‘You need to walk towards your fears and be willing to go to new places to grow as a person and to uncover treasures that are awaiting you as a human being. To stay in the world you have always lived in is to stay small and timid' – Robin Sharma, Discover Your Destiny with the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – The 7 Stages of Awakening.
Subsequent to spending a year completely immersing myself in yoga after an intensive teacher training course in India, followed by getting my own classes up & running, and continuing to live the life of a ‘good' yogi I realised I was slightly losing touch with my old life, pastimes and friends, with the anti-social evening & weekend working hours which goes hand in hand with being self employed. Much as I was loving not having the 9 – 5 of the office there were still changes to my new life style which short of requesting an extra day of the week so I could still have a free evening to socialise I had had to give up. And so it was last year in July when my friends decided on a week's skiing to the Pyranees I opted to join them, one of the reasons being I wanted to spend more time with them, as well as always being up for something new and thinking skiing should be something experienced at least once in one’s life time.
My only previous experience was a couple of hours at Xscape ski centre in Milton Keynes a good few years ago. I am grateful to this time as if it had not been for this I may possibly have never plucked up the courage to venture onto the slopes for real all these years later. I remembered picking it up straight away and absolutely loving those two hours of skiing down a fake snow slope. I had been lucky enough not to fall over (or at least at the time I considered this to be lucky). Back then my health had not been so important to me and so with it came less fear. Now all these years later with the majority of my work depending on me being fit, and even more importantly my intense love for daily yoga I now had this fear at the back of my mind of having an accident & unable to do the things I loved most; however my memories were vivid of how much I'd loved those two hours and how safe I'd felt, so telling myself why should anything have changed all these years later when I booked the skiing trip with some friends. I was excited, however it was a long way off and I also had travelling around Thailand just before this to look forward to.
Somehow after the initial excitement, the six or so months since I'd booked my trip flew by with not much more thought given to the holiday, all my planning went into yoga & Thailand. If I'm honest at times I completely forgot about it. It was on returning from Thailand in February when my usual sadness of returning to good old Blighty kicked in and then suddenly it dawned on me I had another holiday to look forward to. Again this excitement seemed short lived. Life was manic (in a good way) on my return home, immersing myself back into work & yoga and up until a few days before when I realised I should start my packing not much thought had gone into my planned skiing trip. I hadn't even bought my ski goggles. Luckily a friend lent me some (Thank you Tom!). My ski trousers came from a holiday to Canada many years ago where I had planned to ski, however the ski slopes had been closed. So now my second chance to ski was beckoning.
So several months after booking a trip I'd virtually forgotten all about for the best part of those months, I find myself on a dark & cold Saturday night at Southend airport with my friends boarding a plane to Barcelona. After a day of travelling (it took 12 hours to get to the ski resort in Soldeu, Andorra) I was silently cursing to myself thinking I could have been back in Thailand in the same amount of time and if I'm honest wishing I was back there, on that beach, doing yoga, swimming in the sea, learning how if you take half an hour of yogic twists every day you eventually gain access to your akashic records (amongst all the other interesting facts I learnt on my stay). During the coach journey from Barcelona airport to the resort I lost all signal on my phone. I realised on arriving in Soldeu that I would have no signal (hence no phone for the entire week) I would be lying if I said panic hadn't set in. I honestly couldn't remember the last time I'd been without my phone for longer than a few hours. I consoled myself I was with 4 good friends and be in good company so would have to make do with internet cafes for my contact back to the rest of the world for the next week. The following day there turned out to be not a single internet cafe in the town so I was left with three businesses to run and no contact with anyone. I made a mental note to myself that I'd forget about everything until mid week when I'd get my emails up on a friends phone (only seemed to be my net work that was completely down!).
So the first morning dawned & we woke up to pretty snow scenes outside our cosy little apartment, after being fitted for snow boots & skis we made our way in the ski lifts ready for our first lesson. It was only when being elevated along in the ski lift I realised how beautiful everything was, as we zipped across to the mountain top. Once there my friend Tara taught me the basics of skiing, legs wide and snow plough was to be the order of the day for me, and well I loved it. Straight away on the nursery slopes I seemed to take off where I left off all those years ago in Milton Keynes. Just staying wide (legs wide, feet pigeon toed as I would say to my students in class!) so as not to fall over. At the back of my mind my fear seemed to be there – ‘You can't whatever you do fall over'!!! I had this irrational fear that if I fell over it would mean a broken leg, or broken back, or neck. However right from the beginning just like that day in Milton Keynes, this was fun, exciting, hair raising, I was loving it.
