In an old novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, which is roughly based on the life of Musashi Miyamoto there is a passage that reads, "Kojiro had put his confidence in the sword of strength and skill -- Musashi trusted in the sword of spirit." Of course, the latter won this particular duel and to me this sums up the raison d'etre of the fires I've lit: to strengthen the spirit, because surely the body will fall into line if the soul be strong. Lifting weights and running sprints and climbing hills is the easy part, and mostly the consequence of an appropriately developed spirit, or the expression of supreme indifference to discomfort.
Life is full of cycles, great and small. Personal development is linked to lasting change. We pass through various stages, some achieved consciously, others reached accidentally. Daniel Levinson proposes that one's life cycle is composed of four 25-year eras. Confucious argued for six cycles. Aristotle thought there were three stages. The details don't much matter only that we change over the course of our lives and—sometimes—we have the opportunity to direct that change. At other times life appears simply "to happen" and we find ourselves on a different road, or continent.
Somewhere between my life climbing mountains and where I find myself today, which was once defined by the gym, and the individuals I coached and trained, I passed through a period of interest in ski mountaineering racing. I liked what it could be. I didn't enjoy what it actually was at the time because I couldn't do it well. I used it to maintain a tenuous connection to my previous life instead of truly immersing myself in it. Like all half-measures it faded. The bike replaced skis as a means of growth but from time to time I found myself on skis and on them I could journey back to the very beginning of my life. I started skiing at age two. I did it with family. I did it with friends. I grew up on them. Later, skis were a critical piece of our evolving climbing style because they allowed easy access to, and escape from the mountains. We could cover distances impossible to cross on foot—at least in the time we allowed ourselves. I've done all sorts of skiing but I don't consider myself a skier. I've seen the real thing and I'm not that. Besides, being contrarian, I prefer to use skis in an unintended manner.
Some maintain (rightfully so) that skis are predominantly for going down. But, by attaching climbing skins to the base, skis go uphill just fine. And it's that part I like. Sure, screaming down an open slope of freshly-fallen snow is a blast, but I learn more about myself and the nature of man during the painful and sometimes elegant climb up. Of course, every vertical foot earned increases the value of each descending turn but it's the oxygen-poor moments punctuated by balance and ski placement, route-finding and rhythm, energy-management and awareness that teach me about physical movement, and the constant fight between taking the easy way or choosing the hard path. The fitness aspect of skiing uphill is easy—as it is with most things—because when the spirit is strong enough to have chosen the hard way in the first place the body naturally falls into line.
I have recently struggled with that choice, the hard one, the steep way instead of the easy coasting. I am fighting within myself to balance physical art and ethereal, two-dimensional art for lack of a better term. It's my understanding and language that fails in this moment; I want to describe the difference between art created with my lungs and legs and transcribed into words or imagery, and the art made while idle, searching simply, maybe easily, with my mind alone. The former carries weight, made by the gravity I resisted in order to see. The latter can be just as heavy, and the insight deeper but without physical exhaustion it seems less ... important, less valuable.
Still, in the background, and sometimes up front, the cycles are turning. We can stay the same or accept how previous decisions shaped our environment and the skills we express within it, and how the confluence of those things changes us and what futures we make with every decision, every action, and every conscious breath we take. I am who I am and sometimes that is who I wanted to be. The skis are closeted. The bikes up front. And more often I pick the camera over the pedals, which shapes how I see and therefore the way ahead.
The sword of spirit cuts just as deep whichever path I choose, as long as it is truth I seek and speak.