I reluctantly awake. My thoughts are foggy as I analyze the ominous glow coming from my bedroom’s window shades. The room is being illuminated by either the piercing energy of a sunny day, or I am being led by the blinding but inspiring force of extreme fear lurking below the surface of my consciousness, the edge of sanity for which I am treading and the extreme anticipation to take the leap of faith that will determine my future.
I have both prepared for and avoided this day for many years. What I’m about to do is the last resort before I go insane. I neither want to die, nor do I desire to live in the physical realm anymore – trapped amid the zoo of my mind’s never-ending contemplations. I have attempted clarity through various avenues of intellectual intensity and spiritual experience but nothing has worked, permanently.
I want clarity and peace. I’ve had enough! I want an unbridled and pure relationship with the Universe. My mind needs to be purged of the grime left over from my past relationships and life escapades. I’m weary of feeling guilty regarding the seeming inability to find my true self and experience a liberated life of peace and balance. I must put my socially constructed and controlling mind to death and allow the Universe’s mind to take over. I must rise up from the ashes of love and jump back into the fire of life.
On the back of my journal I created while being a camp counselor this past summer, the phone number is scribbled among directions, other numbers and impertinent information from adventures passed. This number, however, is seemingly illuminated by the glow of the stark white shades that blind me from the outside world and keep others from peering in. It may be the last I’ll call.
I throw my cotton security blanket aside and peek through the dusty shutters. Today, I’m more afraid that my freefall trip will be canceled because of stormy weather than I am of dying. My unchannelled passions are eating me from the inside out, and this is the day to purge my soul of the garbage that haunts me. I peer through the shades and see puffy clouds. The air is hazy and eerie. The day feels heavy.
Clouds make me feel peaceful. I admire them and wish for my personal character to replicate their qualities. They are gentle yet powerfully strong, leaving room for the imagination; yet, they harness a strong sense of purpose often overlooked by the captees of society. Today is my day to fly among these clouds. I have complete faith I will become truly one with my surroundings; live or die as a mortal. For a cloud to form, there must be an explosion from within.
I am clear for take-off while trying to deny selfish sentiments of saving my physical body. There’s no backing out now. This is what I’ve been looking forward to. To fear death is to not love “God.”
I hesitantly dial the number. After a few harrowing rings, I hear an older man’s voice. I pessimistically anticipate he isn’t jumping today or needs to reschedule.
“Yeah, is this Chuck?” I ask, with a tinge of fear and curiosity.
“This is Jeff Warner. We still on for today?”
“What time were you scheduled for?” he asks.
“Can we push that back to about one? Some other tandems showed up, and first come first serve, ya know?” he says with slight hesitation.
I aware of unpreparedness. I’m not totally disappointed about the delay, but I do sense that I’m being tricked. Nevertheless, I spend another three hours contemplating what I’m about to do. Patience is the key to success and growth, and it’s often located in the experiences feared most.
Driving to the airport, I have no future plans, for a change. The traffic is horrible, but it doesn’t bother me as much today. Traffic to me is like a sweater made of steel wool. The more you scratch your skin, the more you get cut. I’m about to jump out of an airplane and cross a finish line I’ve failed to cross many times. None of these loud, malicious, oil-guzzling steel beasts is going to make a damn bit of difference in a half hour.
I drive to the white, quaint clubhouse with wavering confidence. It’s eerily calm, and the radiant heat from the parking lot adds to the effect. I want to have the confidence and malleability of steel, but I feel like damp wallboard being held up by the metal screws of weak faith and unanchored knowledge from adventures passed.
Light on my feet, I float to the door. Locked. I move to another. Locked. A wisp of panic flows through me. I consciously deny the emotion and try to stay positive. I search for a synchronistic sign to guide me.
Behind the clubhouse, I see a blonde woman standing behind a fence.
“Excuse me,” I ask with a sense of slight urgency. “Do you know where Chuck is?”
She sternly points to the other side of the building. Slightly embarrassed, I walk through the fenced portal, seemingly into another world. Life will never be the same.
