A wayward entrepreneur’s search for peace



‘That fucking bald bastard!’

Detaching myself from the intensity of that thought, I’m aware I’m trapped in snow, unable to move, unable to breathe. My mouth and nose are packed full. Colours start evolving out of the darkness. I feel as if I’m being drawn, gently but powerfully, into deep, endless tranquility. I’m free-flowing into an unfolding stillness that is doubling back on itself and then turning inwards again, in a different dimension. It’s indefinable, yet familiar, as if it’s always been there.

So this is what it’s like to die.

I become aware of my trapped arms and legs. Every part of my body is encased, as if in a block of concrete. My perspective glides beyond my body, as if it’s not me watching.

Is Monica in here? No, she’s alright. I saw her get out of the way. She’ll be fine. Whoever said to use your arms in a swimming motion to create an air pocket around your face when you get caught in an avalanche has clearly never been buried in one.

I can’t swim.

I can’t even move a finger.

I drift deeper into peace. I am drawn, gently and easily, into rich dimensions of an evolving bliss that expands inside me and outside me simultaneously. There seems to be no end to the fullness of this expansion.

The colours are soft and textured. There is no sense of orientation or motion.

The occasional thought starts floating through the stillness again. Are my skis still on? I hope not. My legs could break. The pole straps must be preventing me from moving my arms. I hope the others aren’t caught.

We’ll be buggered if we’re all in here. No, I’m sure Monica is out. Clifford could be in here though. I don’t experience any real concern. There’s no point – there’s nothing to do. Deep calmness returns, drawing my attention into the tranquility. There is no movement, only silence and peace. Deep, deep peace.

I’m out. I’m out! Blow the snow out of your mouth. Ah, suck the oxygen in. Get it in. Get it in! Quickly, you might go under again. The avalanche is still moving. It’s still happening! I’m under. It’s like being dumped by a wave. I’m struggling to breathe.

Jeeesus! I hope I’m not going to get trapped.

No, I’m back out. I’m out. I have another chance.

Whoa, I’m on the leading face of the avalanche. It’s coming to a halt.

It’s stopping.

Breathe. Breathe, mate.

Pumped full of adrenaline I struggle out of the snow and immediately attempt to activate the transceiver. I look up to the clumped snow lying above me on the ridge line. Ah, there’s Monica. Thank Christ for that. I wave and she waves back. Thank God she’s alright. Clambering over the snow at the head of the slide, Bald Man clumsily tries to make his way down towards us. He looks OK. On the other side of the rubble I see the guide is OK too. Where’s Clifford? He’s still under somewhere.

How do I get this transceiver going? I fumble with the controls thinking, Christ, that training was useless. Fifty metres away an orange ski boot breaks the surface, the heel kicking skyward. Looking at the transceiver I tell myself there’s no need for this bloody thing. Just get over there and help Clifford get out. He’s buried face-down under about a metre of snow but struggles out as I clamber towards him.

“Are you alright, mate?” I ask, as he kneels on the lumpy surface and brushes snow off his clothes.

“Yeah, I’m OK. Bald Man must have started this.”

“Yeah, the little prick.”

Monica comes over to us. I hug her with more enthusiasm than I’ve felt for a long time. I’m relieved she has made it through unscathed. She asks me if I’m OK.

“Yeah, I’m good. How are you?” I ask.

“Fine. But I thought you were gone. It was terrible.”

“It’s amazing we’re all out, eh? That was a totally strange experience. I was fully aware of what was going on, but I was just so calm.”

Indicating imminent retribution Clifford calls out, “Bald Man! Get down here!” Equally keen to get the little bastard I remove my gloves. Jonty, or Bald Man, as we call him, likes to compete with anyone he skies with. When Jonty reaches us, he immediately braces for our attack. We both lunge at him. We wrestle him to the snow, attempting to pin his arms down, but he curls into the fetal position. Right now he’s a decidedly irritating bald bastard. Looming over him, Clifford exclaims, “Bald Man, you started the lanche!”

“Piss off!”

“You’re a menace,” I say. But realising the futility of expecting him to show any remorse, I release my grip and allow him to get up. Clearly pleased that he’s made it down the mountain in one piece, Jonty starts to tell his own story.

Shiiiit! I was traversing along and started my first turn when a crack opened up. As soon as the snow started sliding down the hill, my legs crumpled and I slid into a sitting position at the top of the slide. My head was high enough to allow me to see the whole thing unfold in front of me. Jesus, I had an armchair ride all the way down the hill. Man I was shitting myself! What a ride!”

“That explosion was the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. It gave me a real fright. But then as soon as I went under I fell into a super calm state. I was able to calmly assess what was happening to me. I knew I was in a lanche, but I had no idea which way was up, or whether I was facing up the hill or down,” I say.

“There’s nothing new in that, Arnie. You never know which way is up,” Clifford says. That’s what he calls me: Arnie. The nickname reflects his jaundiced view that my personality is similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie persona. Unfortunately, the name has stuck. I’d rather be called by the name my parents gave me: Greg.

Intent on continuing to tell the others what happened to me, I say, “I didn’t experience any panic. I had only the odd random thought about Jonty starting it. The rest of the time I was amazed by how calm I was.” I look at the others. “It was unbelievably peaceful, wasn’t it?”

“It was something else, alright,” Clifford agrees.

I get the impression that my experience was different from the others. I drift off, thinking about how I’d love to live life in a state of peace like that. Maybe I was in Heaven? But I didn’t die.

“Hey Cliffy, you did religious studies at university. What’s your understanding of Heaven?”

“You’re not going religious on me are you?”

“No mate. I wonder if I just experienced Heaven,” I respond.

“The only thing I ever read about Heaven was something that Christ said. He reckoned the Kingdom of Heaven was within. But I can’t see how that works.”

Whoomp, whoomp, whoomp, whoomp, whoomp. The chopper rapidly drowns out our voices as it comes in to land. The pilot looks relieved. He’s seen the magnitude of the avalanche but has accounted for everyone. He gives the thumbs up. The engine whine alters and the rotor blades decelerate. The guide starts to make his way over to the pilot. 

We all climb into the helicopter. As we ascend something catches my attention – a hawk, gliding over the avalanche, observing everything from a great height. I ponder my near-death experience for a moment. It really was as if I wasn’t in my body. I was just observing it. It was like an infinite me observing my body’s predicament. If my lungs had stopped working, I reckon that the peace and my ability to observe would have continued. The me who was observing wouldn’t have died. Maybe there can be death only of the body. And again the thought occurs to me – if I can experience such peace under the snow, why can’t I be peaceful out of the snow? Surely, becoming that supremely peaceful observer must be possible in real life.

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This edition published 2014

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ISBN 978-0-473-26073-6