Falling Down The Mountain

A parable for embracing conflict

“See, what you want to do is fall down the mountain”.

Standing there with 12,000 feet between me and sea level, on a snow covered peak towering over the mountain village below me, the one thing I was sure I did not want to do was fall, whether down the mountain or back on my butt or anywhere else.

But that was exactly what my instructor was telling me I had to do if I wanted to join the ranks of the unbounded, the exhilarated, the fast and the free. If I wanted to learn how to ski, in other words, I had one simple decision to make…to fall, or not to fall.

I was doubtful. “You have to be joking”, I said to my patient ski instructor. “I’ve put a lot of effort during my life into avoiding falling, you know, standing up, remaining vertical, that kind of thing. Why would I want to intentionally fall down this perfectly good and deeply terrifying mountain side?”

“Well”, he replied earnestly, “it’s all about where you want to end up and how you hope to feel about it when you get there. The base area, way down there, is where you want to get to. Now, you could get back on the chair lift and enjoy the view while you’re carried to the bottom in relative comfort and safety and boredom, and forget all about this skiing nonsense. Or you could let me show you how to find a fall line down the slope and lean into it, let gravity be your friend instead of fighting it, and get to the bottom with your heart pounding and a big grin on your face, ready to go up and do it again. Your choice.”

I realized that he was completely serious, and took a minute to consider the pros and cons. In favor of this “falling down the mountain” theory was the potential for having a new and really fun experience that I’d never had before, one that so many people I knew had enthusiastically told me I just had to try. But I had imagined myself flying down the mountain, not falling, with the trees and squirrels and slow-poke tourists flashing by me and a slightly crazed “yeeeee-haaaaaaaaa” erupting from my throat. But on the other hand…visions of helicopter lifts and emergency rooms flashed before my eyes.

“How do I know I won’t go ass over elbows and end up, bruised and battered, in that snow bank down there while my skis finish the trip without me?”

My instructor, who had been smiling affably since the moment I had met him down on the bunny slope (eons ago, it seemed), now broke into the widest toothiest grin I had ever seen on a human face.

“You don’t!” he said happily.

“Look at it this way…gravity is a thing we deal with every day. Like any natural force, like fire or water, we need it and couldn’t function without it, and it’s also dangerous and can do us harm. We avoid the danger, not by avoiding water and fire and gravity, but by meeting them on their terms, getting to know them and learning to work with them as what they are. We dance with them, and the energy of the dance shows up as something new and possibly wonderful, like maybe a stronger and healthier body and a more positive sense of your self, or maybe a new career as a world class ski racer. You never know.

“So what I’m trying to say is that you’re not really here to learn to ski. You’re here to learn how to dance with gravity.”

I thought about that for a minute, looking down the slope at the forest of tall evergreens intersected with twisting white trails, the sun bouncing off the snow field and glistening like it was full of diamond dust, and the people in brightly-colored ski outfits or jeans and down jackets, gliding and laughing and falling and laughing and getting up.

“OK”, I said, pointing my ski tips toward the base village far below us, “teach me to dance”. And quietly, under my breath and just for me, I whispered…”yee-haa!”

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