These are possibly the last people I’ll see. I’m prepared to die, but eager to live. And it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to me what they think. I’m not thinking of my family or friends; only of purging my mind and allowing what is to be – be.
I’m told to watch a routine skydiving video. The veteran skydivers coming in and out of the motorhome are loud – walking in front of the television and talking to me. An older man with glasses and a beard walks in and turns on the air conditioner. It rattles loudly above my head. I maintain my focus, turning the television up just loud enough to remind them I’m doing something important. He walks over and shuts it the air conditioner off.
The skydiving video is addressing legal rights. A woman, Melissa, appears, stops the video and tells says we are going to meet Chuck. I’m being whisked away to the air field where skydivers decorate the sky. We light-heartedly walk across the tarmac to a group of three people: a girl, her mother and the older man who turned on the air conditioner.
“That’s Chuck there with the beard,” she says.
“Well, yeah, he’s the only male,” I say, looking at her with a sense of wonder.
We giggle. I meet Chuck. He shrugs me off. “I’m not going to get any special attention here; this is for sure,” I think to myself.
I feel a certain awe while watching the skydivers float like snowflakes. It doesn’t seem real because I’m not directly experiencing it. There’s a difference between living something in your mind and experiencing it in your soul. Getting bored, I finish watching the video.
A man walks in and introduces himself as Chuck. I push the black “pause” button as he walks to the refrigerator. Chuck? I just met Chuck in the field, but this is a different man.
“You gonna get the video?” he asks with enthusiasm.
“I want to really bad, but I don’t think I can afford the eighty-five bucks.”
Simple economics tells me a videotape is not worth eighty-five dollars. I feel I can trick him into knocking the price of the video down – in case I do land.
“The video is worth a million dollars,” Chuck says with honest urgency.
“Okay, I’ll get it.”
I watch the rest of the training video and carelessly sign the forms.
“Do I need to sign this red and white one?” I ask one of the other skydivers. I’m told I don’t need to. I walk out of the motor home and give the signed waivers to older Chuck.
Events are unfolding like a soft blanket at a picnic in the park.
“Sign here and here, and where’s the red and white one?” Chuck asks with irritation.
I walk back into the motor home and sign the sheet, which looks more like a warning sign in an industrial complex than a waiver. I’m slightly embarrassed and irritated for not going with my intuition.
Chuck takes the sign, places it amid a stack of other papers, looks them over and provides a grunt of approval. He gets up and puts on his jump suit.
I sense that the atmosphere is changing. This is it; time to go. I sit on one of the lawn chairs placed in front of the motor home. It’s as though we’re at a campground for the insane, and the ski-boat of lunacy has just come in for refueling.
“If you’re gonna get the video, we can have ya out of here in about three hours,” says older Chuck.
With increasing irritability, I tell him I’m getting the video.
“Three hours? What am I going to do for three hours?” I say to myself, while surveying the area. “I’m a paying customer, shouldn’t I go first?”
By this time, the others are talking as though I’m part of the crew. There’s a gorgeous woman to my left who keeps looking my way with curiosity. I get bored with the eye games, although she does interest me. She’s acting like a curious woman who knows how to explore her options, but who has a man and is content. I leave well enough alone. I advise myself that it’s not wise to step on the toes of a man (i.e. her boyrfriend) who I may be jumping out of an airplane with. I have comprehension of or experience with this skydiving subculture.
Most of the skydivers have gone for a jump. I go to my car, get my book and walk back into their cultural bubble. I attempt to read, but it seems as though they’ve purposely increased the volume of their voices. It’s as though I’m in a chicken coupe! I despise clamoring racket, and it feels like I’m shaving my head with a sharp rock! I decide to accept the circumstances and join the festive conversation.
“So, Jeff, where are your friends?” A skydiver asks with a hint of sarcasm.
“A couple of them wanted to come, but I turned them down.” I feel a tinge of insecurity.
“Most people come here with a cheerleading squad and show off a little,” Melissa says, while looking at Chuck.
