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Dean Potter died recently 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 farther 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.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Coleman Ruiz

    Arno, thanks for the perspective. We can see so much farther from the edge. Push to the edge of what’s considered crazy and we get a view of what’s possible! Your friend, Coleman.

  2. Joe Jackson

    I agree in the value of experiential knowledge and have found my limits well beyond the places my intellectualizations would have let me stop. Thanks again for everything you do Arno! Losing people like Michael Reardon is sad. It’s much more sad to know many people lose themselves to their own fear.

  3. isabelvonrittberg

    Thank you for sharing this. Love your post. And one should also not forget that those who fear to risk, can still lose their lives tomorrow. Death is the only certain thing. When it will happen, none of us knows.

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