So I progressed from easy nursery slopes to slightly harder nursery slopes, all were fun. I'd thought at the beginning I'd be quite happy just sticking to these. However as I got ‘steadier' on my ski's I wanted more, I somehow wanted that fear, that adventure. I'd got through Day One not falling over once, this boosted my confidence. However on day two there were blizzards, it was cold, damn cold, today but I still wanted to get out on those slopes, we all did. I remember my first fall so clearly, I went over backwards on my butt, did it hurt? No! What did I do? I laughed. I was happy, so relieved. And why? Because I'd worried so much about falling expecting something terrible to happen, and when it did, well it was actually ok, I was ok! I just got up and carried on.
So now I'm thinking, well it's ok to fall over on my butt, but not to fall forwards, so what happens a few hours later – I fall over on my front! Again I feel relieved. I'm ok. What I've proved today is I can fall backwards, I can fall forwards and I'll be ok. It reminds me of life. I'm a natural worrier, I worry about really dumb things that usually never happen, and if they do they are never as bad as I expected, just like skiing. All the worrying had been for nothing. Yes, I've had friends fall over and had bad injuries (the cause I guess for my worrying) but that's not to say because bad stuff happens in the world, to other people it means the worst for me too.
Now there is one other thing here that I feel has helped me on my skiing journey so far. That is a huge synchronicity in the form of a book ‘Discover Your Destiny with the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – The 7 Stages of Awakening' by Robin Sharma. I'd acquired this book approximately a year before at a car boot sale thinking it looked ‘my type of book', I acquired it along with 10 or so others that morning and had left it to gather dust in my bookcase with about 50 others (yes I'm a book hoarder with the intention of reading all of them one day, and believe me I really really do want to read all those wonderful books when I get a chance) On average I read a book a month, and at the last minute I just pulled a book out of my book case to read on the plane. It was the evening of Day One when I read this quote –
‘You need to walk towards your fears and be willing to go to new places to grow as a person and to uncover treasures that are awaiting you as a human being. To stay in the world you have always lived in is to stay small and timid'. How true did this ring to my current daily activities. This one quote drove me on through the rest of the holiday.
By the third day the snow had turned to ice in places, this was the scariest day yet. I had to learn to slow down. Slowing down. I will get to that too. Now on to the ice. I started to avoid it, however I knew to improve I had to conquer the ice, I saw others do it so knew it was possible. And so wondering if I'm completely mad, stupid or both I ski towards the ice, I'm skiing into fear. I survived. I went too fast, and at times felt out of control, but I survived. Each time I took to that icy slope that day I skied time and time again into that ice, into my fear. Until it was a fear no more. Another of my avoidances had been people, I was skiing to avoid bumping into people! Waiting until the slope was clear to run my turn! Now I'd kept an eye on those long Blue runs to the bottom of the mountain (where Tara had told me I'd be skiing down by the end of the week!) and I realised there were a lot of people, so knew I couldn't avoid them there, so where better to practice than on this icy nursery slope, so here I am on Day 3 skiing on the icy patches and now skiing amongst people, and kids, kids – argh – now they are scary, they whizz past on snow boards and seem to have no fear, it's only me with the fear!
The fear I didn't have when I was their age, or even ten years ago on that slope in Milton Keynes! Slowly with age fear creeps into us. I notice this, how these kids are amazing and have no fear, just rattling down the slopes with no cares about tomorrow. It gets to the end of the day and I have overcome a good few fears in the last couple of days, of falling over, either backwards or forwards, of ice and of kids and people on the slopes. It all so reminds me of life, how when we have a fear the best thing we can do is move into that fear until it is a fear no more. Today has been some kind of self spiritual counselling session, something much more than I'd expected on these amazing mountains. In the back of my mind the whole time is the quote from dear old friend Robin & his book.
It's now the evening of Day 3, I'd promised myself to check my emails on a friend's phone, however shock horror, my email account blocks me from logging on as I can't verify my password by my phone (as I have no phone either!) Inside my mind I start to freak. The last few days have been amazing and I'd been surprisingly fine without any contact with the outside world other than my 4 friends, my book and my skis! But now the thought of still not having any contact for the entire week wasn't the best feeling in the world. I knew I was being irrational, it could all wait until I arrived back home. My world of work wasn't going to disappear overnight just because I didn't reply to people. If I was honest I knew it was all just a habit, a bad habit of relying on the internet and a mobile phone way too much. They were some kind of electronic comfort blanket to me. I did the following day manage to log into my personal email account, on accessing it, I wondered why I'd been so distraught, there really wasn't much there to see, nothing as exciting as my current life in the mountains! After this I completely managed to drop any worries and can honestly say I relaxed for the majority of that week having virtually no net or phone access.