“I didn’t come here for anybody else. This is about me.”
They look at each other.
Chuck says, “I’ll be your friend.” Melissa: “I’ll be your friend.” Another: “I’ll be your friend.” Another: “I’ll be your friend too.”
While putting my book back in my car, a friend of mine drives up. I feel panic and disappointment. I want to do this alone! I was adamant in preparing myself to do this independently! This has to be perfect! Damn it! Now what am I going to do?!
Troy is determined to stay, so I slip back into a peaceful state of mind.
A few people are packing parachutes; I watch with intense interest. After a while I say, “So, those are packed so there is first an explosion of air from the inside?” The skydiver looks at me with curiosity and confirms. I lose interest and walk back to the chairs.
“They should be coming down any minute,” Melissa says. “Is the tandem going up next?” Melissa asks another skydiver.
She’s referring to me, “the tandem,” even though I’m sitting next to her. I’m beginning to feel like an Erector set on a shelf. The younger “Mystery Chuck” is sitting next to me.
“Looks like you’ve got wings.” I sarcastically say regarding his odd-looking suit.
“It’s for the camera work.”
“Ahh…This is Chuck Jr.” I think to myself.
Each skydiving session takes about an hour. Small talk ensues for another forty-five minutes or so. We hear an airplane. Conversation stops and then resumes. We hear another; the conversation stops once again. I feel the level of tension and excitement rising. It’s like insecticide to a horsefly, or the choking bittersweet essence of perfume to a lonely traveler.
Suddenly, Chuck Sr. shows up like a ghost on a poorly written episode of Scooby-Doo. Poof!
“We’ll pack up those chutes, and you’re going up next,” Chuck says to me with authority.
“Gee Chuck, it sure seems like you’ve had me waiting all day for a reason, huh?”
I walk past him with a slight skip in my step.
He makes a grunting noise and tries to hide a grin as he walks into the motorhome. It’s training time, and now is when the excitement is beginning.
“Come help me pack this chute,” says Chuck Sr.
I hesitantly follow. I’m somewhat educated on this task because I learned the basics a few hundred minutes earlier.
“You ever had a chute not open?” I say with intentional ignorance.
“What did you do?”
“I pulled the back-up,” says Chuck, simply.
Humbled, I decide to ceise trying to be tricky.
There’s commotion, and the energy of the culture-bubble changes once again. The pilot decides that he’s going home. I feel panic for a second, but it vaporizes. I know this day is going to happen just the way it is meant to. I learn that Chuck Sr. has a pilot’s license.
“You’ll be going tandem with Dean over there,” says Chuck. I observe Dean organizing his loose parachute.
“I’m tired of my hunger pains,” I think to myself. “Who cares if I puke? It’s all coming to the ground one way or another.”
I hesitantly forage on the bag of chips and cheesy-poofs sitting on the picnic table. I say to myself, “I usually wouldn’t just eat someone’s food like this, but what the hell.” I check for signs of disapproval and receive none. I’m part of the family now.
I think, “Maybe I should go introduce myself to Dean.” He walks around the corner, introduces himself and directs me to the picnic table. I lie down and go through the rounds of routine training.
It’s ridiculous. I’m lying on a picnic table. My arms outstretched, and I appear as though a penguin trying to fly. I’m beginning to feel anxious but believe that I’m doing a fairly good job of masking it from the onlookers. I’m directed to the airplane, and we enter the ratty-looking death trap.
“Keep your hands flat, arch your back, and keep your legs up. When exiting, we will do a rocking motion. Ready…set…go… and a belly flop right there.” Dean instructs.
The anxiety anchored in my stomach begins to pulsate. I feel like I’ve swallowed a chunk of styrophome. I fake a few smiling gestures toward the camera.
The air is thick with anticipation. I’m back in the motor home, pacing. I receive a warm smile from the guy who’s turned out to be the boyfriend of the pretty girl from earlier. I can sense his centered strength and yearn to be at his level. I stare deep into his eyes and sit down next to him. Everybody outside is scrambling to prepare for the jump.
