Tag Archives: peaks

Flying, Falling, Freeing

I don’t know how this happened. I just know that it did. I remember earlier this year after watching “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, I wanted do everything that they did. For three weeks, I had new idols and new life ambitions. My focus on becoming a Kingsman faded with the initiation of finals week, but I still relished the idea. When my roommate mentioned it was his lifelong dream to sail through the skies at terminal velocity, my mind was made up. We were going to do it. On nothing more than a whim, I gathered information, identified cheap tandem skydiving sites, and coerced my closest acquaintances into my psychopathic fantasies of this potentially fatal pastime.

During the ride to the Wisconsin Skydiving Center, I was so psyched to be doing this. Skydiving?!? This was in my wildest dreams. And I would be doing it with my best friends. It was pure excitement. It was uninhibited joy. It would fulfill my thrill-seeking, adrenaline-crazed, sense of adventure quota for the month! Probably… But this would be a highlight of my summer. A highlight of my life.

Unlike them, we will all knew that we had parachutes… or at least we were attached to people that had them

Scene from “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, uploaded by Steve Hubbard

When we arrived at the Skydiving Center, my enthusiasm skyrocketed. We were here! I could see the hanger, the planes, and the instructors donning obscure jumpsuits. My objective was sitting right in front of me and I would waste no time to completing my mission. My roommates and I quickly signed the papers and completed the training. I didn’t really pay attention much though. I was too focused on the end result to pay attention to the basic life-saving maneuvers and standard operating procedure for basic skydiving survival skills. Talking about the experience wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t continue living vicariously through brochures and pamphlets. I want to create my own adventures.

Naturally, I volunteered to go first. I would tribute myself to appease the skies. The wind wanders aimlessly, searching to release unsuspecting travelers from the Earthly chains that bind them. We must sacrifice our Earthly natures in order to ascend. The sky has something to teach us and I was about to discover the secrets that it held most dear. Guru Laghima said it most appropriately:

“Let go your earthly tether. Enter the void. Empty and become wind.”

zaheermeditating

FAVORITE LoK Villian right here #trueflight

We would soar ever higher, above the cloud layer and over 9000(ft). But as we continued our slow ascent to the heavens above, the reality of the situation began to register in my brain. We were 10,000 above the ground. Two months ago I could only dream of the possibilities of floating among the clouds and observing the atmospheric processes that directed their movement. But now that my eyes – along with the rest of my body – could view the masses of clouds and feel the direction of airflow, I wasn’t so sure that this was what I wanted. But it did not matter anymore because we had arrived at our destination. The sky was the limit and we had reached the end of the line.

The end of the line meant that we were supposed to be ready. The instructor unlocked the latch and opened the door to my demise. My initial excitement immediately melted into a distressful terror. What was I doing at this height?!? 10,000 ft in the air? How did I get here? Before I had not questioned the sequence of events that led up to this moment, but now that was the only thought on my mind. I grabbed the rope with my hand. My mind was racing, but my heart beat faster. I put my foot on the step outside the plane. My inner being was telling me to choose life. And I was in the perfect position to fall.

But that’s why I was doing this. I wanted to live.

The time fell upon me. We were here and there was only one thing left to do. I longingly stared down to the Earth, remembering the comfort that solid ground beneath my feet gave me. I did not know what was going to happen, but I knew I had to do this. I took one last breath.

And then I began to fall.

We first fell backwards and I could only stare at the sky and wonder how there existed anything above our current altitude. But then we flipped and I was tumbling though the air, swirling in endless loops in all directions. We stabilized. I felt a rush of air blasting upward, cutting through me. Into my body and into to my soul. I tried to scream. I couldn’t hear any words. There was air all around me, but I couldn’t even breathe. I was shaking. There was no weight to my body. I didn’t exist anymore. But when I made the strange realization that I was nothing more than a disembodied conscious, it was then that I was free.

I looked towards the ground knew that I was flying. –Er, well falling. Plummeting more actually. But I was in the sky and I was the wind. I felt the acceleration of my body, falling faster and faster. And I extended my limbs to their furthest points so my entire body could capture this moment. My mouth was wide open trying to take in the experience because I knew that any attempt to gasp for air was futile. I had released my Earthly tether. I had entered the void. I emptied and became wind.

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A vicarious viewing of my socially deviant behavior

But then I was pulled upward. Yanked back into my body and out of this otherworldly experience. The parachute had deployed. Our freefall was over. We began our leisurely descent back down to Earth. And it was in these moments that I learned the most.

