Friday, September 2, 2016

I'm still not a New England Patriots fan

So, two days after arriving in Costa Rica I found myself standing atop a 40ft, roughly 12 meter, cliff seriously contemplating whether or not to jump off.  I'd been to this cliff/waterfall several times during previous trips to Montezuma, but never mustered up the courage to take the jump.  To put this in perspective, I’ve freefall parachuted from planes at 14,000 feet and have quite a few static line parachute jumps and high altitude rappels under my belt during my Army days, so it wasn’t the fear of heights or anything like that.  I’ve seen dozens of people jump off this cliff, hell, even Tom Brady did it in 2015.  I stood in the same exact spot shown in the video clip at the link. Also, for anyone who doesn't know, Tom Brady is one of the most successful quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL.
Same falls I jumped from - Dude unknown
Side note, this waterfall, shown on the right, is about 30 feet shorter than the largest falls in Montezuma, which the one I find myself perched atop flows directly into.  I've heard stories of people dying, mostly while climbing up the cliff, but I’ve also seen Tico’s (local Costa Rican boys) scale the cliff and jump from the top of the big one.  I’m convinced the only reason they can do it is because their gigantic balls would cushion any semblance of a bad landing.
Anyways, I finally mustered up the guts, despite April’s insistence to for me to abstain, and took the giant step off. And they lived happily ever after. The End. I wish.
I’m not sure what kind of thing happened when I hit the water. I mean, I was pretty much vertical upon landing, didn’t do a back flop or anything like that, but my body was at just enough of an angle that it felt like whiplash.  Yeah, that’s it, I got waterfall jump induced whiplash. We'll leave it saying I had a somewhat less than optimal landing experience.  Like we used say in the Army Paratroopers, “Falling out of the sky doesn’t scare me, but the sudden stop on the ground if my parachute doesn’t open terrifies the shit out of me.”  The pain in my back was instant and very intense, but I gave April and the ten or so other people watching a thumbs up to indicate I was okay.  Truth be told I was barely able to pull myself out of the water and April tells me I was white as a sheet.  Nonetheless I continued the vacation doing everything as normal, that is if you call horseback riding through rugged terrain, hiking in the “ruggediest” of terrain, ATV driving in very ruggedish terrain, and boat trips on choppy seas normal.  I wasn't able to go to yoga classes or surf, the two things I really wanted to do down there...I was even planning on teaching some yoga at a studio in town.  I’ve had my share of back pain over the years, but this particular pain has been pretty intense, especially in the morning when getting out of bed...and anytime I bend over. Yesterday I went to my doctor here in Virginia as soon as I got back from the trip. Doctor told me it was just a bad muscle strain, but sent me for x-rays to rule out worse. This morning I received the telephone call from the same doc telling me the x-rays show two spinal column compression fractures in T-8 and T-12, with some other compression thing going on with T-9 and T-10. Basically I broke my back.  Great.  The radiologist compared this film with one of my chest x-rays from a couple years ago to confirm the damage was recent.  I’m going to see an orthopedic doc next week, probably for CT scans and perhaps an MRI.  I’m a pretty active and healthy guy for the most part, so I imagine I’ll heal fine, so all I have to do is take it easy and hug a bottle of Motrin, right?  No, I think my work here is to use this whole thing as a learning experience.  What if I’d not jumped?  What if I’d just stepped back and said (spoken in the voice of Dana Carvey doing George Bush) “Nope, not gonna do it, wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.”  I’d certainly not be sitting here writing about my broken back, but I’d also not have had the experience of doing a jump I’d wanted to try for several years.  Would I do it again if I knew what the outcome would be?  Uh...hell no.  I’m too old to be playing around with spinal fractures and am just grateful there was no nerve damage.  The great part about life is that we never know exactly how things will play out.  Challenging times like these are the very reason I believe mindfulness practices such as yoga help us in the first place.  It’s not about finding calm waters in order to be happy, it’s about remaining calm and allowing peace and happiness when we hit the rough waters, being present with whatever experience we find ourselves in.  Desiring to not be in pain only makes us focus on the pain even more.  Thinking about the pain, the sadness, or the things we’re missing out on only serve to bring us further away from what actually IS.  Taking that giant leap, from a cliff, to a new job, new relationship, going back to college, or whatever is calling you, is a personal choice. Thing is, we never know what the outcome will be, but if we trust in our abilities to handle whatever challenges life throws at us we can rest in the fact we have made it this far, and that being present with whatever that is goes a long way towards reaching our goals.  Hey life, take my hand, let’s jump.