“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
For weeks I’d been anxious about the idea of leaping out of a soaring plane.
I knew that after our first HighExistence retreat, I was going to have an opportunity to skydive.
And now the retreat was over, everything had gone magically, spirits were high, and it was time to make the decision:
To skydive or not to skydive?
When I woke up on the morning of the jump, I began to see that I was indeed going to skydive. The arrangements had been made with Skydive Costa Rica; everyone else was going to do it; it was time to face this fear.
The acceptance of this fate began to have a calming effect, but I nonetheless retained some nervousness in the hours leading up to the event.
I knew that statistically, the odds of dying in a skydiving accident are minuscule. You’re much more likely to die in a car accident over the course of driving 10,000 miles.
However, biologically, every cell in your body is telling you that this is a bad idea.
“You’re a monkey, dammit. You can’t fly. Don’t jump out of a goddamn plane, are you crazy?! Stay on the ground where you belong. You’re going to plummet to a horrible crunching death.”
These are the sorts of thought-feelings you have.
Leading up to the jump, I even wrote my parents a note in case something happened to me. It read:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m about to skydive. If anything happens to me, know that I was doing what I loved—experiencing life to the fullest. This has been one of the best weeks of my life. I feel I’ve already lived multiple lifetimes of experience. I am so grateful to have lived. Please celebrate my life, be grateful that I lived, and don’t grieve beyond what is necessary. I lived a beautiful life and have no regrets. I love you both so much. Thank you for being the greatest parents in the world. Tell Anna, Mike, and everyone else how much I love them.
Love, Your Son,
Again, intellectually, I knew death was highly unlikely, but my limbic system had other ideas.
Shortly after writing this note, it was time to board the plane and begin the ascent.
I had imagined that the ascent and the moment before the jump would probably be the most terrifying aspects of the experience.
I imagined myself “chickening out” at the last moment, begging not to be thrown out of the plane.
Interestingly, this is not what happened.
As the plane ascended into the sky, making its way up to the 9,000-foot jump mark, I looked out over the ocean and Costa Rican rainforest and began to feel… okay.
A curious calm descended upon me, and I felt a deep peace with what was happening. I accepted the course of action and whatever the outcome might be. I found myself in a kind of amor fati—i.e. “the love of your fate”—consciousness, with only minimal pangs of fear. As Nietzsche wrote:
“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth!”
I had stopped resisting my fate. I had surrendered to what was necessary. I saw that I was indeed about to leap from a flying machine careening through the heavens, and by God I was going to embrace it and enjoy it.
When the door opened and the moment came to jump, I didn’t hesitate. I had been told that we would rock forward, rock backward, and then launch ourselves from the plane. I felt myself lean forward, back, and then I leapt.
I later learned that the instructor with whom I jumped was not actually prepared at the moment I thrust us out of the plane. Apparently there’s usually a countdown and more of an explicit leaning/build-up process. In 4,000 jumps I was the first person who ever pulled him out of the plane, he said. Whoops.
As soon as we left the plane, I was euphoric. Free-falling through the atmosphere at ~200 km/hour was, naturally, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It felt like temporarily transforming into some kind of celestial being, whooshing through the ether at warp speed. It felt like weightlessness. It felt like flying. It was unreal, surreal, dream-like, elating, ineffable, psychedelic, magical.
Once the parachute was pulled and I could actually speak (the free-fall speed had been so great that it was difficult to do so), I let out some jumbled series of ecstatic yawps about loving my parents and everyone and holy-shit-what-the-fuck-etcetera.
Once on the ground, the euphoria persisted for some time as we all hugged and smiled and laughed and shared love. Having survived such a monumental stunt felt akin to being reborn.
It felt like surviving a near-death experience: Like, “Well, I’m not even sure if I should really be here anymore, so, damn, everything seems astoundingly excellent and it feels like anything is possible! Life!!”
Having had this experience, I can say that I heartily recommend it to anyone who feels called. It’s a one-of-a-kind trip that has the potential to be truly life-changing.
The Story in Photos and Videos
Skydive Costa Rica gave us the option to purchase the videos of our experiences, so naturally we had to do that. For your viewing pleasure, here you can watch the full footage of the HighExistence team—myself, Martijn, and Jon—jumping out of a plane:
Here’s my full adventure:
And here are a few post-skydiving photos; our smiles tell the story pretty damn well:
Do Your Own Research
Be sure to do your research to find a solid operation with many high ratings on Trip Advisor, Google, etc. I looked into Skydive Costa Rica extensively before we booked our experience and was reassured by hundreds of five-star reviews. From what I saw, I think they’re one of the absolute best operations in Costa Rica and perhaps even Latin America.
Do note, though, that the plane was quite small and fairly old, so if you want to maximize safety, you may be better off seeking out a larger, more cutting-edge company in a highly affluent country. For our needs, though, Skydive Costa Rica was great, and I felt safe and in the hands of experts the whole time.
A Final Word on Death Meditation
This is somewhat tangential, but if this post has inspired you to look into death meditation as a practice, here’s some important food for thought:
Meditating on death can be an effective way to deepen acceptance of the impermanent nature of the human experience and to renew one’s gratitude for life.
The rationale is that if one meditates too much on death, one can become depressed and obsessed with rather morbid lines of thinking. This can happen even to seasoned meditators. So you don’t want to overdo it.
Loving-kindness meditation—deliberately practicing cultivating compassion for yourself and your loved ones and all sentient beings—serves as a useful counterweight to a death meditation practice.
The two balance each other, as too much loving-kindness meditation may also have detrimental effects, such as becoming impractically sentimental, agreeable, or empathetic, or weakening one’s boundaries.
A cool thing about skydiving was that in a way it contained both of these poles. The build-up was a kind of prolonged death meditation, whereas the jump, the post-landing hugs and smiles and love, and the euphoric afterglow were akin to a fuck-yeah-life!/loving-kindness meditation.
So, this is simply something to be aware of if you practice death meditation: Don’t overdo it, and find ways to balance it with life-affirming, energizing, and love-based activities or forms of meditation/contemplation.
If you do end up skydiving and experience the ultimate death meditation, I truly hope you have a beautifully life-enhancing experience. Godspeed.