How Silence Saved My Life when My Parachute Failed.

Via on Jan 3, 2013

Source: laurenconrad.com via Meagan on Pinterest

It happened at the end of my first season of skydiving.

At the beginning of that year, I never imagined that I would be in a plane in flight with the door wide open next to me, and yet here I was with 50 jumps under my belt. I even had my own gear. I split the cost of a used parachute with a friend, and my share was a meager 150 bucks. Between jumps, I packed parachutes for the incoming students in order to off-set the expense of riding the plane to altitude for my own jumps. I was starting to feel like a pro.

It was late afternoon when I left the plane with an instructor who was teaching me relative work—how to fly my body in order to hook up with other jumpers while in free-fall. I did well, and we parted at our usual altitude to get enough space to individually pull our own parachutes. I pulled, and looked up to see my beautiful blue and gray canopy blossoming above me.

Something was odd, though. The parachute was turning. I was used to spinning a bit on opening. Like being on a giant swing, winding yourself up and then letting go, sometimes the parachute would turn as it deployed before becoming a steady kite above—leaving the jumper to gently unwind from the simple line twists. Somehow, this time it felt different.

As I examined my parachute more closely, I could hear the precise, warning tone of the instructor’s voice during my first jump class, “if the whole parachute is turning, you have more than line twists.”

My whole parachute was definitely turning. This was not good.

I released the brakes to see what would happen and the spinning increased. My parachute was now whipping around, un-steerable and dropping me like a stone. I could not land this.

I looked down at my reserve handle. I had never pulled one before and hoped I would never have to. I grabbed it firmly with two hands and pulled down hard. Nothing happened. It was stuck. I tried again, this time with all my force. One—two—three! Nothing.

“Sh*t,” I thought, “I am going to die because I can’t pull this handle.”

I had a moment of stunned silence. I was running out of ideas. Then a force rose inside me and these exact words screamed in my head, “bullsh*t, I am going to die because I can’t pull this f*cking handle!”

I grabbed the handle again, and with the kind of adrenaline that women who pick cars up off their children get, I pulled. It released, the force of it throwing me onto my back as I watched my blue-gray canopy disappear above me like a huge handkerchief in the wind. I went back into free-fall, accelerating dramatically toward the ground again.

I waited for the reserve to pop out. This was old gear with a one-point cut-away system. The handle I pulled should jettison the main parachute and deploy the reserve in one fell swoop. I waited. Nothing happened.

“Well,” I thought matter-of-factly, “now I am definitely going to die because I have a total malfunction on my reserve.”

That was when my mind went completely blank.

I was out of options.

I had one thing to pull and I had pulled it.

Suddenly abdicating its post, my thinking mind just disappeared. It was too overwhelmed by the whole situation, I guess.

Everything became utterly silent.

I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t resigned. I wasn’t imagining pain, or who I would leave behind, or what the afterlife might be like.

I was just emptiness itself: aware, silent and falling.

I remember something inside me turning toward death with a kind of curiosity—like hearing someone unexpected knocking at the door and watching myself move to peek out the window to see who it was.

Then out of the silence something arose—not a thought exactly, more like a knowing. It wasn’t a voice from an angel or anything, though that’s probably the closest analogy. It said very simply, “turn over.” I was still on my back, and I realized then that the air rushing up from under me might be pinning my pack closed, keeping the reserve parachute from deploying.

I flipped over quickly and waited…and waited. Nothing happened.

My mind slipped back into silence again. Everything was still, and I felt my being turn once again toward death at my door—me moving closer to the window to get a glimpse of his face. No fear. No resistance.

Now on my belly, face down toward the fast approaching ground, something else emerged into my awareness. Something was hitting me. The slack reserve handle, still dangling, was whipping me in the face. I instinctively pulled it further out and felt a “ca-chunk,” as something unhinged. There was a release from behind me, and immediately I began to slow as the huge round parachute blossomed over my head.

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My altimeter showed that I was 1000 feet over the ground.

I had initially pulled my main parachute at 3500 feet.

I had never flown a round canopy before. They are more stable, but almost un-steerable, and besides that, I was already on landing approach being so close to the ground. Looking down, I saw that I had two options: power lines or a grove of trees. I steered toward the trees. Once again, the instructor’s voice from my first jump class on how to manage a tree landing announced itself to me like it was on speaker-phone, “feet and knees together, bent and under pressure. Arms up, folded across the face, hands covering armpits.” I moved my body into position and closed my eyes as I crashed through the trees.

