Friday, January 14, 2011

Rise above the occasion

I was going through my book shelf of books I've read and books I haven't quite finished yet and stubbled upon "let my people go surfing" by Yvon Chouinard. I flipped through the worn pages and noticed a page I marked a while ago. It was an entry about Dean Potters (professional rock climber) first zen experience with his father. I share this with you because, well we have all been in situations that challenged us in one way or another and were able to rise above the occasion and Dominate!Zen

Cold air from the valley drifts upward. It’s predawn, and I’ve been moving on the Nose of El Cap through the night, focused on the rock in front of me in the faint light of my headlamp. Suddenly, I think of how tired and exposed I am, also, ropeless, far past any point of retreat. A surge of panic courses through me. I try to think of the summit, but that thought too is dangerous.

An image floats into my mind. I’m following my father in the early morning through a pasture in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He strides toward Moosebrook, his favorite fishing spot. I’m not even half his height, and the frosty grass brushes all the way up to my waist.

We reach the river. My dad skips from rock to rock, downstream to the first hole, and looks back for me. The water is freezing, and the rocks are covered in slime. I’m afraid to follow. I burrow painfully through the thickets of pricker bushes, swamp, and blackflies as my father calls for me. The bugs chase me back to the river’s edge, and I timidly wade in and try to catch up. Tense and anxious, I lose my footing and fall into the river. I gasp for breath in the icy water but manage to scramble onto a rock, where I bawl until my father comes back. “I don’t like fishing. I want to go home.”

My father shakes his head to me, and his eyes sparkle. “Dean, put everything aside. There’s nothing to be afraid of, except a little cold water. Just focus on the next step you are taking. I feel so happy running down the river, sun reflecting off the water, my body naturally going where it’s supposed to. I almost don’t think at all. I just respond to what’s in front of me.”

He stops talking and heads downstream again. We slowly pick our way across the rocks, catching rainbows and brook trout. The day passes quickly, and my confidence rises. Soon I’m playing and racing down the rapids with eyes wide and senses alert, not knowing I’ve just received my first lesson in Zen. The air drifts over my body. I grasp the immediate. I reach for the next hold.

- Dean Potter

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