Now that the most exhilarating moments had fleetingly left us, it was time to reflect. My instructor told me to sit in silence and observe my surroundings. I looked across the horizon and down to the Earth, in search of new insight for my fatigued state of mind. I could see everything from up above. The organizational layout of the cities, the plots of land dedicated to agricultural production, the thin strips of black road that transport people from one location to the next. But none of the people below even knew that I was up there or that I even existed. I was an inactive participant, removing myself so I could observe the story unfolding before my eyes and the people creating it. As the wind guided us gently to the ground, it gifted me with the experience of flight and a new perspective with which I could view the world.

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7/10 for the landing – Didn’t quite stick it…

When I landed I was breathless. Partially because my heart still had not stabilized, but mostly because I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened! It wasn’t until afterwards, when I sat and reflected on the experience that I began to feel more down-to-Earth (likely because I had Earth to stand on now). But in all honesty, I did learn the power of sky. The power it has to see what others cannot. The immense beauty that it contained. And the potential for danger that it held.

Skydiving provided irrefutable evidence for my next step in life. It showed me that I should not be afraid to jump head-first into the unknown. It is where we can learn the most about ourselves and the world. It is completely necessary to push past the boundaries of our comfort zones. And sometimes it is the only way. We can move forward by being in the moment. We can welcome our journey into the uncharted lands of the future.

“… And once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

EDIT 08/24/15 Changed quotation credit from Zaheer to Guru Laghima – newb mistake, I know…

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A Model Student

My week at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) Undergraduate Leadership Workshop was underway and I was building my professional repertoire for the future. Just as this program was coming to a close, another opportunity opened up – by interrupting. The phone call was from the marketing department of the Wisconsin Foundation Alumni Association (WFAA). I was informed that they were looking for Great People scholarship recipients to publicize the new eighth edition of the Red Shirt and wanted me to send head shots for modeling. The opportunity immediately attracted me, though I was skeptical that they would actually want me to model for them. But I decided that I wouldn’t let any distractions rain on the NCAR parade. I had to put the WFAA on hold until I got my head out of the clouds and back to Madison.

Upon my return to Madison, I began to entertain the abstract idea of modeling. If the WFAA was looking for photogenic, highly enthusiastic, and – above all else – fun people, then I was obligated to disclose the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. My Facebook profile had profuse examples of my trademark face, capitalizing upon a particular peculiarity of my character that is conveyed best in person. A photograph simply could not entirely capture the essence of my eccentricities. Any of the comments on these pictures would support that claim. But now these images – what others had labeled as “awkward”, “immature”, or “unappealing” – became comical, light-hearted, and intriguing in the eyes of the recruiter. My honesty paid off. I was going to be a model for the Red Shirt campaign!

Even though I was permitted to participate in the scholarship fundraising crusade, I still felt apprehensive about the whole ordeal. I wasn’t exactly the most spirited Badger. I didn’t own any Badger gear, I only recently learned about “Varsity”, and I have never been to a Badger football game. So Badger Pride clearly wasn’t my priority, but I was inadvertently contributing to the campus community in other ways. So maybe I wasn’t the traditional UW-Madison student, but that is exactly what this campaign demanded: unconventional originality. And I knew about unconventional.

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Capturing a glimpse of a wild Kai in his natural habitat

Photographs courtesy of © Copyright C&N Photo

After my performance modeling the Red Shirt, what was originally an offer to act as an amateur model extended to an encore with the video production company to highlight my career thus far at UW-Madison. I was starting to believe that if my investment with the sciences did not work out, then my flirtation with modeling and film might have future prospects. Events were falling into place and plans set into motion. With childlike dreams for fame and fortune, I would anxiously await for the adults to decide the fate of my poses and finalize the future of the Red Shirt.

Red-Shirt_HOMEPAGE

The image seen round the world.

August 4th, 2015. The release date of the photos. I had been informed that this would be the launch date, but I was ignorant of the indirect impact it would have on my life. I felt like Harry Potter. Through some strange sorcery, I was becoming popular in real-time. The message my face delivered had been transfigured from “oblivious bystander overstepping personal boundaries” to “shamelessly awkward ownership of true character”. People were falling under my spell and under the influence to open their wallets to purchase the merchandise I was sporting. This wasn’t some illusory experience. This was real. And it was me for once.

