More fully connecting with the earth

So I've gotten my two "first-timer" falls out of the way in less than a week. Both occurred because (a) I was doing something vigorous and (b) I wasn't paying attention.

Fall #1: The Clipped-In Classic
Yep. Clipped out of the left pedal, stopped... and tried to put my right foot down. Brilliant slow topple into the gravel highway shoulder, wheeee BLONK. Cows in the field smirking. Nice goose egg and bloody strawberry on the right knee. Bar end knocked out of whack, but otherwise the bike unmolested. I broke its fall, didn't I.

Fall #2: The Trail Spaceout
Uh-huh. Running along, I started to daydream and looked off to the side of the trail. Toed into a root and pitched face forward in a brief toboggan slide down the hill. Matching strawberry on left knee, small gouge in thigh. Clothing evidently tougher than skin. I'm happy about this because I was wearing my favorite lime green "We can see you a mile away through the woods, Pai" shirt. (Seriously. Two mountain bikers commented on the shirt yesterday. It makes me visible and memorable. Also possibly adorable, or just ridiculous, since people smile or even laugh when they see it.)

As falls go, these are the smallest of small potatoes. Not even worth Neosporin, just soap and a wincing scrub. But they still teach me a few things.

1. So What If I Fall
I wasn't allowed to fall much as a child. (I did however show an early trait for blindly smacking my head into whatever available vertical surface. I believe I have by now perfected this natural talent, which has persisted into adulthood.) I was always being told: Don't climb up there! You'll fall! Don't balance on that! You'll fall! Don't run around like that! You'll fall!

Guess what. Now I run around like that. And I fall.

And ninety out of ninety-one times, it's an inconvenience and not the end of the world. That ninety-first time is coming for all of us; if I go out and run and bike around, there's some miniscule chance it'll end my life. If I voluntarily sit still in my chair because I'm afraid of falling, there's a 100% chance of wasting a huge and precious part of life.

I'm just playing the odds.

2. Keep Your Wits on the Way Down
Because my left ankle used to randomly buckle like a licorice whip, I have had my share of 5'5" falls. Technically, though, the violence of the fall occurs in the first five inches. The rest is not so bad.

When my brain computes my trajectory and projects gravity as the winner, it usually lets me have a moment to think, "Huh. Falling down now." Sometimes my brain dogs on and gets my feet under me. When that happens, I fight right along with my brain to stay upright.

But a real fall? I accept it on the way down. So no matter what happens in that first five inches, the rest of me usually comes down all nice and relaxed like a dropped marionette. Some of me gets scraped or bruised or mildly concussed. (Curbs count as available vertical surfaces when you're right next to them.) But I'm pretty sure if I panicked and tried to stop the fall, I'd have more broken bones by now.

3. Damn It, Pay Attention, Annie Pai
Let's not be children about this. You can be badly hurt if you don't pay attention when you're on a bike or out on a trail. Though people think of the bike or of the trail as the vulnerable spaces, it's the drifting mind that's the danger.

On the trail, I need my brain to be processing obstacles, footing, speed, and muscular response. I don't need it multi-tasking trying to follow meandering, anchorless musings. The lovely paradox is that when I focus the brain on the run, it doesn't feel like smothering thought. It feels like clarity and oxygen flooding into my body. Since that's what I'm after in the first place, there's no downside to working on better focus.

4. It'll Feel Better When It Quits Hurting
When you get back up and moving again, those first few seconds can feel amazing. Yeah, some bit of you may be throbbing, bleeding, swelling, or stinging. But get moving again and, wow, there is this astounding inventory of parts of you that feel completely unaffected and able to carry on.

Maybe it's the adrenaline surge. But there's an incomparable, joyful feeling of strength and resilience that come from, well, shaking it off. From finding parts of your body you can still rely on. From moving despite a trivial pain.

In Sum
The point of life is not to avoid the possibility of falling. You build your skills to stay upright, you handle falls when they happen, and you shake off the stuff that's in the end just an inconvenience. Fear is the stuff of tragedy — not falling.

4 comments:

Moira said...

This is the first lesson they teach you in downhill skiing (which I loved, when I had a body that was capable of athletics): You will fall. Let it happen; it'll hurt a lot less. :)

Ann Pai said...

Hey Moira! I've never tried downhill skiing. Sell me! What are 3 reasons I will absolutely love it?

Moira said...

Eep! I have no idea, I don't know what you like. I liked the speed and the quiet of the snow-covered mountain (with enough skill you can go places that aren't crowded and the only sounds are your skis on the snow and your breath in your ears) and my skis had these really great hot-pink bases that made it look like the snow was glowing under me when I bounced. And sometimes when you hit the right jump the right way you can fly for a little while.

I also liked that when I was skiing in high school in Canada there were a lot of boys who were really competitive about it and I came up from Texas and started beating them in unofficial races after a year or so. That was fun. :D

Ann Pai said...

Moira, LOL, speed and quiet? You couldn't have pushed my buttons better if you'd known me 20 years. Kansas is not exactly ideal downhill ski territory, but I think N. and I will be checking this out over the winter: http://www.skisnowcreek.com/

And I love the image of the glowing snow under the hot pink skis...