Sunday, August 16, 2015

Crazy for the Storm, and the inner connection to the Infinite

image (top): Wikimedia commons (link), with marker "flags" added to correspond to map below.
image (bottom): Google maps, mountains north of Rancho Cucamonga, California (link), with marker flags and line-of-sight outlines added (light blue), plus route in dotted red line.

In his critically-acclaimed memoir Crazy for the Storm (2009), Norman Ollestad shares a wide window onto his relationship with his amazing father, cut short by a terrible plane crash in the San Gabriel Mountains in 1979, into his emotions and experiences during his harrowing journey down the mountain alone at the age of eleven but already having had the experience of facing danger and overcoming his fears in not one but many previous situations as a result of his remarkable upbringing, and into life as it was in his world growing during up the 1970s and early 1980s in the Topanga Canyon area, and does so with such a degree of literary composure and immediacy that we are actually pulled through that window and allowed to experience it with him.

Many others have already written about why Crazy for the Storm is such a remarkable and valuable book and the unique way it raises important subjects worthy of long and thoughtful consideration: how the experience of being forced beyond his comfort level so many times helped young Norman Ollestad make it to safety down an icy mountain face and through several situations in which one false move or one loss of resolve could have led to a very different outcome, how passing on lessons from fathers to sons involves a delicate balance between challenging or pushing too much and too little, how Norman's relationship with his father, tragically cut short too soon, nevertheless led directly to his ability to survive the remarkable journey off the mountain.

Another aspect of the book, juxtaposed with the vivid descriptions of the treacherous ice-chutes and snow-pits that young Norman must negotiate on his way down the mountain, and just as vividly depicted, is the treacherous landscape of growing up in the turbulent world of a 1970s childhood filled with its own ice-chutes and snow-traps that threaten to drag him down many different times, but which he ultimately negotiates as well -- in part through the relationship with his father that continues to sustain him even after the crash, in part through the different relationships with the other adults around him through those difficult times, and in part through his own determination and his own growth through all of what he saw and chose and learned and did as he grew up to be his own man and ultimately become a father himself.

It has been a few years since I myself first read this memorable book, but as I have thought more about it recently, it occurs to me that there is one other extremely important aspect of the narrative that has not really received very much discussion even though the book itself has been widely acclaimed and extensively commented upon.

Perhaps it is because, among many somewhat uncomfortable subjects that the book touches upon, this subject is even more taboo than any of them -- and that is the fact that there are some very clear aspects of what could be called "second sight" that turn out to play a very large role in the survival story, but which are not at all explainable by the conventional paradigm of consciousness or what we might call "the ideology of materialism" and which most critics therefore appear to have decided to simply leave out of their discussions (I could be wrong and there could be other reviews of the book which mention this important aspect of the narrative).

The implications of this aspect of the narrative are so important that I think they deserve a brief mention here, but I will try to do so without any "plot spoilers" for those who perhaps have not yet read the book (although those who are extremely sensitive to any plot spoiling may want to stop here and read the book first).

And of course, discussing this aspect of the story is in no way intended to take away from the importance of all the above-mentioned factors that also helped Norman Ollestad survive that harrowing ordeal.

The general description of this aspect of the story is that during his descent, young Norman Ollestad made his way towards something that he later went back and determined he could not have seen, due to the terrain, until he was much lower down the mountain.

Not only that, but it turns out that there were two other people whose actions on that tragic day of February of 1979 were critical to Norman's being found after he had made it down to a road (and thus whose actions proved to have been critical to his very survival), both of whom acted on something that could be called sudden intuition or an unexplainable "hunch," and one of whom felt she had heard the crash itself (and actually been awakened by it) even though when she told the sheriff's deputy about that, he told her that was not possible based on the location and distance that she had been from the actual site of the crash.

