Saturday, September 8, 2012

Skydiving Samadhi: Episode 1

 Samadhi (def) --a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object i n which the mind becomes still, one-pointed or concentrated while the person remains conscious. In Buddhism, it can also refer to an abiding in which mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience.  Wikipedia

In the summer of my 20th year, my parents took me down to the Richmond Boogie, the second largest skydiving event in the world. My father has always enjoyed planes and air shows, so I had been taken to a number of them in my youth.

All afternoon, we sat in lawn chairs and watched people fall from the sky. Starting way up high, you could hardly see the plane, let alone the people as they began their dives. Slowly, a dark dot would come into focus, no bigger than a bug. "There!" My father would tap my shoulder and point up into the blue. The dark dot got bigger and, soon, a brilliantly colored blossom of parachute would unfurl. The diver slowly and gracefully floated down towards us, landing as a full-sized human on the air field.

It came to my parents' attention that you could pay to sky dive, that day. "Do you want to jump?" my mother asked me. "Let me think about it for half an hour," I replied, calmly sipping my Coke. For the next half hour, I carefully considered the decision before me with a calm mind and open heart. I watched person after person fall from the vast and cloud-scattered sky above me. When the time was up, my mother touched my arm. Our eyes met and she asked, "Would you like to go?" The one word that came from my mouth conveyed with it the deliberateness of my choice and the respect for the danger involved. "Yes."

With that, we got up from our blue lawn chairs and walked quickly across the grass. We went inside a small, grey office where videos of divers played on a TV. My parents paid and I signed paperwork. Then, I was asked to sit in a small classroom and wait for the others.

I can't remember how many people joined me in my first dive that day, but I do remember the basics of the class, almost verbatim. "You will be strapped to a Senior Master Diver. To earn the title of 'Senior Master,' a person has to have 500 documented jumps under their belt. When you jump, arch your body backwards. Give a 'strong man' pose with you arms and bend your knees so that your ankles are by your butt. At some point (they gave me a "so many thousand feet" measurement), your Senior Master will tap you on the arm. At this point, you can reach back, grab the thing that feels like a golf ball and pull. This will deploy the 'chute. If you don't want to deploy the shoot yourself, you can simply shake your head 'no' and the Senior Master will deploy the 'chute. In the event that the main 'chute does not deploy properly, the Senior Master will attempt to deploy the back-up 'chute. If the Senior Master loses consciousness, you must keep an eye on your altimeter. You must pull your 'chute before this height. As you are flying, the Senior Master will ask you if you'd like to steer. He will guide your hands up to the parachute handles. Pulling the right handle will take you right, pulling the left handle will take you left. In the event that the Senior Master passes out, you must be able to land with a bit of safety. Wait until you are about 20 feet off the ground, then pull both of the steering handles down towards your groin. This will lift you a bit and allow you to land. If your Senior Master is landing the two of you, as you near the ground he will say "Lift." You are, then, to lift your legs so that you are in a sitting position. This will allow the Senior Master to get his feet on the ground, first. When you feel your Senior Master touch down, you may then put your feet down. Are there any questions?"

The only question I had was about my health. "I have blood sugar issues," I said. "Will this do anything to. . . mess those up?" "It shouldn't," the instructor assured me. "However, we do have paramedics on standby. I'll alert them to your condition and they'll be watching for you. When you hit the ground, wave to them if you're okay."

With the class ended, we were ready to suit up. The flight suit was pea green and made of a thick canvas. The fit was snug enough that I couldn't bend at the waist well and I had to ask my father to retie my shoes. A cap was put on my head to control my hair and I was given goggles. The class and our Senior Masters sat around, talking, until it was our turn. We were ushered from the sidelines to a tent in the middle of the airfield where we sat around and waited some more. All the while, experienced divers kept asking me the same question. "Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?" Annoyed at the question, I replied, "Well, why not?"

Episode 2