I had stepped into the spotlight and was captivated by a 24-hour period of fame. A week ago, I was unaware that my face would take center stage on the UW homepage. Now it felt like a far-off memory. My time had passed. It was time to share the spotlight and make room for other stories and other people. Life carried on regardless of what I did. So whether I liked it or not, I had to step out into the darkness and exit stage left.

An introductory acting experience – featuring signature lip bites, subtle gestures, and a self-proclaimed weirdo

Video produced by © Copyright Backflip Films

The inconvenient truth of my socially awkward identity was that I was merely an undiscovered resource, waiting to be tapped and harnessed to its full potential. I discovered a place that would utilize my overt extroversion and channel my boundless energy. I had more Badger Pride than I had previously thought, and the homepage was evidence of that fact.

My earlier interpretation of my self-image fixated upon my interpersonal relationships, but I realize now that I should have directed my attention towards an intrapersonal dialogue as well. The Red Shirt campaign triggered an introspective investigation into the social aspect of my life. It taught me that I should just embrace all of my character because I had been hiding the best parts. Standing in the spotlight illuminated this secret for me and enlightened my understanding of myself. I felt needed for once, but I didn’t need a Red Shirt to invoke those feelings or even enable this side of my personality. I could be that guy on the front page all the time. I am important, I do matter, and I embrace the quirky reputation that I hold. And it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.

It is true what they say.

The Red Shirt is the only shirt that gives back.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Wausau, WI

As I stared off into the distance, the bus made no efforts to disengage from its predetermined path. It continued to incrementally separate itself from me, simultaneously sabotaging both my sense of security and any plans I had of seeing my friend this weekend. The situation was slipping outside of my control and Wausau was slipping outside of my grasp.

These were desperate times, but I could not afford to look desperate. No one would help a hysterical hitchhiker. The situation demanded a calm, cool, and collected state of mind. The rules of supply and demand dictated that I should have an ample reserve. I could not lose in this market. Too much was at stake.

Fortunately the transfer point was located at the local restaurant in town. Instead of sinking my teeth into sub-par sustenance, I should have been devoting my time to figuring out a way to ensure I wouldn’t spend my entire weekend at Olympia Family Restaurant. I tried to vocalize my predicament to the restaurant staff, but without a purchase I would be outside of their concern and then promptly escorted outside of their establishment. Left with no other viable options, I sat down in moderate defeat to decide on my main course for dinner alongside a more pressing new course of action.

While I sat in solitude at my own little corner of Olympia, a concerned family overheard my pleas for help and offered a simple solution to what had become a complex problem. They would drive me to Wausau. I had found Southern Hospitality in the Upper Midwest. From that point forward good food and conversation were abundant, as our shared stories and exchanged laughter wafted though the air of the small town restaurant. The evening continued to drastically transform from dismal to blissful as my unfamiliar associates substantiated their magnanimous demeanor with monetary value. I was told before that there was no such thing as a free lunch. But a free dinner was never out of the question. In fact, it was right in front of me. And with my wallet still full and my stomach even fuller, we left the diner behind as we set our sights on the final destination.

The hitchhiking had commenced, complete with continued conversation from my benefactors. During the ride, they explained why they felt so compelled to help me. One night during a winter snowstorm their daughter had broke down on the side of the road. The conditions were too harsh for her to stay inside her car, but the tow truck driver took it upon himself to take care of this random stranger. They had to pay this kindness forward. They told me it was the only way humans could make it through life. I had a “no-good-deed-goes-unreciprocated” policy and the good fortune I had been blessed with was no exception to the rule. One day I would pay it forward. But for now, I would enjoy all the perks of being on the receiving end of random acts of kindness.

If this was the standard package for a person engaging in the art of hitchhiking, then I could endure a day of being pampered and protected from the hardships of the traveler’s life in exchange for the student price and the routine recreations of the local charter bus. Although it was an untimely and inefficient mode of transport, it was the far more spontaneous and exhilarating option. It was something to remember. And if I wanted this memory to last, then I had to savor it while I still could.

In short, hitchhiking had accomplished my mission. Their kindness extended not only to the inside of their vehicle but to the inner lining of their wallets. They left me in Wausau, WI – directly in front of my friend’s house. I left with words of wisdom and a Karmic pledge to pay it forward in the future.

With the help of these strangers, I had successfully hitchhiked to the promised land. And nothing else mattered.