Living Alive
Living Alive
six days of magic and transformation in the Grand Canyon

Living Alive

chapter excerpt

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            As the girls fumble about struggling to set up their tent, Michael and I unchivalrously make our exit.  My legs are sore enough to be a bother. The ever unpleasant aroma of mule urine greets us as we pass the corral.  We find the trail with a little trouble.  Once we start to move, I feel better.  Michael tells me he feels great, and now, so do I!  The signpost at the head reads:  Plateau Point 1.5 ml.  The heat of the day is gone as shadows wax and afternoon wanes. 

            I’ve never seen this place.  This trail is different from Bright Angel.  It meanders up and down mild grades through fascinating zones of exposed geology.  Layers of copper and sandstone shine from the eroded ledges of the trail.  The vegetation changes as we walk.  Purple cactus gradually dominates a landscape that was just covered with sedges and grasses.  A brown shape puts its head up---a deer, then suddenly three of them!  They graze oblivious of us about ten feet away. 

            As we hike further onto the plateau, the cliffs begin to embrace us, closer and closer.  Snow-capped walls of the north rim, far off in the distance, seem like another world.

            While at the campground, I longed for the pure magical energy I remembered from two years ago.  I feel it now.  Its coursing through my entire being.  Michael's eyes are aglow.  He is basking in the energy as well.

            My soul takes flight.

            Three people are running towards us.  As they pass I see that they are the campers from Outward Bound.  They jog by steadily in the fire of the runners high.  Though breathing heavily, they grin in passing.    

            Soon we can hear the river storming below.  Then after a few more steps, is a sight which cannot be described with words.  Natural power and sublime beauty crash through my senses.  My heart beats wildly with exhilaration.

            As if a giant has cloven the land with his hand, an enormous fissure yawns before us.  The world falls away into an emptiness of air and space at the sudden end of the plateau.   Across the gap is the North side, a mile away.  As my eyes move downward to see the river, vibrant horizontal striations devolve into basic but no less beautiful solid igneous rock. 

In the bowels of the earth, thousands of feet straight down flows the river, dark with earth and thunderous turbulence.  White-caps top many of the waves, some from crashing into rocks others from the sheer volume.  My jaw drops of its own accord.  Michael gasps.

            He moves to the edge without fear.    He stares down over the edge wearing a smile of pure joy, while ridiculously his toes stick over the cliff.  He looks back, asking me to join him with his eyes.  As I move to do so, my steps become tentative as fear vice-grips my heart.  I am overwhelmed.  The river's roar and the magnificently terrifying sight before me sends my mind screaming inward.

            I imagine Michael or myself falling over the edge.  In my mind’s eye, I watch as the cliff slides out from beneath us, or as I trip on a stone or the strong wind gusts  to lift me from my feet for an instant.  Then, I tumble through the nothingness over and over.

            Death awaits.

            Would I close my eyes and surrender or try, against all probability to glide along the wind currents like a skydiver, so to hit the river rather than the totally unyielding stone? It’d be fun.  Not that it would matter. 

            Michael sits.  He stretches his legs out across the boundary.  He incongruously lights a cigarette.  My feet refuse to bring me to the edge.  I get within three feet then must sit.   I attempt a conscious choice to surrender my fear.  I can't because I don’t want to.  Terror dwarfs the spectacle.  It would be so easy to fall off.  I can almost feel something pushing.

            Fear annihilates the grandeur in my mind.   I walk away.  I stop about twenty feet back, mad at myself.  I should have been able to go to the edge.  That movement would be potential danger but not true danger. 

            It’s doubtful that I or Michael would fall off - as long as we don't do anything really stupid.  In fact, it would take an act of God to send us off.  The cliff which has stood for millions of years would have to choose this-precise-moment to crumble.  My feet would have to become ridiculously clumsy, despite care I place with each step. 

            I’m ready now. I make the conscious willful choice.  In my mind, I bring together my bodily self, my rational mind, and my higher consciousness.  With eyes closed I speak the words, "At this moment I choose to eliminate the fear from my consciousness and surrender my fate to the Universe." 

            I create an image of what I want and tell the different parts of me to do it.  I visualize fearlessness of posture, a still heart and the kinesthetic sense of peace.  As I have never done this before, I trust my intuition.  But somehow, I know how.  This is a beautiful synthesis of intuition and disciplines from different periods in my life, coming together. 

            I stand.

