On yesterday’s Chinese New Year of the Ox (my native zodiac), day thirty of skiing this Winter season, while protected and overseen by Ullr, the Norse God of Snow, I hit a milestone on my journey with fear. The fear I’m referring to has to do with heights associated with being on edges like riding chair lifts and skiing down mountain runs. The milestone was going down a Black Diamond run for the very first time and having fun doing it.
For anyone new to skiing, as I was, ski slope colors refer to the steepness of the gradient and the level of difficulty. Green is Beginner, Blue is Intermediate, and Black is Expert. That said, there are many levels in between and these are very loose terms in my opinion, as I see people of all levels on various runs. Also, you don’t have to be what you think might be considered an “expert” to go on a Black Diamond run. You simply, in my opinion, need to have courage, but indeed you need to have some level of skill to safely get down, especially in terms of turning and being in control. “Double” of any color means more challenging…for instance a Double Green is more like a Blue or Intermediate with more steepness, and so on. I find also that every ski resort has different ideas about what they think each level is and where you might not feel comfortable on some in one resort, on others you would. So you need to ask questions to the staff and explore for yourself. Also, I find some Green runs at resorts to mostly be cat tracks – paths used to move around the mountain, rather than actual runs. I tend to not like these and don’t consider them really great for learning to ski because they are narrow and don’t really allow for turns and practice. And if conditions aren’t great, they can be icy too. That said, they ARE sometimes the only way down the mountain so are necessary to be familiar with.
If I had to label my level of skiing I’d say I’m at the beginning end of Intermediate. However, I like how Jeffrey Weidel breaks down the three main color-coded levels further into nine levels, which speaks to me more. According to his breakdown, I’m at Level 4, edging ever-so slowly into Level 5.
But these are just ways of understanding categories and to give you a little understanding of things in reference to the main theme here – working with fear.
So, back to that milestone I hit yesterday, which to me isn’t just about a fear of heights and edges, but spoke to my making friends with fear in general and how I have been teaching myself to navigate it on my own terms.
As I mentioned in my last blog, “my skiing approach is one of enjoyment, not achievement.” And this has been the key for me in how to reprogram fear, no matter what the fear involves.
It’s also about honoring my needs and supporting that.
Rather than take something I’m afraid of and try to make it a system of how to progress to achieve a certain level or status, I’ve made it purely fun without any agenda, and my learning to be something I’ve decided to be my own coach of so that I can provide the kind of nurturing and motivation I know speaks to my inner little girl – a marriage of the wise adult and the innocent child. I become my own parent or instructor based on the knowledge of my fears and how I can engage them to feel safe and join me, rather than want to run away.
That doesn’t mean that getting a good ski instructor isn’t a good idea. Ski instructors are great no matter what level you’re at, to help refresh or take you to new levels. However, I’ve found that for me at this point, my own coaching is most nurturing, as part of the repatterning I am doing has to do with my approach to things. So, having someone overseeing and controlling that right now isn’t helpful. I have had a few instructors in the past and retained the basics from them, but I also learned from those experiences that this is the more supportive approach right now for me. I also learned a lot more by skiing with Dave and what he’s shown me. He’s an amazing skier. So with the basics, I’ve been able to formulate my process intuitively and gently support growth.
You see, in the past I learned to “perform” and in many cases push through something with an old “race horse” mentality that quite literally was engrained within my soul history from lives as just that. It wasn’t about how I felt, but what I felt I needed to do – in many cases being for someone else and not myself. It was that old “suck it up” and dishonor what your feelings and process are, in place of what you are either told you should do, or is driven only by achieving.
I began to slowly reprogram that approach nearly 15 years ago, upon discovering it, but skiing has been the best gauge of change with this for me and the biggest leaps of progress from my work have come in the last few years. And this year, when the opportunity came from this Winter immersion adventure we’ve been on, I’ve been able to really bear witness to my process because of having so many consecutive days of skiing.
The most I’d ever skied in a season, previous to now, was sixteen days. The last two years sixteen days was my max and previous to that in the first years of my starting at this I had only skied a handful of days each season. Not enough to really shift a pattern. And with thirty days under my belt this year, it’s provided that consistent focus and commitment I believe anything takes if you really want to change something. I still have another fifteen possible days to add to this for 2021. So this year really is monumental for supporting transformation.
