Lessons from the Edge (Part 2)
By Kimberly Phinney
Please read PART 1 here to learn about my hike to the edge of Whitewater Falls: Lessons from the Edge (Part 1)
So, here’s what I learned standing on the edge of a waterfall:
Lesson #1- Hidden truths and beauties require us to leave the beaten path behind.
Too many times in the past, I’ve looked to others for acceptance or for the answers. As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve learned to stop doing that and look within instead. There’s nothing more powerful than a combination of good sense, wisdom, and a strong intuition. In order for you to find yourself or find the truth or find something at all, it often requires you to leave the beaten path and blaze your own trail. Don’t look to popular culture for the answers or the fickle acceptance of others. Instead, look within and look up. How you live your life is ultimately between you and God. When Steve Jobs gave his Stanford Commencement Speech of 2005, he told graduates this: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Now, I know how controversial he was, but when I heard Jobs deliver this speech, it changed me. It really did. In order to have my waterfall experience, I had to break a few rules, take a few chances, and go my own way. I couldn’t be constrained if I was going to stand on the edge and marvel. And trust me, it was worth it. So listen to your heart, ask the hard questions, and break a rule or two if you need to. Everything else is secondary, when you’re looking for yourself and waterfalls.
Lesson #2- The path isn’t always easy, and it’s not for everyone.
Be warned that there is nothing more lonely or difficult than striking out on your own. People will always have things to say about you and some will want to stop you because—somehow—the way you’re willing to live OUT LOUD and ALL THE WAY offends them. Your braveness, authenticity, and vitality remind them of the fact that your path isn’t their path. The “road not taken” isn’t for everyone. When I think about my own, sloppy life—the loneliness and pain and the search to find meaning—I am often reminded of something Hugh Macleod, writer and cartoonist, once penned. He said, at some point, we all must choose between being a wolf or a sheep. The price for being the sheep is boredom, and the price for being the wolf is loneliness. I love this comparison because it is so true. In life, there will be many sheep, and they will have each other but little of anything else. And although being the wolf will be a far more difficult and lonely path, the rewards of individual thought and independence will be worth it.
Lesson #3- But if you must go, it’s always better with a friend.
Of course it sounds like I am contradicting what I just said above about being the wolf and that the “road less traveled” isn’t for everyone, BUT if you can find a likeminded friend or your “person” then the journey for the edge of your waterfall will be that much sweeter. You will go further, be safer, create more stories together, and marvel over the beauty when you get there all the more. In my life, there have been moments that saved my life BECAUSE I had a friend along the way. In my journey to the edge I can think of one night in particular that if I didn’t have my person to call at 1:00 a.m. in the morning to come over and walk that path with me, I simply wouldn’t be here today. My person has walked the path with me, and she has stood at the very edge. SHE was the one gripping my hand when I slipped off the edge. She was the one to pull me back up. That’s why I say, blaze your own path, stand longingly at the edge of something, but by God, if you can find a likeminded friend or your mate of the soul, bring them along. It’s sweeter, and it might save your life. And by the way, when you find them, never ever let them go. The bond that I have with my “person” is one that will last a lifetime. She saved me once, and if she needs me to, I will do the same for her.
Lesson #4- Standing on the edge may bring us within an inch our lives but it also stirs us to life.
And that is good. Sometimes in life, we get far too complacent and refuse to take chances because we want to stay safe and comfy. We want to fit in. We want to be socially acceptable. We want approval. The truth is we want these hollow things so badly that we forget what it is we truly want. Sadly, I am the poster child of safe and comfy, so I am speaking from experience here. But it’s in my understanding of myself that I can fight the good fight against settling for less and fearing the unknown. Now, I am not saying you need to go stand on the edge of a waterfall to have the same realizations. But I am saying to find your authentic “edge” and go stand on it. Look around, wait to hear something, take inventory. I can’t tell you what your edge is or what to think or feel once you get there. But whatever you do, let it change you. For some of us, it’s leaving a toxic relationship or an unfulfilling job. For others, it’s finally going back to school or telling the truth for the first time in a long time. Yes, there is a chance we might lose everything on the edge, but there’s also a chance we finally come back to life. Sleepwalking through our lives isn’t living, and sometimes the only way to wake up is to do something drastic, something that catches your breath or takes it away.
One Final Thought
Once you’ve stood on the very edge of something, expect to be changed. When I looked down over the edge of Whitewater Falls, I felt the heaviness of choice. One step, either forward or backward, would change everything for me. And isn’t that what life is all about? Making choices?
In one of my favorite T.S. Eliot poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot pens something so stirring, as the speaker laments lost opportunities and lost time, that I often find myself mulling over the irony of our lives in heavy traffic or on sleepless nights:
“…And indeed there will be time…
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions…
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will
You see, like Prufrock, we all think we have time. And we all think that sometimes we don’t have to make a choice. But time is actually very short and our “hundred indecisions” are decisions nonetheless. Our indecisions are the decisions NOT to change. NOT to try something new. NOT to truly live. NOT to stand on the edge and blaze our own paths.
We are all walking with time, as it passes faster than it did in our silly youth, whether we are aware of it or not. So if you ask me, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” I will say YES! YES, you should! And if you were standing here with me now, I’d tell you to go and stand on the edge of your waterfall and see what you can find.
Photo credit for the Whitewater Falls dominant photograph: https://www.flickr.com/photos/captnjed/7310199420/?ytcheck=1.