Each of these particular aspects of the story (in my opinion -- it should be stressed that what follows is some of my own perspective and commentary, and I am not suggesting that Mr. Ollestad would agree with any of the following discussion) point towards a very important aspect of something that has been discussed in many previous posts under the general heading of "The Inner Connection to the Infinite," which have presented evidence that the ancient texts and sacred traditions of the world were given to humanity in order to (among other things) point towards a connection to something that has been variously referred to as a supreme self, a higher consciousness, an inner divinity, our True Self, a divine twin (described not only in the Greek myths of Castor and Pollux but also in some New Testament era texts such as the Gospel of Thomas) -- depicted as the divine charioteer in the Bhagavad Gita -- and which actually stands behind or above or in some way separate from what we normally think of as our "mind" and our "senses" and which is yet accessible at all times internally, not separate from ourselves (this is why divinities in many allegorical texts are shown to appear instantly, or upon the act of meditating or upon reciting a mantra or upon speaking their name).

Some might look at the above assertion -- that the ancient myths are pointing towards an always-available inner connection with a higher self -- and respond: "Well, of course they are! Those ancient myths are talking about the subconscious! They are just using different terms than Freud used when he applied a more scientific approach to the same subject, starting in the late 1800s and especially in the first few decades of the 1900s, and that other analysts have expanded upon since!"

And certainly it must be admitted that aspects of what has been discovered about the role of the subconscious do play an important role in our lives and may indeed connect to some of the things that the ancient wisdom was trying to teach us about our inner connection with the infinite.

But our own individual subconscious, no matter how powerful the subconscious mind may actually be (and I'm willing to agree that it may be tremendously powerful) cannot be used to explain our ability to see and know things that we ourselves could not possibly have known, such as the fact that an airplane had hit a mountain somewhere too far away for any physical human senses to have detected, or such as "seeing" an area that we had never seen before or known about previously, and which could not be physically seen due to the folds of the terrain and the fact that a massive ridge-line of mountain blocked it from our view.

These things speak to an "inner connection to the Infinite" that goes beyond what we ourselves could have known without connection to something beyond even the power of our own individual subconscious mind.

The same can be said for the various programs which some authors have written about in which taxpayer-funded agencies and even the military used "remote viewing" to locate downed helicopters or discover other information which cannot be attributed to simply "tapping into the subconscious," because one cannot expect their "subconscious" to have had any way of knowing the location of a helicopter which crashed in another country, for example.

If these programs and incidents are real (and there is enough evidence presented by different authors to suggest that at least some of these remote viewing programs probably did in fact take place and achieve certain successful results in some cases), then they also provide evidence that the "inner connection to the Infinite" may be about more than connecting with one's subconscious mind.

Some of the previous posts on this subject have discussed the many ways in which human beings seem to be able to cultivate this connection to the higher self or the invisible world, and indeed it seems that we are actually constituted in such a way that there are numerous ways to do so -- and numerous disciplines which have been practiced throughout the centuries in different cultures around the world. They range from various techniques of meditation (one of the most important and widespread of the categories of techniques), to various forms of shamanic drumming and rhythmic rattles and bull roarers and other percussion-like instruments, to the use of various plant substances designed to induce trance conditions, to certain types of ecstatic dance or deliberate movement, to practices such as chi kung or qigong or Tai Chi Chuan or other "internal arts" from ancient China, to the practice of Yoga, the recitation of mantras, and many more.

And yet one might interject at this point that, even if there are countless ways of connecting with the Infinite, eleven-year-old Norman Ollestad did not seem to have practiced any of the above disciplines prior to suddenly finding himself in a situation in which his ability to "see" something which he could not actually see with his physical eyes would turn out to have been very important to his survival.

At least, he does not talk about any years of practicing qigong or Yoga or the recitation of mantras and the deliberate practice of meditation in his account of his life before the age of eleven.

It is possible -- in fact, it is probable, and a very reputable source has told me that this was a factor in her own life -- that traumatic experiences or life-and-death situations can indeed bring out our inner connection to the Infinite, even if we have never consciously experienced that connection before (and especially if we are still fairly young).

