Agility is the ability to be nimble in real time. In a physical sense, as conditions and circumstances change (which they always do), how quickly are we able to respond – appropriately – to those changes?
My winter passion is backcountry snowboarding, otherwise known as splitboarding. One of my prized possessions is a locally made Venture snowboard that is split lengthwise, down the middle, becoming two skis for uphill travel then converting back into a single snowboard for the descent. No lifts, no noise, no crowds and tons of deep powder for my friends and me to enjoy as long as we have the fitness for the climb (and an avalanche tracking beacon…).
But because the snowcats don’t groom the backcountry like they would in a traditional ski resort, the conditions are known as ‘variable’. As new snow falls on old, the wind blows it here and there and back again, and the temperature changes throughout the day, from day to day. The snow on the ground forms a wide variety of layers of different consistencies, all of which look … just like snow.
Snowboarding a backcountry slope is quite an experience. A single run down the mountain can consist of sheer ice, thick chunks (or ‘chud’), a thin crust with sugary powder below, waist-deep powder (the Holy Grail), and every variation in between. It could be the quintessential light Colorado Champagne or that dreaded (by Coloradans) heavy Sierra Cement. And if these layers are stacked in a particular way under the right (wrong?) conditions, the entire slope can break into a deadly avalanche. Exciting stuff!
To successfully survive this experience is the definition of ‘agility’. Looking down from the top of the mountain, you have no idea what’s really ahead so there’s not much you can do to ‘mentally prepare yourself’ for the drop in. If you’ve created a story in your head of perfect powder and hit ice, it’s a long, fast slide on your butt to the forest gauntlet below. If your story is about ice and you hit powder, your ‘face plant’ could bury you to your waist.
Moving at speed in the ever-changing-moment, you must be able to make both subtle and significant movements of stance and foot pressure while constantly surveying the surrounding conditions to navigate the best route down and avoid avalanches. You might start off skating on ice, then breaking through crust, then back on top, now thick wind-loaded powder, now light freshies, then back to crust, watching out for that roller (they tend to break and slide), and always listening for that dreaded ‘whomp’ of compressing snow that precedes an avalanche…
The ability to be and stay agile, to make the right movements and decisions in the moment, is the key to survival.
Through awareness of how our minds work, we can maintain a mental agility, as well. Our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is an amazing analytical and computational tool that allows us to ‘know’ that we know. Also referred to as our intellect or Ego, we know that we can get trapped in a thought storm that can render us fairly useless (which can become a death sentence in the backcountry … as well as in the Board Room). What we don’t often understand – and where mental agility comes in – is that we don’t have to spend our lives trapped in our PFC. We’ve all experienced occasions of perfect clarity. We feel calm and content and the most amazing things seem to come to mind in that space: the answer to a problem we’ve been struggling with, an insight about the direction we should move in life, the best conversation we’ve ever had, or maybe just noticing the overwhelming beauty of something we hadn’t really noticed before.
What we don’t always understand is that this place of clarity is available to us all the time (and not just when we’re not paying attention to anything else). We have the ability to be aware of when our Ego is holding us back, even when under duress, and feel those familiar feelings when our minds get cluttered with thoughts of fear, anxiety, insecurity and grief (to name a few of my favorites). When our intellect starts writing these stories for us and we feel the familiar pangs – whether standing on a mountain top or buried under a to-do list – we have the ability to sit back and let those initial thoughts and associated feeling pass and find ourselves again in the clarity of the moment – in consciousness. It’s in consciousness that life is lived, where we connect with all living things and where inspiration and creativity are found. With an agile mind, we can go there anytime we choose.
If you would like more command of your thoughts and emotions in the moment, I can help … it’s what I do. You can message me here, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 298-9139.