Don’t Lean Back (It isn’t just a Zen thing)

June 1st, 2010 Comments

We live in a time of great spiritual hunger.  Why is that?  There seems to be plenty of options out there.  In Western Cultures, one is free to choose from over 200 different Christian denominations, a dozen or so Muslim traditions, several Buddhist, or Hindu, practices – and who knows how many variations of New Age Enlightenment and pseudo-religions.  It seems that if we have this cafeteria of choices, we shouldn’t have to live our lives hungry, right?

I have various theories on this, which I won’t bore you with right now.  I just want to talk about a practice that is too often relegated to certain Eastern World-views, but shouldn’t be excluded from our lives – even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Several years ago, I learned how dangerous expectations are. Not just your average, run-of-the-mill woulda-coulda-shoulda, but also those expectations we have for other people’s attitudes and behaviors.  Expectations, easily become premeditated resentments.  When we expect something to happen, or someone to do something – and they don’t – we resent them.  Why is this?

You’ll hear people talking about “Living in the moment.”  It’s a Zen thing, right?  But what does it mean?

Did you know that Jesus taught the same principle?  That’s right.  In His Sermon on the Mount, he said that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with tomorrow.  Don’t worry about it, “today has enough concerns,” He said.

But how do I do this?  How can I live a life without expectations? How can I quit projecting my life into the future, or getting stuck in moments gone by?  What keeps me from living in this moment, right here, right now?

Is the present so painful that I have to escape?  Am I so afraid of the future, that I lean back into the past?

Heather Canyon, located at Mt. Hood Meadows, is Oregon’s legendary Double Black Diamond ski slope.  I’ll never forget the first time I tried to ski it.  At that time, I still skied in jeans and a pair of cheap skis I bought from G.I. Joe’s.  Although I’d become quite proficient skiing Meadows’ North and South Canyons, as well as Texas – I still had much to learn.  I would usually struggle making it down the regular black runs – even when they were groomed and the conditions were optimal.

One sunny afternoon, while skiing with some risk-taking friends, I found myself standing at the top of Heather Canyon.  The view was breathtaking.  Eastern Oregon spread out below us – it was a tastefully, splendid afternoon.  Sunshine, very little wind, below freezing, and blue skies!  Looking south from that vantage point, one can see several snow-topped, Cascade volcanic, mountain peaks.  But as I looked at the slope I was standing on, I grew a little uneasy.

Not only was it very steep, about 30°, but I was standing on ice. Not snow – ice.  I was told to not ski to the bottom, or I’d have to hike out.  Also, at the bottom, is this huge bump – it looks like the dome inside the crater at Mt. St. Helens.  This made the run seem particularly daunting, for there was no way to escape, should I loose control.  My friend Sarge, plunged into the abyss and I watched him closely, in an attempt to quickly learn how to ski this run and survive.  My heart was pounding in my chest.

Learning to ski well, means learning to overcome one’s fear of leaning forward.  Human nature tells us to lean away from danger, but when skiing, if you lean away from falling down the mountain, you will fall.  Just as walking is a series of controlled falls forward, skiing is falling forward, but checking the fall by turning your skis and changing direction.  The more you turn, the slower you go.  Fewer turns means faster descent.

Turning frequently, on a 30° slope, is not easy.  Reactions have to be quick – and fast.  In addition, one has to be very intentional and aggressive.  It is more than just finesse, it requires great strength and agility.  A Blue slope can be very forgiving, and falls are much slower.  Black Diamond slopes increase one’s speed, and greatly reduce the margin for error.  I was about to find out how unforgiving a double black could be.

As I plunge into my life, too often, I lean too far forward, wanting what I don’t yet have, and I end up falling flat on my face.

Mike plunged over the hill and disappeared from my sight. Just before he left, he reminded me to fall into the hill, plant my pole, and ski around it.  Although I’ve never taken a lesson, I was learning this technique.  But it is easy to get lazy on the blues.  On the blue slopes, I could slide my turns, lean back, and coast.  There is no relaxing on Heather.Don't lean back!

I leaned out with my pole and made a pretty good first turn.  It was really icy, and my skis were not designed for this sort of terrain.  In fact, I’d started to surpass my ski’s capabilities the year before. By the time I was ready to make the second turn, I was going quite fast.  Much faster than I ever wanted to go in ice, on what seemed like a near vertical slope, that bottomed out into rocks.  Now it was time to make that second turn, on my weak side.

