Dec 2011: Falling Off the Edge of the World

by Brad on November 30, 2011

“We all continually move on the edges of eternity, and are sometimes granted vistas through the fabric of illusion.”                                                                     —– Ansel Adams, Autobiography



There was a time when prevailing belief held that the earth was flat, and if you were to reach the edge, you’d fall off. Although the belief itself has long since been replaced by greater truths, the thinking that drives it is very much alive. Throughout human history, we’ve feared the unknown, and have responded by creating all kinds of “structures” to help protect us from our fears. These structures range all the way from religions to guard rails. All, however, seem to be driven by the idea that our creations will protect us, “once and for all.”

I don’t take issue with the desire to deal with fears. Faith in something bigger than ourselves, for example, offers a beautiful complement to the rigors of daily life. I do, however, take issue with the once-and-for-all aspect of our creations. We live our lives against a constantly changing backdrop. Nothing is “once and for all.” Yet once we believe it is, we forget about it, we stop thinking, and we then rely unconsciously on the structure we’ve created as protection. I mean, how can you fall if there’s a guard rail? It’s the “not thinking” that gets us in trouble. I suspect it may feel safer to think about what we invented to protect us than to think about the fear itself.

The image that comes to mind is similar to the flat earth model. As if to help us learn, life brings us to our edges many times a day. We know these as times of discomfort. Unconsciously, we withdraw from the edge, away from perceived threat and toward familiar territory of our comfort zone. That response comes from habit, not from thought. We don’t know there’s an edge, we don’t know we’ve reached it, and we don’t know we’re retreating. This explains why we often don’t learn or grow all that much; it’s uncomfortable. So, if we don’t know there’s an issue, why might we care?

Your comfort zone is what holds you to your past. It’s made up of old lessons about how life is supposed to be and about what you should be worried about, such as making money, losing friends, the opinions of others, being right, being good enough … or guard rails. All this is fine if you care more about following the rules than about creating new possibility. The problem, however, is that all new possibility lies just beyond the edge of today’s comfort zone, and by denying it, even unconsciously, you limit the very joy you want to experience in your life. 

Life has taught me that the path through this dilemma is simply to become conscious of edges, so you can learn from them instead of retreating from them. If you knew you’d arrived at your edge, you’d have three choices where today you have only one. The choices: (1) you can still retreat to the center, but consciously; (2) you can jump into the unknown without thinking, or (3) you can stop at the edge and get to know it. Choice #1 creates tomorrows that look like yesterday; #2 might work now and then, but without thinking, you often find trouble;  #3 opens your world. By stopping and getting to know your edges, you create your own new choices. Chances are good that if you knew you were holding yourself back in life, you’d want to make different choices.

Exercise: Get to know your edges: This practice does not ask you to change your behavior and become instantly courageous. Courage is a natural & effortless outcome of getting to know what inhibits your courage today. This practice asks only that you become aware and learn: Stop at the end of each day for a few moments of quiet reflection. Replay the day’s events, looking for places and times you felt discomfort. For each one, name the event, name the discomfort, name the action you took. Write these down. After you’ve made your list, review each item, asking new questions: how do I see that moment of discomfort now, some number of hours later? What does this teach me about my fears? about how I responded to my fears? Do I have evidence my fear is real, right now? If, at the time, I had been able to stop, and look just a bit in front of me (over the edge), what possibility would have been in view that was hidden to me at the time because of my unconscious response? Start a list of new possibilities you discover doing this exercise.


A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

Nature loves edges. It’s where new things happen. Edges are nature’s “uncertain spaces.”  Wherever there are more choices, there are more possibilities for invention. A few of my favorite edges in nature:

  • major disturbances – a result of either volcanic flow or glaciation, for example. Both provide new territory for nature’s creative essence. These are commonly “big” edges, for they often encompass huge areas of land. It’s truly amazing how lichen begin to grow on bare rock after glaciers recede, and how quickly plants take root in the cracks in new lava flows. In each case, the roots serve to break rock apart, eventually creating soil, so that less tolerant species can then take root. This is the beginning of a process naturalists call succession.
  • fields and forests – the dividing line between field and forest is a rich source of new invention in nature. Some birds, like the cardinal or robin, seem to prefer these edges, while others live only in deeper forest or only in field. Poison ivy grows almost exclusively on edges; rarely would you poison ivy in the middle of the woods.

Next time you’re out for a walk, notice all the “edges” that come into view … between pond and shore, forest and field, hill and gulley, sun and shade, land and sea. Notice these same contrasts at different scales, too. The shade offered by a single rock affects which plants grow nearby. Just notice how nature “steps into” her edges. 

Openings to New Possibility

A comment I received from a woman on November’s newsletter:  Brad:  Loved this newsletter. I’ve been writing my life story and amazingly, had just written about my high school experience with The Prophet. I don’t recall how, at 15, I would ever have gotten my hands on it, but I got punished for having it.  Several nuns escorted me down to the “boiler room” and made me throw the book in the fire. I was told it was blasphemous, and I was going to end up in the fires of hell for reading false prophets, blah, blah, blah. The upshot of the whole thing for me was that I learned of this secret room, which had a door that led out to the back lot and allowed me to have a steady stream of ‘skip days.’ I’d get checked in for attendance, then after a class or two, shoot on down to the boiler room and out the door. Free! I also got friendly with the maintenance man, who drank down there; he taught me how to play poker. So, of course, between this memory of that book and your article I am re-reading it. Thank you.

New Website: Check out my redesigned website, You’ll notice that you can now gain access to more articles, blogs, and newsletters, so you’ll find “new stuff” on a regular basis. As mentioned last month, this newsletter will now also be found as a blog entry (under the category Purposeful Wanderings). Several back issues are also posted there. I’m creating a video that will be posted on the site as well.

Reaching Your Life’s Greatest Potential: Consistent with this month’s article, you may notice that exploring the edges of your own world – unknowns, fears, hidden assumptions & beliefs – is not something you can do very well alone. Like so many other adventures into the wilderness of our own uncharted territory, it helps to have a guide, one with a map and experience of the landscape, to make your own self-reflection and inquiry more meaningful and productive. After pondering this month’s article, and perhaps seeing my new website, you might consider a coaching program for yourself, an investment in reaching your life’s greatest potential. There’s no cost or obligation to you for an exploratory conversation. Contact me, and begin to shift forever your view of what’s possible.  Perhaps the only block is that it’s one of your “edges.”

Book of the month The Ringing Cedars Series, by Vladimir Megré. A nine-book series that chronicles the story of Anastasia, a rather unique woman living in the boreal forest (taiga) of Siberia. Through the eyes of a rare visitor (Vladimir), she unveils life’s mysteries and the potential for universal consciousness among all beings. It’s not my “usual” kind of book recommendation, but after reading the first pages of the first book, I’ve been hooked. Wondrous, fanciful, full of contrasts, real and surreal at the same time.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole Birkholzer November 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Hi Brad,
As so often, I saw your newsletter and synchronicity has struck again …
I just wrote down an experience I called “On the edge of knowing”, mine of course had some horse reference. Reading your newsletter inspires me to expand on it some more in relation to our evolution through horses. If it turns into an article I will forward it to you.
Hope all is well at the Cape.
Warmly, Nicole


barb December 27, 2011 at 9:37 am

I love this! Fits into my experiences of late (and early). 🙂


Leave a Comment