A moment later, everything stopped.

I opened my eyes and found myself about six inches off the ground. The height of the trees was almost exactly that of the line stretch to the parachute, which draped over the tops of the trees high above.The silence inside me was now met by the silence outside me. No wind, no sound, no thoughts, nothing. I un-clicked my harness and felt my feet touch ground. Glancing down at myself I checked for injuries and tasted blood on my lip. I could feel a bruise rising on my right hip. I would have been delighted with two broken legs and a concussion, and yet this near death experience had left me utterly intact.

There is a saying in Buddhism that “all things resolve themselves in the unborn.”

The unborn, from my understanding, is the space before or between thoughts.

Before concepts are born in the mind—and before they give birth to the “ten thousand things” as they say—there is just what is, no situation, no problem, no me.

Without a concept, how can there be a “me?”

And how can there be fear when there is no problem and no self to have a problem?

And yet, some kind of primordial wisdom arises from that great space of the unborn.

Something knows.

And it is far more efficient than the thinking mind.

This wisdom literally saved my life. Thinking, trying to figure it out, feeling panicked—all those would have cost me what was left of my precious time.

At terminal velocity (the rate of speed of a body in free-fall after it has fully accelerated), a person falls about 1000 feet in five seconds. Without the wisdom that arises from silence, I had five more seconds to live.

My brush with death makes a good war story, but for me it isn’t the dramatic tale that matters.

It’s what I am left with. There is something bigger than me that is not me, and yet is not other than me. Adyashanti calls it simply “being.” Compulsive thinking, and the associated feelings—often negative—tend to rule our world. But always in the background I remember that there is a huge silence waiting, just over my shoulder, for my mind to quiet down.

The truth is, that every moment of our lives hangs in a precarious balance.

I had good reason to think that I might die when my parachute malfunctioned, but none of us knows when we might die, or when things that we thought were stable might suddenly end or change dramatically—our health, the lives of our friends and families, our marriages, our financial well-being. The one certainty we have is that they will.

I was lucky enough to have the rug so totally pulled out from under me that my thinking mind, like my parachute, jettisoned and I got to see what lies beyond.

Meanwhile, in daily life, most of us live lives of quiet desperation—not yet shocked enough to take the leap beyond the mind into that which actually liberates and, dare I say, loves us.

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Our lives move fast, fast enough to distract us but not fast enough to wrest us from our sense of confidence about reality.

We live in the “born,” not in the unborn—the known rather than the unknown. When I sit on a mediation cushion, I find that I am faced with the same situation as when I went back into free-fall, waiting fruitlessly for my reserve parachute to appear.

In that moment I have a choice: I can stay in my thinking mind or take the radical leap of letting go altogether—just for a moment—and allow the light of wisdom that is beyond me to come in through that wide open door.

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Assistant Ed: Terri Tremblett

Ed: K.B.

About Kristin Luce

Kristin Luce is slowly going sane by using her actual life and relationships to wake up. Her quest for truth has led her through a B.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in Buddhist Psychology, intensive retreat practice, certification as a Meditation Instructor, two life-changing relationships and two life-changing kids. She now provides in-depth coaching for individuals and couples who want profound and dramatic transformation. An avid writer, she has been featured in such publications as Mothering Magazine and The Buddhadharma, and is a regular contributor to elephant journal. Friend her on Facebook, Twitter, her website or contact her at info@kristinluce.com.

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23 Responses to “How Silence Saved My Life when My Parachute Failed.”

  1. Anne Samit Anne says:

    Kristen – I read this and forwarded to both my children, one of whom had a scare in the sky while skydiving, too. Then, I sent it to you dad! You always have wise words, and I love to read your writing.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Thanks, Anne! Fortunately parachute equipment has come a long way since then, and there are many more safety devices now. So glad you enjoyed :)

  2. Sam says:

    Yay!! Beautiful article! Wow.

  3. MatBoy says:

    I've experienced something like this a few times while mountaineering – stories I do not tell when my wife is listening. Time SLOWS down and I remember being so totally present in the moment, no fear or adrenalin, just clarity. I survived the fall or the avalanche and each time had a feeling of being in a protective zone, I felt safe and indestructible. It is a space I recognize and have sometimes found again after a yoga practice of meditation session. It is a big part of why I climb, or climbed I should say.

