Survival Skills: Part 1 of 3

Explores how though THB you become familiar with your edge and prepared to face crises.
Explores how though THB you become familiar with your edge and prepared to face crises.
Mount Whitney

Life is full of tests. Your survival skills will be tested, whether you put yourself in a challenging situation or whether the test comes to you in some other, unexpected way. Whether you suddenly find yourself taking care of an elderly parent, facing a financial crisis or even something simple as coping with the flu, if you’ve tested your own edge before, you’ll be better prepared to face an upheaval.

Here is part one of three pieces on survival skills and how they relate to The Happy Body. How making the uncomfortable comfortable is a preparation for the extreme tests in life, and how preparing a parachute ahead of time can save you from the worst outcomes.

Jerzy and Aniela on Mt. Whitney Summit

A Deep Chasm
by Aniela Gregorek

Flints grind under
my fellow hiker’s shoes
as they move through
narrow passages of rocky
tunnels winding around
the shoulders of Mt. Whitney.
Even though it is the end
of May and the reflection
of the sun from bare walls
blinds us, the cold
air bites our exposed cheeks
and the tips of our fingers
in gloves stab with pain. I walk along,
the heavy backpack allows me
only to focus on taking
another step toward the snow-
white cup of the summit.

Suddenly I am falling
racing down a steep slope
everything blurred
like in the old movies—
blackness of mountains,
whiteness of snow.
Rolls of film start moving
one after another
speeding up,
slowing down.
People are moving…
Penelope, Connie
behind me, I can’t
even warn them…

There is no stuntman.
My body behaves
more like a mannequin’s
only the senses
alert; ears
hear the rap
music of snow.
My hands grasp needlepoint rocks,
leaving shattered nails,
slivers of skin, and fabric
of my green jacket peeled
from my forearms. Eyes
grasp salient rocks,
giant beast growing
in my sight, waiting
to swallow…

For a second mind drifts and floats,
words and scenes lap
like water against a boat.

In a flash
the motion starts again,
when some invisible power
pushes me aside.
I sit secure in the middle
of the mountaintop,
look at the falling gusts
of rocks hitting the wall,
then swallowed by the lip
of the chasm. My companions
followed me one after another.
I see their fearful, blood-
painted faces entrapped
bodies with their backpacks,
and the ice-ax
spinning in the air
before it hits my husband
in the head.

I cover my husband’s bruised body
with my own, to keep us warm.
Engraved in the icy slope,
not feeling pain or hunger, thousand
and thousands of times I repeat
a mantra in my mind,
hoping help will come.
It takes over two hours
for three strangers to stumble up
the icy slope, in darkness, to get where we are.
They bring dry fruit,
water and sleeping bag that holds us alive
till dawn. After fifteen hours
that feels like an eternity,
the helicopter takes us down.

It is a sunny day.
The paste blue sky
is interlaced with fading heather
and soaked in ruddy stripes
as if dipped in a painter’s bucket.
Nestled against my husband’s chest
I watch swaying branches
of the birch-tree,
through the window glass.
His steady breath warms
the side of my face,
as I listen to the sudden sound of
hail bombarding
the roof of our hotel room
in Lone Pine.

Helicopter rescuing J&A


Have you ever experienced a life-threatening event? Could you find a creative way to integrate the trauma? From the perspective of time, can you name a skill that helped you survive?

Leave your response below in the comments.

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  • Thank you for this beautiful and inspiring story; it’s so peaceful while at the same time serious. . . . I always appreciate your writing and your soulful, artful way of communicating. Love, Ilona

  • Thank you Ilona for your warm words. I appreciate your comment even more so knowing how much you like quality when it comes to written word. It’s not only my own experience but many friends who are writers (as well as non-writers) that writing can be healing. So struggling with finding the right words, images, or ways to communicate what’s difficult and intimate makes you grow as a person and a craftsman (woman in my case). The effort is worthwhile even if one person is effected by it.

  • Aniela, this is beautiful and jolting. The staccato of some of the lines gave a sense of the movement as this terrifying fall unfolded. Thank you for sharing this raw experience in poetry. I have just had lighter moments of fear in the ocean surfing, but it’s quite different since you know that you will be released by the turbulence eventually.

    I had to share another peculiar experience this evening. I finished up a round of The Happy Body in the gym at work and two thirds of the way through my relaxation to Massenet’s Meditation, I was sure I was hearing it being played from the television too! I looked up and in was an Uzbeki figure skater in the Men’s Free Skate…pirouetting to a slightly faster tempo orchestration. Quite surreal, and funny 🙂

  • Hi Brennan,
    It took some time for me, and distance, to go back and relive that moment. I believe poetry is healing – either writing a poem or reading one takes you through an experience that, hopefully might give you an objective perspective. Similarly how you do in meditation where after a while you develop an observer watching your thoughts and feelings going through your mind.
    Thank you for sharing your Massenet’ moment. I still love this piece of music, after all these years. We had some of these Massenet moments, too.
    One was really funny, and I would like to share it with you. We were at the wedding’s gathering , waiting for the bride and groom to walk down the isle. Everyone was of course anticipating this beautiful moment. Than the music came – “Thais Meditation” started to play, and many of the guests started to turn their heads toward us, smiling. They were all Happy Bodies. Other guests looked puzzled: why there was so much commotion. Of course when Sandy and Rick (the couple’s names) came down the isle they looked like couple of kids, laughing with their eyes shining bright from joy. What we experienced at this moment was a deep connection because of the piece of music and the practice we all did. It was very cool!

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