When we’re kids we fall all the time. Sometimes even on purpose. I stacked it more times that I can count riding bikes, skateboarding, falling out of trees and other various shenanigans in the neighborhood.
Yesterday, running downhill on a trail, I caught my right toe on something and fully laid myself out at speed. My left shoulder took the most of it, then the left knee. Rocks. Roots. It happened instantly, without warning – yet paradoxically – I have the distinct memory of that time in the air thinking, “oh, shit.” That part seemed to take a long time. Or at least long enough for me to process it.
The first few moments after a fall like that are existential. Think about the last time you fell, hard. That’s the Universe in a single moment right there. That’s Enlightenment. There’s nothing else but that moment. I guarantee you are not thinking about anything else. You could sit a 1,000 hours of meditation and not get quite the same feeling as the instant when you collide with the ground unexpectedly and emphatically. It’s Gensa stubbing his toe x 100.
“But after a period of studying with Seppo, Gensa figured it was time to go meet some other teachers so that he could get a more well-rounded education. He packed his bags and started walking toward the temple gate.
Just then he stubbed his toe on a big rock. There was blood all over the place, and his toe hurt like nobody’s business. Gensa thought, “Some say the physical body doesn’t exist, so where, then, is this pain coming from?” He returned to the temple.
Seppo, his teacher, saw him and asked, “What’s up, Mr. Hard Practice?”
Gensa said, “My trouble is I can’t be fooled.”
Seppo said, “Who doesn’t know this deep down? But who else besides you can say it out loud?”– Brad Warner, Don’t Be a Jerk: And other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master
The subsequent moments after hitting the ground were almost euphoric. “I didn’t die.” I made it. Elation. In a weird way it almost felt good to fall. For one, it told me where the limit was, but also it brought me immediately back to the present. All the thoughts that had been ruminating in my head prior to that moment as I careened out of control down a hill – thoughts that had nothing to do with what I was doing or where I was (part of the problem) – seemed suddenly foolish. Irrelevant.
SMACK. RIGHT HERE IS WHERE YOU ARE.
The Universe was telling me to slow the fuck down. “We’re gonna give you a pass on this one ‘cause we dig what you’re doing – but don’t be an idiot about it.” Noted.
It’s been awhile since I smacked the earth that hard. Is that the problem? Is it because as we get older we do it less therefore it’s a bigger deal when we do? Should we be falling more? Seems that’s a double-edged sword.
Sage Internet Philosopher of our times, Stevil, is perhaps onto something:
It would seem more accurately, we’re never too old to do anything – except fall down – that’s the part that becomes problematic. Please pass the ibuprofen.
In the final Universal twist of irony, Coach has me running same trail today on the training plan. Back on the horse as they say.