I found this book, Bone Games, by this guy Rob Schultheis. He’s a climber, wanderer, vagabond, nomad kind of fella. He was a war journalist during the first Gulf Way and very likely saw some pretty heavy shit. I stumbled across his book through a blog I read, where it was quoted. The rest of the title is “Extreme Sports, Shamanism, Zen, and the Search for Transcendence.”
That should give you an idea of what the book is about. It opens with the author conveying an anecdote of a near fatal climbing fall, one of those instances where he came out of it in one piece but if fate had decreed he was but an inch in any direction he surely would’ve died horribly, bouncing off the limestone of a 60 degree slope for a few thousand feet. He relates how he was forced to climb, without gear, through brutally loose and chossy rock from a small ledge. He describes finding himself in a state of impossible focus, his movement perfect and sublime, his mind clear, at peace, and utterly empty of thought. This heightened physical state is accompanied by a similarly unreal mental state. He exists in this state for nearly six hours, saving his own life by accomplishing the unfathomable. And as he does it, a passenger in his own body, he calmly bears witness to every infinite detail, his mind cataloging the porousness and grain-texture of the several thousand rocks his hands touch as he descends to salvation.
So, of course, he spends the rest of his life trying to find that state. Whatever it is.
His book asks this, but pushes the conversation beyond merely documenting a mental phenomenon that would probably be explained through heightened brain chemistry, neurological wiring, or ‘flight or flight’ shots of adrenaline if you were someone with a conviction for the mundane. Schultheis links to Tibet and beyond, relating elements of spirituality to this elusive state as he attempts to bring it about intentionally. Satori, Mushin. Whatever you want to call it. Anecdotes can easily be found merely by searching. Martial artists describe it. Runners feel it. I’ve even heard reference to professional tennis players mentioning something like it. What is that? Why is that there? Perhaps the fact that some of us willingly expose ourselves to dangerous situations could be suggested as evidence to hint at it’s reality. Why else would we do these things? Climb, surf, BASE jump, glide, explore. Is there some innate yearning to find that unfindable thing, once known, but since cut off? Perhaps.
More than anything in his book, I was floored by a paragraph. His description of a behaviour and a sense that I have absolutely personally felt, at times, since I was fifteen years old. Every time I’ve had this feeling I’ve literally thought to myself that I was just a fraction away from awakening to something. Like a fish a millimetre below the surface of the water, knowing, somehow, that another reality exists just beyond reach and comprehension. I couldn’t believe that he had described this very thing that I had thought simply just a unique flight of fancy conjured up only in my own fertile imagination, way back when. As an adult every experience of this sense would remind me of it’s discovery when I was a kid. I know the feeling he describes well.
“The mountains smell sweet and wild, an incense compounded of wet stone, wet amber brush, wet moss, humus, generations of pine needles…and almost unbearable lovely smell; despite the cold I pull open the window to catch it all. The rain hisses down into the black heart of a great mystery that I am on the verge of discovering. Any moment now, I am sure, it will drift in on the mountain rain, into my life. Only it never ever quite arrives.”
That’s the feeling. I’m going to track down Mr. Shulthesis and at least let him know that I, too, have felt this brush of ‘more’, whatever it is. He even compares himself to yamabushi a sentence later. This is a term that tells me, directly, that this paragraph was unequivocally tucked away there, in that book, specifically for me to find and heed. As crazy as that sounds. So how am I supposed to just troop around normal life after finding something like that?