In the summer of 1974, Philippe Petit, a 24 year old Frenchman, astonished the world by walking across a 1 inch cable which he had strung between the two World Trade Center towers. He walked back and forth 7-8 times over a spellbound audience of onlookers who watched him from three quarters of a mile below.
After completing his tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center, Philippe Petit was asked why he did it.
“Because I have no choice.”
I remember when I was first introduced to walking meditation by my Zen teacher. He gave me a tray with three cups of green tea on it an asked me to walk around the room. When I finished he said, “Now do it again as if you were walking on a tightrope.” I had never walked on a tightrope, so I had to imagine what it would be like to put your foot down so carefully, so lightly, making sure the bottom of your foot pressed firmly against the tightrope and that you were able to balance your whole body on that place where your foot met the rope. This time I walked more slowly.
Think about three things you did today. Perhaps errands, or cooking or washing dishes. Let’s say one of those tasks was putting gas in the car. How did you do it? Where was your attention? Did you pull the trigger on the gas pump as if it was a life and death moment? Probably not. Our minds tend to race ahead of our bodies.
“Hurry. Let’s go. The next errand is to go to the bank,” says the mind.
“But I’m still here pumping the gas,” says the body.
But the mind can’t hear the reply. The mind is already at the bank.
It would be a mistake to write about Petite’s tightrope performance as an example of conquering fear. Would you be afraid to walk that tightrope 3,900 feet above the street? I would. But he wasn’t. He doesn’t talk about the experience as one of overcoming fear. Rather he is showing us how to live our lives as if our lives our on the line (literally). To be able to make contact with each moment. That first sip of coffee. The afternoon breeze caressing our left cheek. The good night hug with give our daughter.
When I hug my daughter good night, it’s not really a life or death action. It’s a life or mind action. Do I want to live in my life, or live in my mind? How much or our day do we spend living in our thoughts, our feelings, our daydreams, our plans? Life is what’s actually happening while our mind is playing with illusions.
So here’s a challenge for today/tonight. Three times make real contact with the present moment of your life. It could be a bite of salad or the sound of crickets after dark. Drink up the sound, color or aroma of what’s actually going on around you. And when you walk from the bathroom to your bed tonight, walk like you were on a tightrope. Put your foot down ever so carefully. Keep your attention riveted to the place where your feet meets the floor with each step. Steady. Steady. Keep your balance. Walk like it was a miracle that you can walk. These are your last steps of the day. Enjoy the gift of motion, of movement. Just take a step in the right direction. And trust the rest.
Gregg Krech is the author of several books on Japanese Psychology and his new book, The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology, will be available in late September, 2014. On September 16th, he will be teaching an online course, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness sponsored by the ToDo Institute.