“I feel like I’m going insane,” I say to him. “I can’t stop intellectualizing everything and trying to solve everybody’s problems. I can’t help it. I just see the solutions plain as day, and it drives me nuts. I want peace.”
Dean peers through the door, witnessing our conversation. He reluctantly walks away. I can feel the excitement and impatience.
“That’s the same way I was, thinking too much” says the woman’s boyfriend.
“I did this for similar reasons,” he adds, with intense concentration. They may not have been so spiritual, but the effect will be the same. Just, be. Don’t think anymore. Just, be.”
We lock eyes, and I shake his hand with warmth and wavering strength. He holds on just a little too long.
“I’ll see ya when you get back.”
I feel as though angels surround me.
Dean appears, “Come on, Jeff. Let’s go.”
I walk out of the motor home with a hazy head. I look to my left, and Troy walks into my view. I’m grateful he’s here. I give him a nod while I walk toward the airplane.
Chuck Sr., Chuck Jr., Melissa, Dean and I enter the airplane and prepare for takeoff. There is one seat and no seat belts. The ventilation is a pop bottle partly stuffed through a small opening in the door. The plane’s navigation controls look like they’re from a World War II plane.
This still doesn’t seem real. It’s a beautiful day to take a pleasant plane ride with my new friends.
Chug; chug; cough; cough; and the plane sputters to life. We taxi down the runway. The radio is clamoring information toward Chuck. We shake like seeds in a popcorn maker while accelerating down the runway.
The plane feels as though it has the weight of a funeral home – without the fake flowers, confusingly comforting light music and pretty pictures of people unknown to the mourners.
We tell jokes and have light conversation while Chuck performs routine camera work. The atmosphere is positive, and I feel love energy beaming out of me like an exploding galaxy. It’s as though we’ve done this together a hundred times. I mention something about a spiritual experience, and Dean responds.
“I had a really intense experience the other day,” he says. “I was at about fourteen hundred feet, and an eagle flew just underneath me. I could see the wings curled inward and down. Can you imagine viewing an eagle from the top?”
I look at him with astonishment. We lock eyes; the preparation is complete.
I admire the beautiful view of the Duluth, Minn. area. I’m amazed at the different colors, presence of the never-ending skyline, pristine blue water and civic structure of the cities below. I’ve always felt cities are the corroding oxidation of the natural world, but today I look at them from a different perspective; they’re beautiful.
“Melissa, you’re going to come down and touch Jeff’s arm,” Chuck Jr. says. This will be her first “dock.”
A tinge of disapproval and panic flows through me. I disregard it like a bad habit. We talk about altimeters, barometric pressure and tell more silly jokes.
Melissa is lying back, completely calm and beaming out peaceful and balanced energy. Her long, flowing blonde hair seems to move in slow motion. She’s much older but seems a beautiful and vibrant young woman. I see her as she really is. We make intense eye contact. Neither of us has any idea what we’re about to experience.
We’re at five thousand feet when Dean leans over and says, “Think, Jeff, this is the height we’ll be at when we pull the chute.” I give him a grin and look out the window.
I begin to feel restless as we climb past six thousand feet. I close my eyes, and I’m in communication with God: “Lord, I don’t want my mind; I want your mind within me. Let your mind live and rule all of my thinking and feeling. I don’t want my knowledge; I want your truth. Open your wisdom to me daily. Purge my mind according to your word. Put my mind to death in all its ways of controlling my thinking and feeling, in all the ways I have learned to think and feel in the world.”
I push prayer energy out to Chuck, asking him to record this historic moment, and he intuitively responds. I open my eyes, and the atmosphere of the airplane changes. My jump colleagues are providing a look of slight confusion and unconditional acceptance. I can feel the energy flowing from me, consuming the airplane.
Clad in goggles, we form a circle. We put our hands on top of one another like a football team playing its final game.
“Sky…dive!” We say in two drawn out syllables.
