Dean Potter died in 2015 BASE jumping, a sport which involves jumping off cliffs with a parachute and no reserve chute. One mistake during the free-fall or in packing the chute can kill you. He was also known for free soloing and slack-lining without a safety rope. Such risk-sports can seem crazy. In fact, many people are quick to say “that’s crazy” about what Dean did.

An important part of The Warrior’s Way material is that we know something when we’ve experienced it, not just when we think about it. Thinking constitutes intellectual knowledge. Doing an activity shifts intellectual knowledge to experiential knowledge.

When outsiders see an activity like BASE jumping, free soloing, or even rock climbing they look from a perspective of intellectual knowledge alone. The further outside our comfort zones something is the less we know it and the more likely we’re to label it crazy. Conversely, the more something is near our comfort zones the more we know it and the less likely we’re to label it crazy. BASE jumping was near Dean’s comfort zone; he didn’t label it crazy.

So, who is actually crazy here? Labeling something crazy that we have no knowledge of is crazy. The outsider is crazy, not the participant in the activity. The mind is responsible for this tendency. It tricks us. The mind fears stress and looks for ways to justify staying in its comfort zone. When it sees other people doing challenging activities it has to protect itself. The mind does this by criticizing others and labeling what they do as crazy.

The mind is sick. It needs to learn in order to treat its sickness. But, rather than focus on its own learning, the mind hides in its comfort zone and sprays its opinions about why others shouldn’t be living the lives they’ve chosen to live. The mind is jealous about what others have accomplished and fearful that it can’t do the same.

The mind also has difficulty with death. It sees living a long life as more valued than living a short life, even if that long life is lived in fear and not meaningful. The free soloist Michael Reardon used to say that free soloers have a life-wish, not a death-wish. Free soloing puts them at the edge of life and death, shifts their attention into the present moment, causing them to feel most alive. They want to live, not die. But, they want to live as fully as possible. 

One objection outsiders have to activities like BASE jumping and free soloing is the impact one’s death has on those left behind, one’s friends and family. It’s easy to say one shouldn’t free solo because you’ll probably die if you fall. But there are plenty of people who think we shouldn’t rock climb because they don’t understand the true consequences in rock climbing. We can regress to staying in our homes and not venturing outside because of our fear of death. It’s all a matter of degree. Where do we draw the line about what is too risky and who should draw that line?

The best people to determine what is too risky and where to draw that line are the people who participate in the activity. They draw that line based on their experiential knowledge and they know what is appropriate for them more than someone else. The outsider wants to draw that line based on their mind’s fears and lack of knowledge. 

We need to pay attention to our learning process. If we do that, then we can learn more about why we fear death, how to take appropriate risks, and the mind’s tendency to trick us. We don’t want anyone interfering with our learning process, so we shouldn’t interfere with others’ learning process. Dean wasn’t crazy; he chose to live his life fully.

Practice Tip: Why do I think it’s crazy?

There are plenty of things people do that seem crazy to us. It doesn’t have to be something extreme like BASE jumping or free soloing. It can be what someone eats or dealing with traffic each day commuting to work. 

Seeing such things can cause us to say “that’s crazy.” Remember, the mind is sick. Catch yourself when you say “that’s crazy” and shift your attention to your own learning process. Ask yourself, “Why do I think it’s crazy?”

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Brant

    I don’t think many of these things are crazy. I might think, “I would never do that” and that’s usually fear based or knowing that I don’t have the skills to do it. If you look at Honold or any of the stone monkey’s (some of their stories are blood curdling), you will see that many of the ‘crazy’ things they do are based on skill and confidence in those skills.
    I find that some of the accidents/deaths that happen are due to forgetting to be in beginners mind. Todd Skinner died due to a faulty harness. A climber died after he topped out because he walked to close to the edge of a ledge and it gave way. There are a number of stories like this. Climbing is a dangerous sport.
    I have told people that if I was younger I would sign up to take the first trip to Mars even if it was a one way trip. Most of my friends think that’s crazy.

    1. Arno

      Hey Brant, thanks for your comments. I like that idea of a one-way ticket to Mars. You’re a true explorer. Life is a kind of one-way ticket. We don’t know where it’ll end so best to focus on the journey and what inspires us.

  2. David Burridge

    Dean Potter died in a wing suit accident, not BASE jumping.

    1. Arno

      Thanks. I stand corrected. 🙂

  3. Omer

    When I find myself explaining free soloing to non climbers, I ask them if they use a belay to climb the stairs. Each one of us has its own limit. My grandmother needs a belayer to climb the stairs, my further doesn’t use the bar to climb it and I would free solo an easy scramble. Non of us is crazy 🙂

    1. Arno

      Hi Omer, I think I’ll do some free soloing today going down and up my stairs. Great example of how relative risk is and how we need to tune into our own lives instead of criticizing other’s decisions of how to live.

  4. Richard

    Wolfgang Gullich famous climber and most well known for his stunt work in the movie “Cliffhanger”. Was the victim of a fatal car accident while driving home after shooting the movie. The movie has some crazy stunts in it but all of the stunts were performed by professionals. Wolfgang was not driven by ego to perform as Stallone’s stunt double he was the most capable and professional person for the job. Observing people enjoying sports that seem dangerous or haphazard to the observer shows the level of the unfamiliarity with those venues. One could actually be observing a professional practicing or just recreating with a very low margin of danger. What I have learned through the warriors way is to always observe without judgment and to orient to the information before deciding and acting.

    1. Arno

      Hi Richard, yes, observing is a helpful practice. We look out to see what’s there and then look inward to check our own bias to what we’re perceiving. That way we can learn. Thanks for sharing. a

  5. Raelinn

    I’m curious about your use of the term “sick” in relation to the mind. Isn’t the mind, simply the mind? Whether or not we have the experience, knowledge and discipline to observe our thoughts or make wise and kind choices is certainly relative. But why sick?

    1. Arno

      Hey Raelinn, thanks for your question and observation. Using “sick” is a way to get people’s attention. But beyond that, I’m referring to the mind we typically have and have to deal with. One that is rife with achievement and comfort motivation, one that feeds the ego through a lifetime of habituation. What we’re looking for is awareness that observes the mind do all of those machinations. From awareness, we can observe the sick behaviors of the mind and redirect to better behaviors. 🙂

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