Thursday, June 6, 2013

Balance is found right on the edge of risk.

Today, I was in class, and I was working on balancing my body up on my hands in this ridiculous posture, bhudjipidasana. Dylan, the teacher, is helping me progress from the first step to the second step. The lovely thing about this posture is that while it takes strength to stay up there on your hands, the posture is more about balance as you move from one position to another.

Step one. Get your knees behind your shoulders and hook your feet and get them off the floor. 

Step two: Lift and hook your feet. (Damn this woman can LIFT!)
Step Three: Thread your feet through and roll forward so your head, chin or nose is just hovering. 
Today, as I was not quite floating up there on my hands with my feet hooked in front of me attempting to rotate forward slowly and in control, I fell down on my butt. Dylan came over and offered some sage advice.

"If you are falling down backwards, you probably aren't far enough forward to get your head on the floor." True, true. 

Then he said this gem, and I chewed on it for the rest of class. "Balance often exists at the edge of risk." or something like that, forgive me, I am paraphrasing. "In our New Age society, we often make the mistake of thinking we will find balance through some puritanistic behavior. Actually, balance rarely occurs without some degree of risk. You probably know this well, Kate."

Suddenly I'm thinking of the peace of mind I find when I'm on the edge of risk. So many people think that it is an endorphin rush, the sense of fear that keeps us coming back to the "edge". But that's not what I look for. That's not why I love riding my bike on technical terrain or climbing or skiing something steep... I love it because there is a moment where you chose to commit to the risky prospect, and after you are in, past the commitment point, and there is no turning back, your job is to simply be present in the most profound way. 

To feel your body and the earth beneath you and respond, with mindful balance, staying in that beautiful, tenuous place between complete disaster and total freedom. 

You can experience it standing on one foot, you can experience is walking on a slack line, you can experience it riding across a bridge, and dance and in yoga... 

I remember riding my bike down the biggest rock garden I've ever been in, and knowing that the consequences of falling, even though I was completely and totally covered in big hard core DH armor would be severe. Kurt was riding with me at Keystone that day, and he was already through. I didn't have the option of following his line, and in a rock garden like that you are reacting in the moment so much that if you TRY to follow someone else's' line, you are not in your own body, or in your own practice as it were.

One of those moments of bliss. This is me floating in silence over the insanity in Crested Butte, Colorado last year.
I remember realizing that the rocks were huge, and that I knew I needed to keep my speed up because the wheels won't roll over the huge rocks unless they are at a certain speed. I remember lifting my gaze and breathing out, and feeling the bike underneath me like an animal, like a snake moving fluidly and willingly over every single obstacle in its path. I could feel my hind feet and my front feet, like I do in yoga, I was hovering over the bike and it was coming into my body and dropping away, moving like a possessed rocking horse underneath me. The idea of consequence fell away. The idea of protecting myself fell away. There was only the sticky tires finding their way across the rocks and my body asking the bike to go this way and responding when it went another way. 

It was a slow motion conversation, and I was reminded about skiing steeps, or slack-lining across the freezing cold pond. When the terrain gets aggressive, you don't need to add aggression. There is enough Pita going on. You need to live in awareness and touch in that moment, moving with the earth not fighting it, not adding anything extra or unnecessary. 

I remember rolling out the bottom of that rock garden and looking up at Kurt's grinning face. "How you doing?" he asked. 

"Did not die." I answered, looking in awe at the ground I had just covered, and at my bike, and at my own body, and finally at my mind, able for some reason to stay calm and present and balanced on the journey. A huge wave of giddiness hit me. I was really grateful that it hadn't hit me while I was riding. I liked the peace during the journey more than the exuberance after. 

In these moments there is this magnificent feeling of freedom. Its just about your body, for me, its not about aggression or about achievement or about winning... it is about the moment where I choose to risk, but in an intelligent, informed way, because I believe I am ready. And the moment where I step across and over my fear, and hold it gently in my hand, and feel it sometimes pressing all around me, but my breath, calm and steady and sure, holds it away and off of my body. And the moment where time is suspended because there is nothing but the breath and the movement, no time before the decision was made and no time existing after in possible consequence. 

I believe that this risk exists in all forms. For some people, feeling, expressing and receiving love is that same moment of intense risk. Theses people can ski or ride the gnarliest terrain, but feeling their heart beating true for someone else is full of more consequence and fear than riding a rock garden with no armor. Finding balance, finding sensation in that moment of fear, breathing out and looking in the eyes of your love and laying down your fear and exposing your vulnerable heart can be as thrilling, and as challenging.

There is a moment of risk. And just on the other side of that measured risk is a moment of balance. And in that balance, freedom stretches endlessly in both directions.

Below, one of the deepest expressions of risk and balance and beauty I've seen. Enjoy!


4 comments:

monique said...

Out of curiosity, was the Keystone rock garden on Cowboy Up? I have stared at it many times, but I've never seen anything even resembling a line down it!

Kate Howe said...

Hi, Monique! It was, indeed, on Cowboy Up. It was so long and so gnarly! I couldn't see a line at all, I was just trying to keep rolling!!

monique said...

That's impressive! Those rocks look so pointy and huge, and there are so many of them! Maybe some day, I'll think "maybe ..." instead of "I can't even imagine that!"

Snow Blowers said...

That is something. It reminds me of the old saying "biggest risk in life is not taking one".