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Jun 2015

Greetings yoga friends -

I haven't been doing that much climbing of late.

Actually, what I have been doing of late is trying to quit climbing - to step into something new, something that connects to another part of myself. Unclear what that part is, mysterious even, yet compelling to explore. 

In this journey, I have been plunging into learning Tango - this most intimate, most formal, most creative and romantic dance. Still physical, but more about abundance. Still heart-clenchingly challenging at times, but with less actual risk. 

So it was with a sense of irony that I found myself once again climbing - leading the team I had trained in the Mazamas Basic Education Program this year - on an ascent of Rooster Rock, that dramatic local pillar perched next to I-84 on the entryway to the Columbia Gorge. And, of course, found myself delighted to share a beautiful day and this surprising-to-the-first-timer adventure in our back yard. I was buoyed by their enthusiasm as they applied newly created skills. But then, once I was alone on the steep pitch, just a thin cord attaching me to the fixed climbing rope, I suddenly woke up from this nostalgic pleasure to the 100 foot drop below my feet. To the once-again-familiar pit-of-the-stomach queasiness of fear. Primal fear, biting-at-the-heels fear. 

And my response was the same as always, but the awareness was new.

I responded in the way that I have learned. Indeed, over a couple of decades of rock climbing, the way I have trained my mind. To go into my brain. My conscious thoughts. To recheck my already reviewed safety systems. To tell myself that I would soon, once again, be past this moment. Be safe on the summit, and after that on the ground itself. Plenty of time later to absorb this experience, this exposure, this incredible view and the immediacy that pulsed through my body.

And something made me pause. With a different kind of heart-sinking feeling, not fear but rather a realization that I was, in a way, betraying my spiritual path, I realized how much I was distancing myself from my own life. Oh yes, mentally present. Consciously aware. But that vibrant kick of emotion in my gut? Oh no, that was being squeezed out of my awareness.

Even in that moment I realized how I didn't want to transfer this skill of distancing into Tango. Of course on the dance floor my life is not at risk, but the roller coaster of emotions is real - when I ask a graciously delightful woman to dance and then get the sequence of steps wrong, stomp on her foot, freeze and suddenly wish that the song would end... Gripped to my little ledge, space below me, I suddenly knew that I didn't want to cope this way in any parts of my life. I want to mess up and feel it. I want to be struck by the roiling in my chest. And then touch into the intimate connection and feel that too.

In those moments of pause, not so much frozen by fear as crushed by this humbling insight, I confessed to myself how much my yoga practice has often been like this. Present, that I wasn't thinking about lunch, or distracted by the sound outside the studio. But was I really alive to my own feelings? Present to the heart, to the groin, to the sadness or joy that I was feeling?

What would it be like to feel all the parts of my self - not reflected on later, but in the present moment? 

I sometimes say in class, after a frustratingly wobbly first side of a standing balance pose, "Good news - we get a fresh start on the second side". 


I started moving upwards, sliding the attachment cord up the rope ahead of me, climbing into this next part of my life...

Namaste - Eugene