“Have you always been stoked?”
World class paraglider pilot and coach Chris Santacroce asked me this sometime on day 2 of our course. We were just outside of Park City, Utah at Jordanelle Reservoir, and I was going through a standard rite of passage in the paragliding world: The SIV course.
SIV stands for Simulated Incidents in Vol (“Vol” means “Flight” in French). An SIV course usually consists of being towed up on your paraglider behind a boat over a lake until you’re a few thousand feet above the water. Once you’re high enough, you unhook from the tow line, then, under instruction via radio you put your paraglider through the kinds of maneuvers that potentially require a very soft landing; stalls, spins, and huge swinging turns called wingovers.
The other students in the course were obviously nervous, pretty typical for new pilots. I, on the other hand, was busy replacing my nervousness & fear with a white hot stoke.
Chris’ question made me pause and think. While I’ve always had the seed of stoke in me, I haven’t always consciously replaced fear or nervousness with stoke in the way I was doing then. Being stoked as a response is a learned behavior.
I’ll pause for a minute and address the word “stoke.” While you may think that it’s only for West Coast hippies and surfers, “stoke” is a key ingredient in enjoying your experience on the planet.
Stoke is what you feel when first learn to ride a bike. It’s what happens when you get your first big paycheck, or when you’re walking home after that first kiss with the love of your life, or when you’re about to attempt something that will simultaneously challenge and elevate your abilities.
Not everyone has it, and very few people make stoke their default action for any given experience.
Where did I learn to manage stoke, and how can you incorporate a full measure of stoke into your life?
Early on in my career I was tasked with being cold, wet, and uncomfortable for long stretches in the company of great friends. I had two choices: Warm up and become comfortable, or get stoked.
I chose the harder path with the long term goal of building the ability to do anything at anytime, anywhere.
It started the idea of wielding stoke as a tool to surmount challenge, both physical and mental. Stoke will keep you warm when you’re cold. Stoke will keep you going when you’re tired, and stoke helps conquer fear, the mind-killer.
Still, being stoked isn’t a continuous state; it requires careful direction of tremendous energy. I learned that stoke had to be protected, to be husbanded with care. It is a white hot flame, not appropriate for every task, but essential for difficult things.
The healthy opposite of stoke is something along the lines of meditation. At the least, it’s a quiet spot to compose yourself, and out at the very tip of cutting edge restoration it is a deep internal restructuring of the conscious mind.
This restructuring is an essential part of contrast and balance, requiring as much curiosity and development as the fullest measure of devotion to a deep and abiding stoke.
How can you cultivate stoke in your life? It’s not complicated, it’s just hard.
Find difficult things, tasks at the edge of your ability, and attempt them. As you begin the attempt, seek out that thin flame inside that may feel like, “I think I can”, and nurture it. Feed it energy, believe in it, steady accumulate the skill of growing it.
As you accomplish more and more difficult tasks, continue to recruit that energy each time. Seek it out each time, cultivate it, feel for the strength and power of it.
Eventually, stoke will become your default each time you attempt something hard, and you’ll search out more and more quests at the edge of your possible in a virtuous circle of stoke and excellence and accomplishment.
As you enter deeper into that most excellent of vortexes, remember to share your stoke and the story of how you built it with others. After all, if we are to build the world of our dreams together, it’ll take all of us being fully stoked.
Too much reading...
How about dessert?