This certainly makes sense, since the ancient scriptures tell us that this inner connection is always accessible to us -- that we are, in fact, always connected to our higher self, even though we are not always aware of it.

And while that might certainly have been a factor in this particular situation in which the eleven-year-old Norman Ollestad found himself, I would also suggest at least the possibility that he had actually been practicing a discipline, and fairly consistently, which can lead some people to connect to the invisible "waves of the universe" and to knowledge which is from somewhere else -- and that discipline which he had been practicing was . . . surfing.

In fact, Norman Ollestad's father had introduced him to surfing before he was even old enough to ride a board himself, and rode on his father's back instead, and later took him on significantly challenging surf trips including one where he experienced a personal triumph of getting tubed on a wave in Mexico -- by the time he was eleven years old!

After that first tube ride, his father (who had witnessed it) let him know that he had been to someplace very special. The exact words that his father used, recounted in the book on the bottom of page 109: "Someplace beyond all the bullshit."

Interestingly enough, that could very well be a "technical description" of the Infinite, at least as conveyed by some of the world's ancient sacred texts.

The Tao Te Ching, for instance, informs us that the Tao itself cannot be named, cannot be defined, cannot be described. If it is named in words, then whatever it is that can be captured in words is not the eternal Tao. The Tao is beyond all our mental constructions, all our human constructions, all our "verbal virtual reality" in the insightful and helpful phrase used by Dr. Darrah Westrup in a talk that is discussed in this previous post.

Or, as the fourth of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (probably written down by the third century BC, and possibly containing wisdom far older than that) expresses it in the 31st verse, "Then all veils and uncertainty fall away."

This, in fact, is what I would propose the book Crazy for the Storm really gets in touch with.

Because the book is absolutely masterful in recounting the doubts, the vulnerabilities, the uncertainties, the self-questioning, the feelings of inadequacy, and all the other "veils" that we fight through in this life (certainly in adolescence, but really this struggle is never ending -- or else there would not have been any need for anyone to practice Yoga or study the Yoga Sutras, since human beings could just wait for adolescence to pass if this uncertainty was strictly an adolescent problem).

And it shows how Norman Ollestad had to conquer those in order to survive on the mountain. And to survive growing up in the 1970s in and around Topanga Canyon in California.

Which he did.

In large part because he was pushed by his Dad.

And in equal measure because he found what he needed to find inside himself (after all, his Dad could not make him get into that tube in Mexico -- young Norman had to get inside that big wave for himself).

We should all be grateful to him for sharing such a personal story with the world.




Above (at top) is an image which I believe conveys some of the steepness of the mountain face which young Norman Ollestad had to make his way down alone, in extreme weather, after an unbelievably traumatic experience.

Based on my reading of the Google Map with "terrain" selected, the map below the image corresponds to the line of mountains shown in the photograph; the black arrow shows the summit of Ontario Peak (elevation 8,696 feet or about 2,651 meters) and the red dotted line shows an approximation of the route down the mountain from the crash site, based on descriptions in the text and the map in the beginning of the book.

Below is a closer view with slightly better resolution of the section of the topo map showing Ontario Peak (from Google Maps) -- keep in mind that as the topo lines get closer together (closer to one another) the steepness of the terrain is increasing:

Below is another view of the same topo map, this time with approximate crash site and route down the mountain indicated:

And below are two more images of Ontario Peak and the face of the ridge-line, the first without markings and the second with markings (as with all of the above markings, these are based only on my own "map recon" and the descriptions and map in the book -- not on any personal knowledge of this location or any personal visit there, although I will admit that I do happen to have a lot of professional training and experience when it comes to topo maps):

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

I could be wrong about any of these estimated possible routes when matching them to the photographs, but in any case, the severity of the terrain and the sense of the challenge that the eleven-year-old Norman Ollestad faced in descending the mountain should be clear  enough from these photographs.

Here is a link to a contemporary newspaper account from February 21, 1979, describing his survival.