Choosing a Line

Due to a freakish lack of snow in the Rockies this year, I only recently sneaked in a couple of days of skiing. It was probably a mistake not to go sooner and more often because many of the dramatic breakthroughs in my career have happened while I was on the slopes. My first invitation to appear on the Oprah show came after a producer called asking about stress reduction tips and I told her she’d have to catch me later since I was skiing. All the other experts she had called were frantically sending her emails, personal letters, gifts, and candy grams. Of the twenty people she spoke to, she told me later, I was the only one who had not added to her stress levels. (She called while I was in deep play—coincidentally a very effective method of stress reduction.) It was the first of many tiny career miracles that would happen while I was frolicking in the snow. 
In addition to releasing all thoughts of grasping and anxiety—which is the catalyst for the material creation of our fantasies and desires—skiing is one big metaphor for how to live a joyful life. It feels slightly dangerous and, at the moment of most danger when the skis begin to accelerate and the feeling in one’s body is very unfamiliar, the way to save yourself is to abandon all reason and throw yourself down the mountain. Each time you do this, in what feels like a moment of magic, the physics of gravity, snow, and ski combine to swing you back into safety right before you thought all was lost.
Skiing is a great teacher for taking risks, but that was not my lesson on this most recent trip. What I learned about this time is what I call “choosing a line.” When you stand at the top of a difficult run, it is best to push all thoughts of anxiety or potential catastrophe to the side and place your attention on the line through the obstacles that will require the least effort. This is the line you ski. If you get off line and find yourself in what feels like a bit of danger, I suggest utilizing the following instructions:  stop, step, stare, and start. Allow me to explain.
If life begins to overwhelm you, the first law of expert skiing is to stop. This is counterintuitive when the work is piled up to your nostrils and people (both inside and outside of your head) keep telling you that time is of the essence.  It doesn’t matter. Stop. Withdraw yourself mentally and physically from the frenzy if necessary. I mean, who has not hidden out in a lavatory stall just to take a breather? 
Once you are in a place of momentary peace, step out of the process. If your energy is overwhelmed and panicked, you absolutely cannot create a good result. Step aside. You can play “visiting Martian” or “omnipotent archangel” or “magical Zen master”—whatever it takes to make you realize that you are not the slave caught up in the task, but a witnessing presence, a spiritual being having a human experience. 
From this perspective, you stare the way a skier stares down a slope looking for the line of least effort. Here is the lesson I learned on my recent trip:  There is always the line. It is the line that a small stream of water would follow as it slips and turns its way down the mountain. When you ski it you proceed as effortlessly and as fearlessly as the water because you are in harmony with nature. Your nature is to follow the effortless line and, when you obey it, effort disappears and an amazed joy replaces it. This is not a miracle, as miracles are meant to defy nature—it is simply the way we were meant to exist. 
The reason this lesson came so forcefully to me on my first trip of the season is that during the summer my body had been refining the knowledge that it gained from last season’s adventures. I did not think my way toward the line of no effort, I just gazed until I felt the line. Your body mind knows better than your analytical mind how to choose your line through your next scary field of bumps. If you relax enough and allow the pictures to come into your mind without forcing them, you’ll realize that you have this test mastered even if you’ve never done it before. 
Once you feel the line, start again. Pour yourself into the line your body mind has chosen. Relax. Trust. Let the moments that used to be scary call forth a reaction of deeper relaxation and trust. As my favorite yogi John Parker recently told me, the body truth always goes ahead of the mind lie. When you are moving fast through dangerous territory, the mind lie is not only inaccurate but much too slow to be useful. Lead with the body truth. Stay with what is in your heart, not your brain. Follow directions from your gut, not a textbook. Let your body be as fluid as a falling cat that turns in the air because it is designed to land on its feet. 
So what is the frightening situation lying before you now? Whatever it is, stop. Step out. Stare at the problem, not with fear, but with the embodied understanding of how nature wants you to work. Then start again. This is the moment you’ll feel the ecstasy of being human and realize that it is the reason you even bothered to take this little vacation into dangerous territory, bitter weather, thin air, and fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. Ski on!

  1. rebecca @ altared spaces
    rebecca @ altared spaces says:

    I just got home from a day of skiing. How timely is your post! When I’m in the trees (and terrified!) your words are the best advice for finding the way down the hill. When I’m in a life tangle? They might just save me from running into a tree. 🙂

    I love the ski photo on this blog entry of mine. There’s something about a circle of skis that makes me very happy. So glad to know skiing brings you such joy.

