“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” The wise words of Robbie Burns that I do my best to prove wrong. How frequently I strive to manage all the variables to achieve a specific result and circumstances conspire to pervert my goals. As this seems a prevalent theme in my life, it reminds me to pay attention.
Recently I took off for Whistler with my friend Lorne. It was not a blue sky day and the alpine was closed for avalanche control but as visibility looked poor I was happy to ski the lower slopes. Then the Seventh Heaven Express opened. I felt torn as my friend Lorne was keen to go for fresh tracks. Finally I told him to go without me. We could stay in touch by text and meet later.
At the age of 75 I have enormous apprehension about skiing in flat light where my depth perception completely disappears. Those who ski know that loss of confidence can cause technique and ability dissipate. So I felt good in my decision and had lots of mountain to explore.
At this moment I seemed to lose flow in my day. First I had passed the easy access to the run I was looking for and had to cross some challenging terrain; then I could not find the lift I was looking for; I got a text from Lorne telling me “Dude it’s epic . Vis is good.” – not what I wanted to hear! (Note to self, practice “mudita” – the Buddhist term for sympathetic joy for someone else’s positive fortune.) Then I noticed my phone had gone from 100% to 1% raising issues about how we would reconnect.
I decided to head to the chair he was riding hoping I would bump into him. I took the high trail by mistake and had to navigate steep icy moguls to get there then the line up was considerable; there was no sign of Lorne in the mass of humanity. I had no phone signal. This was fast becoming a day to forget!
I made one run, the visibility must have declined, I made it down but had missed the good powder. I borrowed someone’s phone in the line up and left a message for him. Things seemed to brighten when I found him waiting at the top of the lift. We agreed to head down the easy way to the restaurant at the top of the mountain. He set off confidently in a direction I did not expect but uncomplaining I followed.
Little did I know at that precise moment it would be akin to the British Cavalry following Lord Cardigan in The Charge of The Light Brigade: “into the valley of death rode the five hundred.”
Well it was only one but it felt like the valley of death. I found myself on the brink of a huge alpine bowl, with atrocious visibility and no choice but to either call the ski patrol for rescue or descend 2500 vertical feet in the very conditions I had been trying to avoid.
So my early decision to avoid these conditions had actually resulted in a situation a minimum of ten times worse. The terrain was steeper, the light worse and the distance much longer.
I will not even try to describe my abject misery of the next half an hour. Lorne did his best to guide me down as “my seeing eye dog”. I did my best to avoid screaming at him “you f***ing idiot, don’t you know your way around yet. You used to draw maps for the mountain!!”
Apart from moments when I was lying in the snow wondering if I could ever get up, I avoided spending too much time feeling a victim. Eventually we got to tree line where vision improves and then to the Glacier Lodge restaurant and could enjoy a debrief.
The good news that my philosophy of being curious about my experience overrode my need to blame or judge him. (And he shared his lunch with me as an unspoken apology.)
It did seem that this was a conspiracy of circumstances that in hindsight was predestined. I felt a tad self congratulatory that I had not got bad tempered, or too frustrated and got over the experience immediately. There were days in my earlier life when I would not have been quite so sanguine.
But was there meaning? Ironically had I overcome my fears and followed Lorne in the first place I would have had a much better day skiing powder before it and the visibility evaporated. On the other hand had I spoken up at the top about our direction, I would have avoided the nightmare run. I sense it comes back to the lesson of Equanimity that is my theme word for the year. I wrote about it in December concerning my travails en route to Mexico. (https://wp.me/phAyS-Fs)
I think my lesson in practicing equanimity will take many forms. The dictionary defines it as “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Equanimity looks much more accessible through the rear view mirror. Perhaps equanimity requires letting go of my attachment to flow and accepting it takes practice to make perfect.