Mar 16, 2014

REFLECTIONS: Overcoming Fear

I lost control and sped forward in a panic. I was unable to stop my skis from sliding down the slick track around the mountain peak. I saw the narrow bridge of snow in front of me and whizzed across it. A family was now in front of me, stopped to one side. I pushed my skis down as hard as I could into the thin layer of wet snow and stopped short of hitting one of the small children. Gasping, I eased toward the sheer snowbank and leaned sideways into it before the hot tears burst from my eyes.

For the second time that day, I had faced fear and panicked.

Just before taking the gondola ride up to the peak, I had taken a much shorter lift up the beginner slopes. Once I started going downhill, I realized that I was going much faster than usual. The beautiful bright, sunny day I had complimented on so often was melting the snow and turning it to icy slush.

I skied sideways across the slope to reduce my speed, then I froze. I was afraid to turn because that meant I'd pick up speed going downhill again, so instead I kept going and lodged myself straight up a snow mound. My legs were stuck at an awkward angle that put stress on my knees. I couldn't move forward, shift my legs side to side, or even get the skis off. I was afraid if I went backwards I'd careen all the way down the mountainside.

I looked up and saw the Ichirino Resort staff were right up the hill, their backs turned as they manned the ski lift. I could have called out to them for help - but I didn't; I knew I had to do this. After a long while I slowly backed up, holding onto the snow and my ski sticks to keep from sliding back too fast. Slowly, slowly I was able to back myself off the steep angle and unstick my left leg to join my skis together again. I straightened up, gripped my sticks, and carried on.

I faced my fear, I told myself. When I climbed Hakusan, I gave up complaining. Now that I'm skiing Hakusan's foothills, I have to give up my fear.

So I took the gondola up to the peak, and found myself facing fear again over that narrow snow bridge. As soon as I finally stopped and avoided a crash, I surprised myself when I started sobbing. I was upset with myself because the panic had taken over my technical abilities - I'm sure I could have stopped sooner if I hadn't lost control in my mind first. Here I was surrounded on all sides by the white clouds and blue sky backdrop of snow-capped mountains, trying to calm myself down because I was afraid.

Once I had made it all the way back down the mountain and reached the main lodge, I took a break to think about what had happened. I had wanted to give up my fear, but in the face of it I didn't know how.

At the peak of Hakusan's foothills.

The more I contemplated the situation, the more I came to the conclusion that the trick was not to get myself to stop, but to accept I was going to keep going and control the flow instead. There are times when I can't stop, so I need to maneuver myself the safest way possible until I can slow down again. To control my speed I first had to control my panic.

I then saw this pattern in other areas of life beyond just skiing. When we feel time is going by fast, we all want to "pause" the moment and capture ourselves and our loved ones at this age and time; we are afraid of time passing on and changing us. Time is the slope, and each trip down is another day on this wild ride of life. We can't control that we're moving, but we can control which direction we're going in.

When we panic and try to hold on to something, we still won't stop; in fact, we may crash. I think the importance lies not in being able to control the slope, or even your abilities, but your mind. I was afraid of falling off the edge of the cliff and into oblivion. My fear blocked my mechanical know-how to stop - I was waiting for someone to step in and save me, but I had to save myself. And I was all right. I didn't fall off the mountain; in fact, I never fell once the entire day.

Later on, while I was waiting for the beginner's lift again, a little girl on skis in front of me started sliding backwards away from her parents. She only went a few inches back, but cried out for help and flailed around. When she couldn't propel herself forward again, she whined and threw her sticks down.

We get upset over what we can't control or don't yet understand. Gravity, friction, physics - doesn't true patience and wisdom come from the acceptance of what we can't control? It's letting go of fear and anger, and seeing how we can learn from the situation at hand; what we can direct our energy towards instead.

We all choose to go up the lift - to give life a new try every day. Sometimes the weather conditions are bad, we aren't outfitted properly, we have a cold that day - whatever it is, we still choose to go down that mountain, because for just a moment as we speed down, we feel like we're flying free.


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