Without going into all of the details of how I’ve been retraining myself, my basic approach is to honor my feelings, consistently repeat runs over and over and over in a flowing way at levels I feel comfortable with that have a slight stretch to them (in this way making them feel more natural to me and giving me lots of repetitive practice), taking my time, enjoying nature all around me, staying ultra present, talking gently to myself and even giggling the whole way to help make adjustments where needed and to keep things light, pausing to take it all in, and celebrating the moments.
I explore different little off-sections of trails to introduce change so that I can feel the unknown a bit, but at my own choice. And when there’s a slightly more challenging run connected to my path, I will slowly introduce it by trying it once in between my runs. Even if I don’t do it again, it’s my way of stretching into the new space to support growth. Usually what I find is that when I do that, I actually return to my usual run with greater ease, skill and confidence. And if I feel like something isn’t going right or I don’t like the runs or conditions, I will not push anything. I do only what I feel safe and comfortable with, then stop.
Since skiing doesn’t come natural to me, being that I didn’t grow up doing it and don’t have any muscle memory, as they say, for it, I am having to create that now.
But the key in all of this is enjoying the process. If it’s not fun, then it becomes work and feels like the old way of force.
This is why I will also stop along the way to take in sights I see, explore, notice the details of the terrain and little fun things like the Gnomes you saw in my last post.
And yesterday was proof that my confidence and relationship to fear had shifted hugely when I decided to try the Black Diamond run.
There was build-up to this, as several days ago we were skiing at this same resort and I overhead some guys telling their girlfriend that the Black Diamond run next to where I was skiing was considered an “easy” Black run. Normally that wouldn’t get my attention, as I would have a huge block to Black. And many times I have the same block to a lot of the Blue runs too. So, I spent my day observing the Black run they mentioned while I rode up the ski lift because I could see the whole thing from that vantage point. I kept taking in the pitch of the slope, watched people ski down it at various levels including my own, and mentally was processing it.
I told Dave about it after we left the resort that day and that I was curious about trying it, but didn’t want to do it alone if I did. I never like to be on something steep by myself in case I fall.
On Friday we were actually supposed to go to a different resort – you have to make reservations with Covid – but due to snowy weather and the longer drive to that resort we decided to cancel and go back to the place that had the curious Black Diamond run and where Ullr, the Norse God of Snow directs his guardian aim because it was closer.
After skiing the runs I practice on for a bit, I asked Dave to try the Black run and tell me what he thought. He did and I remained curious. I didn’t feel a block or a huge “no” in me, but continued to have curiosity and felt like it was a good chance to try something more difficult. I felt that there was reason I had overhead the other people mention it, as if I hadn’t heard that I wouldn’t have thought it possible. And the only reason I was curious was because they said it was an easy Black Diamond, which Dave confirmed. Plus, I obviously had built up courage from all of my consistent practice.
That said, I still knew I was in for some steep terrain. However, I’ve been practicing like heck and feel confident with my control and turns even if not done like a graceful swan. I also had just gotten my skis tuned up and they felt better than ever to carve those turns.
So, I went for it. On my own accord. It wasn’t anyone else’s idea. I wasn’t forced. I chose it and was curious about it. Curiosity invites wonder and innocence to stay with us and softens the seriousness or feeling of pressure.
And off I went, with Dave staying with me to the side just in case.
In the past I would have froze, cried, stopped and took my skis off and walked down, or perhaps even fallen.
None of these happened and in fact I saw how both my practice had supported my ability to make slow, in control turns and my consistency and fun approach took the edge off of fear.
I still felt my heart beat, but I knew I could do it and I did. I was in control of my experience.
It was a huge celebration of what for me was monumental in experiencing the shift that had taken place.
I returned to the run I was doing before it and I saw how much better and even quicker I was getting down, after stretching my curiosity on the Black Diamond run.
I celebrated my milestone and Dave did too.
This is a post about possibility.
That you can learn anything at any age – I’ll be 48 in just a couple of weeks and didn’t start to really ski until my 40’s.
That you can move through any fear – my fear of heights is not little, but I’ve learned to find ways to walk hand-in-hand with it, rather than push it away or avoid it.