When you are 1,000 feet up on a tightrope or hanging from a cliff, "don't look down" is great advice. But honestly, how often are any of us in that position? And if we are, we put ourselves there.
Don't look up, I would argue, is better advice for the rest of us.
Oftentimes when I have a big decision to make, I ride. Hop on my road bike and head someplace free of stoplights and intersections — which is hard to find in greater L.A. — so I can cruise without fear of becoming a hood ornament. Long and straight enough to get into that state of meditation where mind departs body, freed from human stain and able to see things clearly.
The L.A. River is good for this. But lately I've been liking La Tuna Canyon, starting just north of Burbank and ending atop Glendale. I shouldn't say I like it, though. I don't. I hate it.
It is an uphill battle every time — literally and figuratively — and one that I've won only once, the first time I rode it. Each time thereafter, I haven't been able to make it up the 5-mile slope without stopping to collapse from exhaustion and watch cyclists younger, older and more hearty than I, streaming past.
It starts easy enough, with a barely discernible grade, then a few uphill bursts followed by level stretches for relief and rejuvenation.
But higher up, the landscape changes. It always does. Things get steeper, and all you see ahead is hill and curve.
The last few times I've wondered why I haven't been able to make it up without stopping — besides the obvious fact that I am woefully out of shape. Why was I able to make it up the first time without stopping, but failed every time since?
I haven't been to church much lately. So occasionally I listen to a sermon on podcast while I ride. It's not exactly church, but the scenery is better. And on my last ride, the sermon was about the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil," the one Adam and Eve so carelessly ate from sentencing the rest of us to a lifetime of serious yard work, shameful body imagery and labor pains.
The point of the sermon was very simple: there are just some things we are not meant to know, things that we are better off not knowing.
Too much knowledge leads to things like human cloning, Internet porn and Jar Jar Binks. There is a reason we don't need to know everything. It might kill us.
Each time I looked up La Tuna Canyon only to see how much farther I had to go, a part of me died. It made me want to turn around and head downhill, letting gravity and complacency take over. Again.
The first time I didn't know how hard it was going to be. I was sure that around the next bend things would get easier. And that was enough to get me there; not knowing what lay ahead. Ever since then, I know there are no rest stops until you reach the top. What lies beyond each bend is simply more trial, more struggle.
I keep telling myself, "Don't look up. You don't want to know what's ahead. Focus on your breathing, your movement. Don't look up."
Invariably, I look up.
And the end is no nearer in sight. Frustration and anger around each curve; more hill and no place to rest.
Let's get cliched. Life is a never-ending series of choices. Curves you can't see beyond on a long road from here to there.
And God — or what you might call the Universe, the Divine Mother, Nothingness, Darwin or Kermit the Frog — never makes my choices for me. Though that's what we wish for when we pray, blog, chant or gaze skyward with tear-filled eyes. God just gives lots of options to weigh and make the choice that much more difficult.
He gives me an annoying list of pros and cons before I hear him say, "Now, go make the decision for yourself."
So damned frustrating.
"But," he adds, "know that I will be with you either way. I know how hard sacrifice is. And I will not forsake you in yours."
A sentiment parents can relate to. And children of parents need to remember.
There's always relief when you reach the top; the feeling of achievement, pride and peace that comes with overcoming yourself and your environment.
All preparing you for the next hill.