Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exploring the Corridor of Possibility

I was in Deep Temerity with a client a few days ago. We'll call him John. We got committed, or as an instructor friend of mine would say, "hung".

John froze. He looked down at the terrain-- a steep bumpy funnel that emptied out into some trees for about ten turns-- that he now had to ski, wishing that wasn't the case.

I watched his energy leave his body, I watched him float right up into his head and get swamped by all the terrible "what if's".

This moment in skiing is probably more what my job is about than anything else. Teaching someone how to effectively use the ski in the snow is helpful, but you can't expect to do anything like that if you've left your body and are telling yourself stories about why it's unlikely that you will succeed.

"John, I know you wish that you didn't have to turn here. But wishing you didn't have to make this turn does not change the fact that you have to make this turn. Eventually, you are going to have to ask your body to do what you need to do-- to head down the hill and turn your skis under you," I told him. It was time for some tough love.

He nodded, quietly. He wasn't back in his boots yet, he was still staring, wide-eyed and spaced out, behind his goggles at all the trees he could hit if he messed this up.

Now, this is terrain that is appropriate for John, we've been in short pitches with similar conditions and obstacles. Today, it was time to explore a larger canvas and see how he handled himself.

Right now, he was hanging himself out to dry.

I thought about this place and what it felt like for me to be in steep, high-consequence terrain for the first time. Just beginning to realize that it was appropriate for me to ski something marked double black diamond. I remember standing at the top of Hidden in Bridger Bowl, a steep chute with rocky walls, and thinking about all the possible consequences. I could see myself getting into the backseat and rocketing out into the rock wall, gaining speed and missing the hairpin turn, loosing a ski and tumbling into the rocks, sliding to the bottom and landing on my face... The possibilities for failure were endless.

But none of that changed the fact that if I was going to ski down that thing, I had to concentrate only on the center of the chute, the Corridor of Possibility. The things that could go wrong had to fade into the sidelines, like people standing on the sidewalk as you drive by. The only thing to see, to think was the white space where my skis would turn.

The next most important thing was to make sure that I was asking my body to actively and happily make the movements that I had to make to ask the skis to come around. If I held back, if I skied worried, or defensive, or unsure, something would go wrong, and just like self-fulfilling destiny, into the rocks I'd go.

"John, what do you have to do to make just this turn?" He looked at me.

"Move forward."

"Okay. Do that. Just this turn. Just one turn. Let's get moving. The longer you stare at it, the steeper it gets. Stem if you need to, but ask your body to move down the hill. You gotta WANNA! Show me that you want to make this turn."

He looked at me. He moved his body down the hill, his skis came around. "Wanna" he said under his breath.

Over the course of the run, John got a bit freer, realized that he was able, he was moving. He stopped every ten bumps or so to recollect, and over the course of the run, we talked about intention, about what it was like in that moment of absolute fear to find the thing that you enjoyed about being here. Was it pride of accomplishment? Was it the sensation of your feet turning under you? Was it the one-out-of-every-ten bumps that you skied well that made you feel so excited? Was it suddenly realizing that you could actually ski somewhere you never contemplated you could go, let alone ski well?

He made it. We scooted out of there and onto the cat track, and headed down to the chair. On the way up, it occurred to me as John began to breathe again, as he lifted his goggles up and grinned a slightly teary grin at me, that the Corridor of Possibility is where I'd like to live every day.

John was looking off into the trees, telling me that he hoped he'd never loose this lesson, that he alone has the power to destroy himself or clear the path through to the end.

I feel that I'd like to live in the Corridor of Possibility not just in the snow, but in my life. To acknowledge the things that can pull me off my path, destroy me, challenge me. To see them and to let go of them. In acknowledging their presence I take my power back; they become objects along the way, not menaces poised to take me down. And suddenly, there is a Corridor, a Way Through, and I begin to flow.

3 comments:

Jongira said...

I'm particularly taken with your phrase "Corridor of Possibility"... did you invent that? (it's awesome). Thanks for sharing. - J

Kate Howe said...

i did! thanks, i'm glad you like it. i'm amazed at how many emails i've gotten on this post!

Windy said...

This corridor of possibility is everywhere. I am just happy for the guy that you helped him realize how deep he could reach to make it happen. That is a huge moment. You are really turning into way more than an instructor - you are a kind of therapist. I can really relate. GOOD for you.