I’m guided to the front of the plane where the others assist Dean with strapping him to my back.
“Now, Jeff, when this door opens it’s going to be cold and loud and windy, so don’t let it throw ya, okay, buddy? You ready to skydive?”
I am experiencing briskly sharp mental clarity and focus – within my terror.
The door slams open. Whiiissshhhhh! My senses are filled with the nauseatingly wonderful smell of airplane fuel and thin, cold air. I look down through the thin, skim-like, white clouds, while Dean puts my hand out the door.
“See, not so bad is it?!” he hollers into my ear.
Chuck Jr. steps out of the plane and gestures for me to come outside. I put my right foot on the launching pad and look down at the ground. Dean is holding my head up and physically placing my hands where they need to be. He knows I’m terrified and am no longer in a conscious state of mind. I’m terrified but accepting. There is no, at least conscious, thought.
In a rocking motion: one…two…three…and a belly flop! We push off and are falling. I see a white cloud within a blue dream. It’s as if it’s a spirit waiting for me. As I fall through, it pushes its essence into my soul. My life flashes before my eyes.
I transition from terror to complete joy – bliss at a level for which I’ve never experienced. My hard-drive-mind has been erased. The spirit of the Universe is slammed into me at a speed that has blown my senses off the charts. It’s like I’ve been hard wired to the soul of the world.
Chuck Jr. is videotaping, and I look at him. We fly toward each other, and I scream out unmentionable words of complete elation. Although of different weight, we’re falling at equal speeds. Physics.
To my left, Melissa floats down like an angel. With the gentleness of infants, we reach out and touch hands. For a few seconds, the world moves in slow motion.
This is when I feel the true beauty of life, and decide that I want to live. As suddenly as she came down, Melissa flies to the left. I would’ve crashed to the ground with elation had Dean not signaled me to pull the chute.
I pull the ripcord and am jerked back into this dimension. When the parachute opens, it feels as though I’ve come to a complete stop. Like a rocket, I shoot straight back up to the heavens. I don’t want to let go of the ripcord, so Dean has to pry it from my hand. Like snowflakes, we are floating downward. Grounded earlier, this no longer seems like a movie.
“Take the handles, the one on the left, and the one on the right,” Dean instructs.
I turn left to see Superior, Wisc. and right to see Duluth, Minn. I remember the guidance I was given to not just look at the ground but to notice the clouds we’re flying through and the horizon line.
“Okay, I want you to pull down on both of them at the same time,” Dean demands.
I do, and there’s the beautiful sound of silence like I’ve never heard before. It’s the silencing of the demons in my soul. But the duration isn’t long enough. I recognize it’s what I’ve been seeking, but I need to hear it again, just to make sure.
“Can we do that again?” I request.
“What,” Dean asks.
“I need to hear that silence again.” He clearly doesn’t understand, yet. I don’t push the subject. I’ll take what I can get.
“Ahh…what the hell; go ahead,” he says with hesitation.
I hear what I heard before, and I’m satisfied.
We float downward, and everything seems to be taking too long. I try to remain patient, but I feel much pain. It’s physical pain growing out from the depths of my chest. It’s the surge of adrenaline (which will last for two days) and my newfound yearning to live profoundly. I can barely breathe.
Dean has me steer us toward the number thirteen on the runway. As I turn left, I remind myself to compensate for over-steer. I feel different. I want the pain to stop. I feel I’m going to vomit as I continue to gasp for air.
At about a thousand feet, I look down and relish in my journey to my earth-home. My arms and legs are tingling, and my heart is pounding hard enough to be heard by the entire world, if it’s listening. It’s as though my heart is pulsating with the Universe.
We soar like an eagle swooping downward to nab a fish out of a remote pond. I put my feet down and pull down on the handles. We move forward, up and set down on the ground. Both mine and Dean’s weight momentarily fall upon my legs. Suddenly, I feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m home, and my mind is blank.
“What do you have to say?” Chuck says while shoving the camera in my face.