            Focus on my breath.  It slows and deepens.  I straighten my spine, bring my legs together and hips forward.  My head moves back, opening my throat.  I can see everything.  As I inhale deeply, I raise my arms away from my body to the side and above my head.  My hands join there in a concentration pose.  I interlace my fingers in a formation where my index fingers steeple and the rest of my fingers drop at increasing angles towards the back of my hands like a sun salutation yoga pose. When the hands descend to the level of my eyes, I exhale forcefully but with control.  My arms continue downward until they rest at the level of my heart.

            I concentrate on nothing.  My mind clears.  I breathe and am.  After time, I am ready. With a visceral visualization in which I see it and feel it happen at the same time, I surrender the fear.  It builds like an orgasm and departs with a shudder.

            'If I am to die while I live then that is the will of God.'

            Clarity and silence.  I open my eyes.  With my higher consciousness blazing in my being, I walk to the edge of the Earth.  Michael sits to my right but I don't pay him attention. 

            I bring my toes beyond the edge of the cliff I could not approach a few minutes ago and look straight down without the barest flicker of fear in my heart. 

            I realize then, that all my fears are like this fear of falling.  I fear failure, ridicule, loneliness, poverty, and death.  At this moment, a torrent of truth comes to me. 

            These fears have no reality save that which I choose to give them. 

            An image of myself as a writer, my greatest dream, enters my mind.  What has held me back from completing or even beginning my great ideas?  An answer of wordless truth replies that it is fear of failure and lack of confidence.  I know I have a gift, yet my fear holds me away.  The lie of fear protecting me - keeping me safe from criticism and poverty – breaks under this insight.  The truth knows.  All the fear did was prevent me from achieving my dreams.  My fear kept me from Living Alive.  With a choice I send those fears tumbling over the edge of Plateau Point into the abyss. 

            A white light of the greatest confidence I have ever known illuminates me.  'I can be the finest writer in the world if I choose to be and do the work.'  I understand that I have had the writer and fine employee, friend and partner inside of me all the time.  My fear trapped them there so they could not be heard. 

            I open my arms and embrace life, love and God.  I can almost hear a chorus of angels as the sun breaks through the clouds before me to cast deep gold light across the earth with brilliant God rays. 

            I get down on my haunches next to Michael.  My hand rests on his shoulder.  I look to the left and to the right.  Two ravens, huge and obsidian are perched majestically from an exposed stone in the wall.  They observe the world from a perspective very close to our own.  I point.  "Michael look.  That's you and me."

            They lift as I speak.  Silently, they glide on stable wind currents across the divide.  We watch in silent reverence.

            Michael and I photograph each other.  I know the camera will capture my essence as I am now.  My legs are powerful and stable, my arms and chest relaxed.  My smile: pure joy.  My eyes look back to Michael with quietness, peace and the light of a fearless self. 

            I must tell Michael.  "When I first got to the cliff I couldn't get close to the edge.  I go over there and did this centering exercise."  I show him what I did.  "When I was deep within it I realized that the fear of falling was nothing at all.  Then I realized that all fears and insecurities are like that.  Michael it's all gone.  I don't feel fear anymore.  There is nothing I can't do.  The same applies to you.  You can go back to school if you want to.  You've got the brains, nothing except your fears is holding you back.  This is knowledge which makes life work!"

            "Steve, you're right.  I've got to be willing to make the commitment though, and that's not easy."

            "Uh, huh.  It won't work without a total commitment.  I can feel my physical, mental, and spiritual selves merging when I make a choice like that.  Say, are you ready to get back?  I'm getting hungry."

            "Well not really, but I guess we can go if you want."

            "You sure?  I don't want to rush you.  We have to bring the girls back here tomorrow."

            "Oh yeah, definitely."

            He stands slowly.  Together we turn away from plateau point, but do not truly leave. 

            I am utterly energized.  I proclaim I can fly all the way home, or all least run, like the outward bound hikers who just ran past us.  Now I am free, free to determine my own path, free to create my own reality, to make of my life what I wish, free to fulfill my dreams.

            The sun cuts away the gloom as we hike back to the site.  Afternoon sunlight illuminates the walls.  Earlier the mountains held brilliant, but muted shades of beauty.  Now beneath sunset, the walls come alive with a sacred glow.

            More deer come out as twilight approaches.  We rest at one point and count twelve, including two newborns.   

            I close my eyes, sigh, and thank God for my life and gifts.  Michael and I return to the site changed men.