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A Lesson on Progression

The old must cease for expansion to occur.  But the old is not half as prevalent outside, as it is prevalent within you.  It is the outdated structure of the mind that must be laid to rest for the new to be born.  Today was (I am sad to admit) my first day skiing of the season.  I’d usually be the first person in line on opening day, but this year I’ve been too passionate about my career projects.  The snow was perfect.  The sun illuminated the mountain like a gallery light intent on showing off its splendor.  Blake and I were in no hurry today.  We made our way to our various favorite slopes around the resort, like we usually do.  But this time, something changed.  The friction that usually exists between Blake and myself when we are skiing together wasn’t there.  The opposition between Blake and myself about skiing has become a family joke and has been going on for 11 years now. 

Teal-Race.jpg Both Blake and I were raised on skis.  Blake is fearless on skis, a fact that has saddled him with many ski injuries.  He flails around, flying off cliffs and straight lining slopes until he is going so fast, you worry for his life.  I on the other hand, am a technique freak.  My years of competitive skiing made it so I am hyper perfectionistic on the hill.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been talking to Blake about proper technique (even more so since he picked up my sport of Telemark skiing).  And for the last 11 years, Blake has been arguing for fun, regardless of how you ski.  Someone could make a funny montage out of our interactions.  

Today, when I stood at the top of the first black run, I noticed the vibration of fear in the energy fields of the skiers around me.  I watched them suppress and bulldoze that fear and in them, saw a mirror of my former self.  When you start skiing as a toddler and you follow in the footsteps of great skiers and you turn into a competitive skier, it is easy to assume that fear no longer factors into skiing.  

Teal-Schweitzer-copy.jpgMy father is an incredibly good skier.  He was a racer that went on to fall in love with back country and big mountain skiing.  My father, though endlessly patient with children, had a technique for teaching me how to ski… "try to keep up"... Hahahaha.  So I eventually did keep up.  All of the best memories I have of him are memories of skiing together in the champagne powder of the Wasatch Mountain wilderness.

But the most common ways that people learn to keep up with better skiers is to stuff the fear they feel deep down inside and simply focus on the turn in front of them.  Fear was not welcome in any of the sports I dedicated myself to.  By the time I made competitive skiing the pursuit of my life, I had disowned fear inside myself.  And when I met the other skiers on the various ski teams as well as the coaches, matters got worse.

On the first day of training, I was assigned to work with a man who had won the world cup several times.  I admired him the minute I met him.  He was like a Viking on skis.  He had endless amounts of information about technique.  I was in heaven, except for one thing.  Most of the best skiers are adrenaline junkies.  So, he and my fellow coaches would careen down slopes that would terrify the average person.  And if they (or other skiers) got into “sticky situations” on skis, including dreaded pinwheel falls, they would laugh hysterically about it.  I remember feeling like I was in over my head. The message was very clear from day one, a message continually promoted by my coaches “Fear can burn the house down, don’t let it in.”  So, I did exactly what I was instructed to do.  If fear was unacceptable, and I seemed to be the only one who felt it, I would keep it to myself.  I did not admit to my fear.  I rejected it.  I suppressed it, I denied it and eventually I became unaware of it.

Teal-Ski-Team-copy.jpg Why was this a problem?  It was a problem because if I couldn’t admit that fear was holding me back (and no one else could clearly tell that I was afraid), my coaches could not address the actual ‘problem’.  I became technically excellent, but no amount of technique makes up for a lack of confidence. Aside from obvious mental techniques that target fear specifically, there is a physical skiing technique that they would have suggested that I do if they would have known that I was having issues with fear. 

 In racing, a good turn is all about the carve.  To go as fast as you can in a race course, you want to be on your edges as much as possible and you do not want to slide your ski sideways as you turn because this causes you to slow down. “Slipping the top of the turn” is treated like the plague in ski racing.  The average skier only turns by slipping, which is why their turns create a spray of snow when they turn.  You gradually train yourself out of doing that as a ski racer.  I remember that I would carve, and of course the carving would accelerate me to the point where my fear would kick in and I’d put the mental breaks on and then my aggression on the course would disappear. 

Teal-Magazine-copy.jpg Most people listen to their fear better than they listen to coaches.  So coaches do not need to teach them to slip the top of the turn; they have to un-teach them to do that.  I on the other hand, listened better to coaches than I ever listened to my fear.  

Teal-Drafting-copy.jpgThis tendency to suppress fear continued on when I switched my focus to speed skating.  Speed skating is 1,000 times less frightening than skiing but I was more afraid of losing (and of what losing would mean about me) than I was in love with both skating and the prospect of winning.   I would spent a good hour before each race in the bathroom nauseated and panicking.  A fact that I hid from my coach and from the rest of the team.  He was the best coach I’ve ever had in any sport.  And yet I disapproved of fear in myself badly enough that I couldn’t even tell him.

Teal-Stretch-band-copy.jpgIt is painful to admit to the fact that if I had been authentic all those years ago and been able to recognize and admit to my fear, my ski career and my speed skating career would have gone very differently.  I would have been a far superior athlete to what I was.  One tiny change could have altered the course of history.  But then again, perhaps that’s the point.  Maybe if I had addressed the actual problem, I’d still be skiing professionally instead of living my true purpose today.  

To admit to what is true for you in this moment, you need to be brave enough to see yourself completely.  Even if you think you might see things you don’t want to see about yourself.  If we are still thinking aspects of us are wrong or bad, we will remain convinced that we will not be loved if we contain these aspects.  And so, the Ego will still have motivation to hide it from view and hide it from our awareness.  If we want progression and expansion in our lives, no matter whether it be spiritual progression or emotional progression or mental progression or career progression or love progression, we must be willing to be authentic enough to admit to what is.  Even if what is, feels unacceptable or embarrassing to us.  Only then, will we have something genuine to work with.

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