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!