I’m confused, because I don’t have anything to say, for once. He pushes the topic. I’m trying to not experience irritation – a worldly emotion.
“You had all of that to say earlier, and now you have nothing?” He exasperates with a slight giggle. “No words can describe it, huh?”
“Can I be the first to shake your hand back on planet earth?”
As I walk toward him with my arm outstretched and hand opening, I think of an inspiring thought that came to me the previous year.
Gasping for air: “Lack of freedom within my own mind because of a lack of confidence at the moment is the greatest of all hells.”
Taken aback slightly, Chuck Jr. asks me to repeat my quote several times.
My greatest fear, at this point, is the possibility this experience may not have done the trick.
We repack the chutes. There’s very little talk about what just happened to me. They know they’ve just witnessed something special. I leave the airport with a sense of peace and confidence. Needless to say, I don’t wear my seatbelt.
That evening, Chuck Jr. calls me and asks me if I want to meet their skydiving crew at a bar in Superior.
“You still flying, or have you landed?” I’m confused. He asks the question again, and I get the allegory.
“I’m still flying.”
He gives me directions, and I party with a few of the skydivers until the early morning.
The following day, I wake confused. I feel different. I attempt to convince myself this has been the greatest dream of my life. I can feel the energetic resonation of my spirit. I watch the video and observe myself from the outside.
I decide to go for a run on the beach.While stretching, I notice a mother struggling with her children. She has no control over them because she seemingly isn’t connected in a way that deserves their respect. Ironically, she appears more lost than they.
I peer off in the distance in attempt to locate my finish line, reminding myself of how I can usually never make it there and back. Today is a new day. Few people on the beach, but I don’t feel alone. As I begin to run, I stop and relish a sand castle depicting Chichi Niza, an ancient Mayan temple in Mexico, where I consciously began my spiritual journey.
I run not only to my destination and back but beyond, with ease. After I jump into the icy-cold water of Lake Superior and snap my senses back into this world, I walk the beach. I look back to see only one set of footprints in the sand, when I know I’m not alone. God, the Universe, is carrying me.
I leave the beach and receive an intuition to go to Enger Tower, Duluth’s highest lookout point. I scale the rocky stairs – feeling heavy, as though I’m climbing an endless ladder.
The air is soft, warm and gentle. To his right are beautiful green rolling plains. To his left is a surreal view of the Duluth/Superior basin. He moves from one end to the other, playing with the different emotions as the breath of God kisses each cheek. He finds a spot perfect for the sensation of both, spiritually centering himself.
He climbs upon the railing, sits, leans over the edge and observes a watermelon that someone has thrown over and splattered on the rocks. The sight reminds him of his recent flying experience.
He feels no fear, only divine peace. He pushes his body out far enough so he cannot see any part of the tower within his peripheral vision. He opens his arms and stretches them out farther than they’ve ever gone before. He’s feeling the energy flow through him, because he’s divinely connected to an endless energy source, creating a lighthouse effect. He closes his eyes and gives thanks for life.
“Thank you for putting my mind to death in all its ways of controlling my thinking and feeling.”
His eyes open, and he sees the world as a brighter place.
His appreciation for everything around him is as rich and wonderful as the smell of a lilac bush on a cool and damp spring morning. He looks down and observes the fall season leaves turning into a sea of green and yellow. He looks to his left and visualizes the basin the two cities lie within as it may have looked hundreds of years ago: natural, pristine, full of emptiness and beautiful. He’s tapped the soul of the Universe, where the histories of all are written.
A group of tourists walk up and stand next to him. Suddenly, a gull soars just below their feet. He receives the same feeling as in the airplane while hearing Dean’s eagle story. The gray and white feathers are folded down and inward. He points out the soaring gull to the tourists.
“Oh my God! Look at that!” one of the children says with excitement.
“Ahhh…I hate those things!” one parent says, stamping out child’s energy.
He shrugs with acceptance, and the gull looks up and back at him as if peering into his born again soul with a look of hope, and a tear in His eye.
© 2003 Jeff Warner