Moving Into Fear (or Basic Buddhism for Skiers)

Skiing has taught me one thing with certainty – resistance only increases the chance of receiving the opposite outcome than I intended.

For those of you unenlightened non-skiing people, here is a brief ski lesson: the front end (tip)  is the steering end, the back-end (tail) acts as a gas pedal.  Regardless of my young friends tendencies to straight-line it, skiing is about making turns to get downhill.  In order to make move or make the ski turn we must pressure the front end by shifting our weight forward – and thus, downhill.

This seems easy in writing, but when faced with a steep slope (whatever that means to us personally), the intuitive response is not to lean forward, but sit back in avoidance and concern for our safety.  As we resist the downward velocity of the slope, we increase speed (weight on tails) while losing steering ability (lack of weight on tips).  When we feel it is becoming more difficult to “stay in control”, we resist further, losing the momentum that carries us from turn to turn and so we increase unnecessary movements with our bodies. Resisting  the inevitable (we choose this downhill sport!) we work twice as hard, use more muscle, and have less fun to get down the hill  than if we had simply trusted our ability to make each necessary turn.

In our fear, justified or not, we completely lose connection to flow.  As we humans are uncomfortable with a loss of control, we tend to do one of two things: give up, determining that it is not right for us or, we continue to flail our way downhill, determined to “do this” no matter what, using extra energy in the process, risking injury and losing all sense of enjoyment.  We blame our difficulties on the conditions (too icy/not the right time) , circumstances (there was a snowboarder in the way/I didn’t have enough money) ,  or random half truths (my feet hurt/she was a bitch). Really, we are resisting leaning into that which scares us but is nevertheless required to move through on our way towards our goals.

And what are we afraid of? Failure. Risk. Getting hurt. Looking stupid. Going out of our comfort zone. Losing control.  The list goes on.

As if these were all things we have dominion over in the first place.

Life is scary.  Personally, I seem to attract drama like poop does flies. Poverty, unemployment, illness, stupid people; you name it. But when I was told I had cancer, the complete lack of control over that diagnosis made me stop thinking I could/should try to direct everything my life. Instead I began to learn to accept that life simply is what it is – just like the mountain.  My choice is to engage or not, and how I want to do that is up to me. My reactions to situations are often the only thing I can control. This shift in perception makes it easier stay on tip of my skis and stop resisting the flow of life. I must stop worrying about what might happen, and stay present in what is happening to move toward my goals.

Flow doesn’t mean that is always smooth, but there is a sense of direction, purpose and intention that seems right somehow. In skiing, flow is the glorious sensation of sliding through silky snow even though you occasionally still getting bounced around. Each turn follows the next with relative ease until you stop at the bottom laughing, and say to your buddies, “man, that was SWEEEEEET!”

Skiing teaches me about life on and off the hill. There was nearly a foot of relatively good snow when I went up this week to ski off a bad situation at work. I was faced with a choice that either way was likely to result in unemployment or unhappiness. I had a headache for a week over it. Unemployment is scary and it seemed stupid to draw a line about something that was relatively trivial, but my goal is living a more authentic, heart centered life in which I do not compromise on what is important to me. As I argued with myself over every angle of the situation, I could feel myself flailing, losing control, and working far too hard.  I was using up valuable energy trying to stop forward momentum,  because I was afraid to move into my fears about unemployment and what I thought it said about me.

And so I leaned forward.

It isn’t comfortable at first.

I have my moments as a great skier, but I am often freakishly forcing turn after turn by over-rotating my shoulders and hips; hopping my feet and flinging my arms around to make it happen.  I arrive at the bottom exhausted, but somewhere in each run, there is usually at least one or two linked turns where I was simply “in it” and I get back on the chair.

I often make skiing – and life – more difficult than it needs to be in my lack of trust. And that is what it is….learning to trust that by not struggling with the struggle (as my friend Carole says) you will arrive at your destination with much less effort.  Control is an illusion – what will happen, will happen, and our flailing only increases the chance of it happening badly.

Skiing is not an easy sport, and neither is life, but by committing to my intentions, I get the opportunity to experience relative effortlessness sometimes. That feeling of being in the flow, is the most glorious feeling ever. It  keeps me addicted to this ridiculously expensive sport and to life in general.

As I sit at my computer writing, now newly unemployed, I am curiously observing flow around me.  It is a bit bumpy and there is that “whoa, who….aaaah, WHOAH!” sensation I have on the hill when it feels like things are about to get dicey.  But I also have some of that sensation of floating along and I am committed to not trying to steer this from the backseat. I keep humming to myself a skiing version of Dori’s song  from “Finding Nemo”: “Just keep turning, just keep turning!!”.

I know when I get to the bottom of this run, I will jump around and say: “THAT was so friggen AWESOME!!!!  Did you see when I almost lost it and then I pulled it together and it was like……YEAH! LETS DO IT AGAIN!”


(this seems to be a theme with me…if it is for you too check out my posts Resistance is Futile  and I am Committed to This…I think)

4 thoughts on “Moving Into Fear (or Basic Buddhism for Skiers)

  1. That was an awesome post. You described staying in the moment perfectly. we can’t control what happens but our choices and actions can influence the outcome.

  2. This is so apt. I’ve never skied, but I definitely see in my own life how fighting makes things worse. I’m making a conscious effort to “lean in” to the person that I want to be, even when the path to me is scary. Thanks

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