, unconsidered powering through on the basis of a diehard commitment to should-ing isn’t the answer either.  Perseverance is critical, but not at all costs.  Not no matter what.  

Some days, we just have to call it if it’s not right.  Even if it sounded awesome on paper.  Even if it’s the whole reason we’re there.  Even if people (ourselves included) will be let down.  There’s an element of knowing and trusting ourselves, our energy and the cues to help us discern if we’re in an optimal “hold” or “fold” situation.

In our case, we decided to fold ‘em.  The weather had made the conditions awful but they’d transformed the town into a gorgeous winter wonderland.  We decided to embrace the gift and opportunity before us and take in the snowy splendor we don’t get at home, along with the joy of being with one another and a cozy restaurant we’d been wanting to try. 

Was that the right thing to do?  I don’t know that there is a definitive “right” in this situation.  But, I know what was right for us.  And, if we extend the metaphor of falling to things not going as planned or hoped, this represented a learning how to fall of sorts.  Listening to ourselves (and one another).  Taking in the reality of the situation as opposed to our idealized vision for it.  Accepting our disappointment without getting lost in it.  Being guided by the “why” as opposed to the “what,” which was enjoying the rare time we get with one another as opposed to skiing itself.  Realizing, as is so often the case, it was less about what we were losing than what we were gaining.

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