“Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are.” -Don Miguel Ruiz

The global tour of the Banff film festival is in Eugene this weekend. The short videos selected among hundreds of entries from extreme sports enthusiasts are mind boggling. From the free form skiing off of tops of mountains, to bicycle riding from Alaska to the tip of Argentina, to solo climbing up the biggest rock faces in the world, alone and without a rope, the feats that humans put themselves through and accomplish seems like attempting the impossible. 

For the people sharing their stories, it is all in a days work. Another story that I had never heard of before was that of Rozalyn Savage, who was one of only five women to row across the Atlantic. She is currently on her 2nd leg of crossing the Pacific. You are talking about millions of strokes here.

All of the heroic feats, whether scaling a rock face or outrunning an avalanche or cutting free your anchor in the middle of 20- foot waves, all require the same mental capacity. In fact, overcoming their fears and anxieties and finding the zone of total presence are the definitive skills that allow all these people to achieve seemingly impossible acts.

Roz’s accounting of her hundreds of days at sea by herself was a particularly compelling video log because of her naked vulnerability in sharing the fear, loneliness and self doubt that she was forced to deal with day after day. Her ability to sustain a positive mind-set and stay focused was the basis for her ability to endure and succeed.

Likewise, 24-year-old Alex Honnold, before he made a solo, ropeless climb up 2000 foot Half Dome wall, spoke about the moment he resolved to do that climb. The decision to do it replaced the fear and, once begun, he was not allowed the luxury of second thoughts on the face of an immense rock. He scaled the 2000-plus foot wall in just under three hours, solo, no ropes. The first expedition to scale Half Dome in 1957, took over 5 days. This living in-the-zone takes more than human strength to complete and are nothing if not a study in positive thinking.

Although I am not one for extreme sports practices in life, I still like to think of myself as living on the edge, pushing my abilities to have a dream and go after it. The mindset that creates these unbelievable feats is the same one that is available to all of us. In the end the fear of having the life we dream of may be scarier for most of us than losing it all.