  2. Amanda Fall
    Amanda Fall says:

    Tears in my eyes. At the end of a day where I’ve followed the line the whole way–ohh, I am not at all surprised to discover this gem of a post, but I am wholly grateful and feel bathed in grace. Thank you. Thank you.

    So many treasures in this, sparkling just when I needed them most (abandon all reason and throw yourself down the mountain; deep play; a spiritual being having a human existence; follow the joyful line). I’ll be printing this and pasting it where I can read as necessary. (And when I need even deeper grace, I’ll take your advice and go PLAY.)

    Thank you for shining your beautiful light so brightly. You illuminate my life on a regular basis.

  3. MommyTheorist
    MommyTheorist says:

    I haven’t yet had the pleasure of skiing, but similar life experience is gained from whitewater kayaking. This is a wonderful post and I shared it on Facebook, as well. Thanks for writing it!

  4. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    Thank you. I’ve been pushing through a difficult divorce after a 24 yr marriage, while being a full-time honors student at a well respected university (in addition to being in a rigorous scholar program aimed at grad school) and having never spoken an ill word to the husband who left me a year ago.

    For some reason, your post made me realize the extent of what I have been demanding of myself. No wonder my body is screaming in protest!

    I was going to use Spring Break to catch up on home improvement projects that will help me rent out rooms in my house, in order to be able to stay in the home I love.

    Now I will use the time to stop, step, and stare.

    I deeply appreciate the wake-up call.


  5. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I think I must ski exactly like you – this article describes perfectly how I approach a slope. But WOW, I had never thought of approaching all problems like a ski slope, from the place of knowing that the thrill and exhilaration of the run brings such a rush of joy, if only we can tip our skis over that first ledge and take the plunge. I can recall such vivid moments of elation while skiing, and this analogy will now help me face things that challenge me with the same attitude of willingness to face fears for the thrill of it. Thank you.

  6. Carol
    Carol says:

    Martha, I love you and I value your advice on so many things — but this quote cannot possibly be what you intended: “It is the line that a small stream of water would follow as it slips and turns its way down the mountain.”

    Water can’t take easy swoops across the width of the ski run, going a little uphill here & there, & deliberately choosing the most gentle slope available. For water, it’s find the steepest way down & head for the ocean!! The “best drainage” down the mountain is, by definition, the steepest, most dangerous way down the mountain.

    For us smart humans who can use our bodies to cruise uphill when it makes sense, it’s all about the best path, not the fastest path!!

  7. martina
    martina says:

    Beautiful, true insight. I love that following the line. I loved your description of the body-mind; the gut and heart part. I also loved Oprah-Chopra! Expecting Adam is one of the best books I have ever read. Bless you!

  8. Stacie Munsell Cannard
    Stacie Munsell Cannard says:

    Hi Martha,

    My daughter is Miranda (Elizabeth’s childhood friend). I am so excited to see the great work that you have done over the past several years. My friend was asking about a book recommendation and I directed her to your site. It looks like you have been busy since I last saw you, Karen and Lizzy. Much has happened since you wrote Expecting Adam. I hope you are all well. I am going to start reading the rest of your books and articles. Your positive outlook in life is so inspiring.
    Much love to all!

  9. Nancy Cluff
    Nancy Cluff says:

    Hello Martha. I just finished reading “Expecting Adam”.

    I don’t have much time to read, between job, family, and church, and some books languish beside my bed in a large, untidy heap.

    But “Expecting Adam” enticed me to open her again and again, and lured me into vicariously experiencing the magic in her pages. Your book makes me long for contact with myunseen angels. Thank-you for writing it.

  10. Jenni
    Jenni says:

    I’m learning how to find my way in the wild new world and the synchronicity of it all takes my breath away. Reading your posts and the chapters in the book come at exactly the right moment. Magic ;0) Thank you.

  11. Kent Julian
    Kent Julian says:

    Hi Martha!

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. Your words are very insightful and I deeply valued your advice. The comparison between skiing and battling life adversities makes sense a lot. It’s so logical that I enjoyed every word you wrote.

    There could be moments that we may feel as if life has gave the heaviest toll on our shoulders, and in this time the utilizing the stop, step, stare, and start instructions can be of great help. Thanks for these great reminders Martha. Keep up the good work and keep your posts coming! 🙂