    Unfortunately, a few of my partners with whom I have shared a rope did not make it. I wonder why and I know the protection I felt was just a feeling, a natural survival response. It could have turned out differently: I don't push it towards the limits much anymore.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Yes, there is something totally protective in that space. I don't know that it is "protective" in the sense that I will definitely survive, but it does feel protective in that I am totally fine whatever happens. It's almost like Fate steps in — it wasn't my time and so something intervened on my behalf. Very amazing to touch something so big, so "knowing."

      I also think that many of us who do (or did) engage in high risk sports are in some sense looking to touch this place. Many of us become "spiritual seekers" later through meditation, yoga, etc. as you and I did. Thanks for your post!

  4. Tim says:

    Woah ! That will throw you into the "Now" !!! OPEN – UNKNOWING – AND FREE !!

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Yeah, it's weird isn't it. I experience more stress over spilling tea on my new shirt than I did about having no parachute over my head a few seconds from impact.

  5. Hillary says:

    Wow, I loved this!
    "Meanwhile, in daily life, most of us live lives of quiet desperation—not yet shocked enough to take the leap beyond the mind into that which actually liberates and, dare I say, loves us."

  6. Jen says:

    Thank you Kristin for your eloquent words. I am feeling the joy of the silence in between this morning.

  7. Bryan says:

    Quite a story, Kristin (and beautifully written)! I'm glad you didn't tell right after it happened. Still gives me the willies reading it even after all these years. Love, Dad

  8. Karen says:

    What a beautiful read. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with all of us.

  9. kindred sister.. i hear you! here's an excerpt from my thesis proposal:

    On Feb. 19th the liminal space in which visions come, struck me like a bolt of lightening. The swirling questions, the busy mind, and the fasting from society fell instantly away as my CR-V slid out of control on black-ice and smashed against a jagged rock mountain. As it bounced off the mountain and plunged headfirst over the cliff-edge, I silently surrendered to my death. I felt a deep peace and eternal silence. Into the inky blackness I fell, jolted twice by some unknown force.
    Then there was nothing.
    After a time that seemed endless, there was a sensation. It was faint and caught my attention. I followed it. The nothingness began to part and I was pulled back to my body, slowly returning to physical visceral reality, a tightness constricting my breathing. Disoriented and alone in the ominous and inky silence, I wondered, was I alive or dead? Slowly, in an eerie twilight caused by the headlights of my car reflecting against a snowy cliff edge and a brain fuzzy with injury, realization crept into the first waking moments. The tightness on my chest was not a steering wheel piercing my heart. It was a seatbelt. It was difficult to breathe because the weight of my own body pulled against that safety devise. My head felt odd because I was upside down? My car had just bounced off of a rock wall and plunged over a cliff. The car was upside down. Suddenly it dawned. I needed to get out of the car. I needed to check and see if the gas tank was leaking. I needed to see if the car was stable. I was in danger!!
    In that moment a wild-knowing body-wisdom took over. My body guided me. One action, one thought at a time, came with blaring clarity. I followed each thought. Reach to the door handle and see if the door opens. It did. Put your hand up, which is now down, and feel for the roof of the car. I felt it with both hands. Undo the seatbelt. One hand still on the ceiling to keep from landing on my head, I reached over and unclicked the seatbelt. Roll out of the car. In a controlled, semi-somersault I roll-jumped out of the car and landed squatting in snow on a slippery slope. Find your cell phone. Call for help. It was dark in the car. All I could see was a shadowy mess strewn on the ceiling, which was now the floor. I was disoriented. The interior of my car didn’t make sense visually or to my habitual way of knowing it. Grab your messenger bag. Find the headlamp you always have in it. As I crouched half in the snow and half in the overturned car, reaching into the semi-darkness, my hand felt the messenger bag. I found the headlamp. Put it on my head. The voice of clarity continued. I listened and acted without question.

    …As such, that moment transformed my life, jarring the barrier that I had been seeking to pass through; it thrust me into the deep unknown… the unborn, the space in which all clarity exists…

    xxxo
    ~suu

  10. Simone says:

    Wow… I will have to reread that many times to understand the impact..Thank you for sharing.

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  17. Precious allocation. Through reading about this post I've come to know how silence can save our life when our parachute failed. Thanks

  18. Giveaways says:

    Really lucky you are baby that finally you have saved your life very nicely! Actually skydiving is very risky and adventurous and that is why you should have aware more about this. So i hope that next time you will be well prepared to enjoy this moment. Thanks

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