I also became aware that for the entire time I was on those slopes I was completely in the present moment. For our lunch breaks and over dinner, most of the conversation was over our skiing successes and highs of the day (there were no lows!). This was something I'd been trying to accomplish the last year or so of my life, through meditation and yoga, and if I'm honest the majority of the time with no success. Only every now and then, usually during bikram & kundalini I could manage that present moment feeling, it was bliss on those occasions it happened. Through meditation especially even though I practise every day my crazy monkey mind refuses to hush. Somehow for the 6 or 7 hours a day I'm on those slopes I am 100% in the present moment. I feel amazing. I sleep like a baby at night. I am completely at peace. However I've found this by doing something I never could have imagined could have given me this bliss, this peace.
Whilst going back to my yoga & meditation practice, day one and day two I'd unrolled my mat at the end of each day and done something, I taught my friends yoga, one of my friends taught me ballet, we had fun, something I'd not had much time for over the last year. I was in the present moment and having fun and loving every minute of it. By Day 3 my mat stayed rolled up until it arrived back in Blighty. Skiing had over taken my love of yoga, I didn't miss it once, much preferring to get out on the slopes and ski. Over the past few years having given up my 9 – 5 for yoga and it being a serious (but healthy!) addiction I couldn't quite believe this had happened! I didn't think about it too much, I just lived as I say in the present, enjoying the moment, the beauty of the mountains, the ice, the people.
Day 4 came and it was time for the Blue slopes – this means skiing from top to bottom of the mountain on a proper run. I still had one thing left to conquer – my speed. I felt I skied too fast, and sometimes I didn't feel in control, I felt I fluked a lot of the slopes, maybe someone up there was looking out for me, I've had enough near misses in life to be pretty damn sure that yes, there is someone out there looking out for me. The one thing I did keep up daily from my yoga is the Adi protection mantra, which is from kundalini and is said to protect you, usually chanted at the beginning of class, I made sure i chanted this (silently!) on entering the slopes each morning, I truly believe in this mantra and it keeping me safe. Coming back to the speed, my speed. I have always taken to doing everything too fast, talking too fast, thinking too fast, getting through life too fast. I took up yoga as it slightly, only slightly I might add! slowed me down ‘at times' I have accepted I'm always going to be one of those fast people, however I still use my time on my mat to slow down to give myself & my brain a break. I also absolutely love meditating and so compared to my old life I have slowed down, however my mind seems to still run into overdrive far more than I think it should! So here I am again going faster than I think I should, I want to slow down as I know it's safer, but at the same time I love the speed, the adrenalin rush, there's nothing like it. BUT I need to learn to slow down, the next few days are spent doing just that, teaching myself to slow down, to learn technique rather than just hoping for the best!
By the end of the holiday I felt I had learnt to slow down, not as much as I'd have liked, but to have some control, again like life, if we slow down we have more control. I also lived for the majority of that week (apart from a few hours of bleeps over the lack of internet & phone!) completely in the present moment. I'd skied into my fears, the ice, the people, the speed and managed to overcome them. I compare it all to life. If we face our fears we overcome them. For this very reason I see skiing as the most spiritual thing to date I've done. In some ways more spiritual than all the yoga & meditation I've practiced, I'm very sad on the last day when we all return our skiis to the hire shop knowing that's it for another year. I'd thought this would just be a one off, something I'd do just once, however already cannot wait to be back on those slopes next year.
On returning home my yoga practice picked up where it left off, skiing was a week's romance, an awesome, amazing romance and one I learnt a lot from and I hope to have that same romance again next year. Yoga is that weird thing I married that day I started my teacher training,which I left my 9 – 5 for, through good and bad, for richer, for poorer I chose yoga & I know it will be a marriage for life. I'm sure being as yoga has no ego it won't mind my cheeky romance with skiing every now and then, and as they say absence makes the heart grow fonder and I did find I enjoyed it more on return for that time away!
I also unfortunately picked my phone and internet habit back up on arrival at the airport (funnily enough the first time it rang I cursed it – I somehow sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight was not ready to chat about clothes stock right away!) but that week away taught me about bad habits and how we rely on stuff we have no need for. Most people give these things up on monastery retreats I’ve in the past considered going on, however up until now I’ve never quite got around to it (or maybe felt I was ready for it) I guess I just swapped sitting in a room or being at the top of a mountain meditating for skiing down a mountain on my own! All else remains the same concept.
I also finished my book – the monk who sold his ferrari, the 7 stages of awakening. The book requested we take some small part and pass it on to others, I like to think I have done this here. For anyone going on a skiing holiday for the first time then I thoroughly recommend this book, I'm sure Robin Sharma had no idea on writing it, it would help me become a competent skier (I will also thank my friend, Tara here for the skiing lessons!). I also felt more spiritually aware more than on a lot of courses I've taken, so my end note is spirituality can be found anywhere and like life when you're not looking for something it has a habit of just generally appearing in our lives!