June 14, 2014

Lessons from a Climbing Accident. ~ Deborah Bowman

(Photo: Pink Sherbert Photography)

“In this great world, there is nowhere that is not a wisdom hall.” ~  Ziyong

I was tremendously honored when asked to give the faculty address at this year’s Naropa University graduation—and a little intimidated knowing Pema Chodron was our guest speaker.

Lots of ideas crossed my mind and I pondered speaking about passion when I shared my thoughts with a good friend. She told me that the most passionate topic I ever spoke with her about was my climbing fall in 1979.

Although my near fatal accident occurred almost thirty five years ago, the lessons are still indelible.

For twenty three years I have shared my story in classes at Naropa and former students still remind me of it’s power. When I was preparing my speech for the 2500 guests and graduates that would fill Macky Auditorium for the ceremony, I imagined it was just another classroom—only a little bigger.

To settle my nerves right before the event, I focused on the importance of sharing our triumphs and failures. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or suffer lessons others have learned the hard way.

My experience on the mountain was terrifying and enlightening.

I was asleep to the hazards of following someone else’s directive instead of listening to the wisdom within my heart and mind. While I was in an unroped free fall on an ice wall that day, I woke up to choices that kept me alive.

My original choice to take a rope up to another climber was colored by habits so many of us unconsciously act out in our lives. I was trying to take care of someone else instead of taking in the total environment and doing what was best in that moment.

My awareness was other-centered, a strategy I had learned to get self-centered needs met. Ever since my fall, I have been learning how only centered awareness really works.

Today, I am happy to be alive to share the splendor I discovered when my fall finally came to a screeching halt and was filled with the beauty of snow-capped peaks across the valley floor. I was only seeing out of one eye yet was ecstatic to be seeing at all.

To learn from the exquisite nature of reality is the best lesson of all.


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Apprentice Editor: Brenna Fischer / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo Credit: Flickr/Creative Commons

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Deborah Bowman