I can’t believe what I am seeing. A young man in a wingsuit is flying directly at a pinnacle of rock at 200km/hour. He is aiming at a two-metre wide hole in the pinnacle – attempting to thread the eye of a rock-needle – with his body – flying – at 200km/hour.
A video camera is bolted to his helmet. Why is he wearing a helmet? If he makes a mistake a hard hat will not help him.
Somehow he succeeds, opens his parachute and lands safely in a field of goats. The film I am watching has 8 million views.
A wingsuit has extra fabric between the legs and under the arms, it is designed to help base jumpers ‘fly’ further and for longer before opening a parachute. However, even in this era when extreme is the new norm, the fatality statistics for wingsuit flying stick out like a broken thumb.
Matthias Feuz is a farmer in Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland. His fields are directly below a popular cliff jump-off point for wingsuit flyers and he has personally witnessed deaths.
“One day I heard a loud bang. A base jumper had crashed into the rock face, fallen to the bottom of the cliff and died there,” he told Swiss television. “It was the most horrible experience of my life, watching someone die right before my eyes.”
So what makes someone jump off a cliff in an expensive onesie?
Is it driven by the manufacturers of the specialist kit we need to participate in these activities, or the makers of the mini-cameras that can be strapped to our helmets so our exploits can be recorded, or the social media sites that make it possible for us to share our adventures with friends and anonymous others around the world? No. We risked our lives attempting crazy stunts a long time before YouTube was born.
In the euphoric post-stunt interviews (inbetween the Wows and the Whooping) these daredevils will say something like;
“It breaks the monotony of everyday life……What else is there?…There is a moment of clarity, of spaciousness, your senses are fully open…It’s when I feel truly alive.”
But the satisfaction is short-lived. In the next breath they are looking back to where they came from and want to do it all over again.
Matthias Feuz adds; “I feel angry that someone could put their life on the line like that for just a few seconds of thrills – that they don’t have more respect for their own lives.”
It is an unsettling contrast. While refugees flood into the West, risking everything to taste the freedoms and advantages that we enjoy, many of us are ready to throw it all away for ‘a few seconds of thrills’.
My own crash was not just physical, it was mental and emotional, and I can attribute much of my recovery to Buddhist philosophy and meditation.
Now, having some experience in both worlds, I see how the thrill is not in the extreme activity itself but in the heightened awareness – the high – it generates and demands.
In the heart of all that derring-do – the speed and the angles – there is the deep stillness, space and clarity of a mental state free of thoughts and emotions. I call it Big Mind.
Having trained in meditation for many years I have experienced this heightened awareness in ordinary activity, and proved for myself that The High doesn’t have to be life threatening, expensive and fleeting – it is freely available. And you can abide there.
That’s the good news.
The problem is that meditation – sitting quietly and watching my mind without reacting – is not easy, in fact it takes extreme discipline and courage. More discipline than I had needed to work hard and save all my money so I could buy expensive gear and travel to a far away places for wilderness adventures. And more courage than I ever needed to jump off a cliff, kayak down a waterfall or climb mountains.
So it’s a myth to say meditation is boring! Actually meditation is the modern equivalent of slaying the dragon and a battle I am still engaged with.
Time for some more good news.
It’s such a relief to know, especially now as my body is slowing down, that if I tune in to it Big Mind adventure can be anywhere – and all the time!
It’s maybe a year since I watched that video of Uli Emanuele dressed in a wingsuit flying through the eye-of-a-rock-needle, so last week, when I found myself staring at a blank computer screen and tapping my fingers on the desk I decided to search for it again. Instead I found the headline – Base jumper tragically films his own death. Uli Emanuele died aged 29, on 17th August 2016. May he rest in peace.
And may we all find peace in life.