One deep moment in the heart of a deep canyon
Saturday January 9, 2016, 6:30 a.m.
We strap our packs on our backs and our micro-spikes on our boots in the dark. We say a quick prayer, thank Him for this majestic and magical corner of the world and ask for protection, and hit the icy trail at Weeping Rock.
Six of us. In good spirits, feeling brave. It’s a good day for an adventure.
Our headlamps probe the darkness at our feet. It’s a steep trail and soon we’re breathing hard. Ankle-deep snow crunches with each step.
We pause and turn off the headlamps and stare into the heavens. The stars are piercing bright.
We continue onward as dawn slowly breaks over the East Rim.
All footprints of previous travelers heading up to Observation Point have disappeared. We’re breaking new trail through fresh, knee-deep snow.
We arrive at the sign for Observation Point an hour and a half later than anticipated. We turn right toward the East Rim.
Within a hundred yards the soft powder snow is thigh deep. The going gets really tough.
The leader has it the worse. One step at a time. Sink in deep, then lift high. Hip flexors burning within minutes.
We trade turns taking the lead every ten minutes or so.
We’re still slogging through the powder, waist high in some places.
It starts to dawn on us that this is going to be a much longer day than we thought. We’ve stopped taking pictures and are focused on the task at hand.
I’m already worn out.
We hit the top of the East Rim and look down into Mystery Canyon. We’re at least four hours behind schedule.
We stare long and hard into the canyon. We talk it through. We all search our hearts for any intuition telling us to go back the way we came.
We didn’t come this far and work this hard to back out now. We tell ourselves — naively — it will get better from here.
We move forward and plunge down the steep descent into the canyon.
We roll and slide through the thick snow. Halfway down, already too late, we pause to put on drysuits.
One of us is already hypothermic. We hurry to get moving and get the blood running.
The further we go the harder it gets. It’s agonizingly slow. Each step takes a ton of effort. We literally crawl on hands and knees through parts to avoid falling into the snow.
I’m really starting to worry now. This time, we may have bitten off more than we can chew.
We finally hit the first rappel of the canyon. Sheets of ice cover the walls, freezing the webbing with the D-ring to the wall.
We break it loose, hook up, and slide down, knowing full well this is the point of no return.
If anything goes wrong past here, we’ll be stuck in a slot canyon, an icebox with no resources to survive.
As we trudge onward, anxiety gnaws at my gut. I start thinking of my wife and my kids.
I’m cold. I’m beyond beat. There are moments when I pause, both legs stuck hip deep in snow, lie on my back, and think I don’t have enough energy to get through this day.
It’s getting serious now. I’m legitimately scared. Privately, I plead with God to let me get home to my family. (Don’t tell the boys I told you this — I’ll deny it.)
It occurs to me: I’ve never prayed like this any time I’ve been away from them under normal circumstances. What makes this different?
Any time I drive five minutes to the store I could get in an accident and be paralyzed or die. Why don’t I cherish life in every “regular” moment?
I ponder on this and realize how entitled I am to life always working out just as I expect it to. I ponder on the madness of this entitlement and how much mental suffering it causes.
I ponder on all the ways I argue with reality because of my expectations.
I’m not entitled to anything going as I expect. My expectations make me angry, frustrated, worried, and anxious, all of which does absolutely nothing to help any situation.
It’s a good lesson, but my lessons aren’t over yet.
My mind starts wandering. I start thinking of how nice it will be to be home standing under a hot shower. How amazing it will be to slide into a warm bed beside my wife, close my eyes, and collapse into deep sleep.
And I realize that this only makes it worse. All my studies of mindfulness, my years of meditation, come together for me at once and the light turns on: This moment is all I have. Trying to escape this moment in my mind is literal insanity.
I chuckle inside as I remember the words from Adyashanti,
“In an argument between you and reality, who’s going to win that argument?”
I stop arguing with reality. I release all thoughts of the future and, as in meditation, focus on my breath.
I look around me. White snow. Red cliffs. Blue sky. This moment is all I have.
For the next six hours I live in a meditative state. One moment at a time.
I meditate as I wade through deep water and break through five-inch-thick ice blocks.
I meditate, staying in the moment, as nightfall descends and we put on headlamps and forge through rock and water, ice and snow in the darkness.
I meditate, peaceful and still, as I slide down three long rappels in pitch blackness.
One moment, one step. One moment, one breath. One moment, one moment, one moment in deep, close, sparkling intimacy with every reality of every moment.
Feeling toes and fingers cold. Feeling muscles burn. The pain and exhaustion do not go away, but they do not overwhelm me.
I am utterly fascinated by how staying in the moment changes everything.
We drop down our final rappel, 120 feet into the Narrows of the Virgin River, stuff our ropes into our bags, and slog out the river to our car.
We arrive at our car at 9:30, fifteen hours after we started.
I am bone weary. And I am happy — not because we’ve made it out alive, but because I’m in the moment.
It’s a metaphor, you know. We all have our canyons in life. And we all have reality to face.
No amount of arguing or fantasizing can change reality — in fact, they will only drive us to madness.
In the heart of a deep canyon I discover the only way to live: embrace, surrender to, and stay in the present moment just as it is.