Balance Through Extremes: Wisdom Beneath the Earth

How getting covered in mud can leave you with clarity and composure.

There’s always one point in every caving expedition that changes me.  I’ve been going for over 15 years now, mainly to the same cave – Pettyjohns Cave in northwest Georgia.  At this point I know the cave’s twists and turns, holes and climbs. I could nearly navigate it without a light.

But somewhere along the way, I always have the moment.  The breaking point.  The point where I have to decide – am I going to push myself through this or am I going to stay in this cave forever?

"What the hell? This part again?!  Dammit! C'mon, this was the one part of the cave I wanted to avoid"

It started in 6th grade – I remember the exact spot: shaky-legged I stood at the edge of a cavern.  I had to take a long stride to a foothold which spanned across the two sides, then take one more, hoping my foot didn’t slip down into the depths. Since then, I’ve gone through that part of the cave a hundred times.  It becomes a lot less nerve racking once you grow above 5’ tall.

The feeling never changes though. Your heart rate increases.  Your mind starts racing. You clench up, wondering whether or not you actually can pull it off. 

If it weren’t for your friends going through headstrong, you wouldn’t even consider it (thank God for peer pressure). Little do you know, they feel the exact same. 

But something changes  during that moment.  All of sudden you realize an inner audacity.  The drive to push on, to try something despite all your natural tendencies telling you to do the opposite.  And once you it passes, something else sweeps over.  It’s a feeling of accomplishment and intense pride, accompanied with a nice rush of adrenaline and endorphins.  You feel valiant, undaunted, composed.  And that feeling lingers into everyday life for a long time.

I always love bringing new people to the cave.  It is a chance to explore a different planet – something so few ever get to experience - an entire world beneath the earth. But it’s also a chance to change as a person.

Everyone struggles at different times – some are more afraid of the tight spaces, some of the sheer drops, some of being wet and cold for so many hours. For me it changes each time.  I’ve been stuck face down in crevices, walked across 6” ledges with drops to each side, wondered if I’ll last until the end.  But no matter what, I always come out different.

My buddy Murph raved about his recent caving experience, saying he’s not sure if he’ll ever go back, but that it was undoubtedly life changing and he thinks about it daily. And that’s all I want. I want people’s viewpoints to change. I want them to experience something new.  I want them to come out feeling vibrant, full of life, and tenacious.