I’m not sure if I completed the second turn, or if I was ready to make the third turn, but the next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my back, sliding head first, downhill, and picking up speed.  If I had been leaning into the turns, I wouldn’t be on my back.  This just confirmed that I had leaned back.  I was amazed at how fast I was going – there really wasn’t any time to think about it.  I had to react.

I was able to get from supine to prone, even at 30 mph.  Now, with my face just over the ice surface I was sliding on, I knew I had to act quickly.  Somehow I still had one ski pole in my hand, and I used it to dig into the slope and turn my body around.  When my feet were below me, I dug the toes of my ski boots into the ice, while using the pole to dig in also.  It was a technique my friend Ray had taught me when we had climbed Hood a few years earlier.

I slowly stopped.  There I was, just a speck, hanging on to the side of an ancient volcano – feeling like I’d just escaped death – which I probably had.  One ski was far below me, another above.  I still had the pole that saved me in my hands, but it took some looking before I found the other.  Now, all I had to do was recover my gear and get off of this cliff!

My mistake was classic, I leaned back.  (It was also the only time I’ve ever caused myself to bleed while skiing)

My mistake was classic, I leaned back. My fear of the slope, caused me to lean away from the deliberate fall I needed to be in.  I failed to live in the moment, I wanted to stay in a previous moment of time and space.  I didn’t want to keep accelerating, I wanted to stop – or at least go much slower.

Unfortunately, we rarely have control over our circumstances. Whether plunging down a mountain slope, or into the throes of debt, it is very difficult to change course.  Whether falling in love, or falling from grace, once the fall has begun, it is difficult to change directions.  But falling in love can be a good thing, if one leans into it.  If you lean to hard, you’ll scare the other away – and the relationship will crash.  If you lean away, you may lose something that could have been beautiful.

rite hear, rite now from Gary Walter on Vimeo.

As I plunge into my life, too often, I lean too far forward, wanting what I don’t yet have, and I end up falling flat on my face.  Other times, I lean back, stuck in a moment, and fall flat on my back.  Wishing for the past is called nostalgia.  Wishing for something you don’t have, is called lust.  I struggle with both.  When I long for the past, it’s like wishing I was back in Egypt – forgetting about all the bad things there.  When I lust for something I want, I often don’t see how I could make better choices – I get too focused on what I want, not what I need.

What if I chose to live, right here, right now, in this moment.  I can remember fondly the memories of the past, but I don’t need to go back there.  I can even expect the future to overcome me, but I don’t have to make my own future.

Too often, in my journey, I have pursued desires, hopes, dreams, and positions with an alacrity that was not healthy.  Sometimes my desires plunged me over cliffs that I was not skilled enough to handle.  Other times, my fear of the future – or the present, was such that I would escape into a cocoon of isolation and aloneness.serenity now

Yesterday, as I was talking to The Wife about this.  I realized that often my communication angst, frustrations, and distemper are because of my expectations.  Whether running late for appointments, facing the realities of marital conflict, or dealing with disobedient children – I find it is too easy… way too easy, to get overly frustrated, and lose the serenity that allows me to be at peace.

What if….

  • …I accepted the current situation for what it is – the current situation?
  • …I lived without expectations?
  • …I trusted myself, my family, my friends, those around me, and my God to work together and successfully negotiate the present turn?
  • …I took one situation, or turn, at a time?
  • …I focused on the present – not the past, not the future, but the present?
  • …What would happen to my attitude if I was right here, right now?

Wanting things to be different from what they are, is usually the source of most of our dysfunctional behavior.

Wanting things to be different from what they are, is what causes me to be a workaholic; to get into relationships I shouldn’t be in; to bend my values and principles; to take jobs that I shouldn’t take; to put up with unsafe people; to get angry at my wife; to drive too fast; to lie, steal, and cheat; to eat what I shouldn’t; to watch what I shouldn’t; to go to bed late, and to sleep in too late.  Wanting things to be different from what they are, is usually the source of most of our dysfunctional behavior.  What would happen if we just accepted who, when, where, and why we are what we are, and the circumstances around us – not as fate, but as a part of the journey to be discovered?

What would happen if we just accepted who, when, where, and why we are what we are, and the circumstances around us – not as fate, but as a part of the journey to be discovered?

Seriously, what if…

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