“I walk lighter, stumble less, with more spring in leg and lung, keeping my center of gravity deep in the belly, and letting that center ‘see.’ At these times, I am free of vertigo, even in dangerous places; my feet move naturally to firm footholds, and I flow. But sometimes for a day or more, I lose this feel of things, my breath is high up in my chest, and then I cling to the cliff edge as to life itself. And of course it is this clinging, the tightness of panic, that gets people killed: ‘to clutch,’ in ancient Egyptian, ‘to clutch the mountain,’ in Assyrian, were euphemisms that signified ‘to die'” (125).”–Peter Matthiessen, “The Snow Leopard”
It has been many years since I read Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard”, but I still remember being mesmerized by the journey and often felt as if I was right there taking each step – both inner and outer.
Though I have not been to the Himalayas the quote above reminds me of when clinging or gripping would indeed have gotten me killed in the physical sense and closed off from possibility in a “soul’s journey” sense. This was many, many years ago on the Hawaiian island of Kauai while hiking along the original Kalalau trail of the Na Pali coast.
Kalalau cliffside trial, Na Pali coast
There are many areas along this 11 mile trial, with end destination to a pristine beach, that are considered dangerous and can result in death or severe injury. Having read about one particular part of this trial before I even left on the trip the pattern for “gripping” or contraction in breath and body was already bound up in the fears of falling over the cliff side into the ocean below, or not being able to make it past this particular part of the trail (it was about two thirds of the way in) and being the only one of the party of 4 that couldn’t go on.
This part of the journey was about the flow that Peter Matthiessen speaks of in the quote above. Allowing each breath to be a signpost for the next step and the next and the next. The trial was literally along the cliff side just as in the picture to the right. There were no handholds, a wind was blowing, and past the people you see on the trial there was a 90 degree turn that had to be negotiated with a heavy back pack on – again no barrier to falling.
As fate would have it we camped right before this part of the trial the night before we were to go on this leg of the journey. Up to this time I had been the last one in a single file line as we hiked along absorbing the boundless beauty along the way. After a very restless night and some fearful tears I was the one that lead the way before the others were even ready to embark. Perhaps it was ancient Hawaiian guides who whispered in my ear to start early, breathe fully from the belly keeping my center of gravity there, ground down through my legs and feet, take one step at a time, and completely embody the journey.
As the breath stabilized and anchored my center of gravity there were moments when my whole world shifted to NOW, and NOW, and NOW demanding that I embrace the experience and the moment of absolute presence. There was a catharsis after that 90 degree turn when safer walking territory presented itself, yet the most powerful feeling of absolute freedom permeated every part of my being.
We don’t have to be on a cliff side with a shear drop off to understand that gripping the breath residing high in the chest means not only diminishing life force and well being, but cutting off – or killing – opportunities and possibilities for thriving within the challenges that life presents to us on a daily basis.
How would you like to be breathing? How would you like to be living? Place your hands on your belly and be grateful….
Gaye Abbott, RYT assists individuals to open energetic pathways for vibrant aliveness and full expression by removing the blocks that cover our natural innate blueprint, while addressing concerns through the opening of possibility. This is accomplished through a combination of Jin Shin Jyutsu, breath repatterning, yoga therapy and targeted guidance/mentoring revealing the larger purpose and co-creative expression that we are here for.
For those interested in receiving private sessions please contact Gaye at: JoyfulGaye@NaturalPassages.com. Travel to your location in the U.S. or globally is available. Please inquire. Skype: gaye.abbott
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