*Aaron Ralston pictured above during his fateful hike in Utah
“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than hanging on.” –Eckhart Tolle
Aron Lee Ralston was born on October 27, 1975, in Marion, Ohio.
He moved to Colorado at the age of 12 where he quickly became obsessed with mountains.
After getting a degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and working at the Intel office in Tacoma for five years, he quit his job in order to pursue his lifelong dream of climbing mountains full time.
He set the ambitious goal to become the first person to complete solo ascents of every “fourteener” in Colorado during winter (that’s every mountain over 14,000 feet high)—all 59 of them.
In 2003, he and two friends were caught in an enormous avalanche on Resolution Peak. They all survived, but his friends never spoke to him again and blamed him for taking too much risk.
Taking a break from winter mountaineering, on April 26th, 2003, Aron set out on a solo canyoneering descent of Bluejohn Canyon near Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
He did not tell anyone where he was going that day.
If you aren’t familiar with slot canyons, the beautiful red rock walls can rise nearly one hundred feet high with very narrow sections of only a few feet wide, and make for a spectacular and unique hiking experience.
When Aron was nearing the bottom portion of his hike, a massive 800-pound boulder somehow dislodged and came crashing down from above, finally coming to rest and crushing his right hand against the wall of the narrow canyon.
He could not move because his arm was completely entrapped under the boulder.
As an experienced outdoorsman he rapidly assessed his situation and quickly began to ration his supplies—taking small bites of his burrito, and consuming his water carefully on a schedule.
He spent the next three days and nights attempting to break pieces of the rock and free himself. But his attempts proved utterly useless against the massive chock stone.
On day four, realizing that his arm was decomposing, he began to make exploratory cuts into his forearm with his cheap multitool blade, but it proved difficult to muster the sheer will to cut into his own body.
On day five he ran out of water and began drinking his own urine. Realizing that he would not live much longer, he carved his name into the sandstone wall and used a camera to record a goodbye video to his family.
That night, delirious from dehydration and pain, he had a vision of himself in the future with a missing arm holding his unborn child.
At dawn on day six, he woke with undaunted determination to free himself.
He would be forced to break his ulna and radius with extreme force, then use his small blade and pliers to saw through the remainder of muscles, tendons, nerves, and arteries in his right forearm, using his Camelback hose as a makeshift tourniquet. The entire process took less than an hour—and he was suddenly free.
He proceeded to rappel 65 more feet, and after 7 miles of hiking, he ran into a family on vacation from the Netherlands who helped him call for a helicopter.
I cannot imagine what this family must have been thinking when they first caught sight of him.
He had lost 40 pounds in six days, and 25% of the total blood in his body.
He not only survived, but went on (less than 2 years later) to complete his goal of becoming the first person to climb all 59 of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks in winter—with only one arm.
His story became a bestselling book and movie.
Aron’s story is a powerful reminder that sometimes we have to amputate in order to move forward.
In life, sometimes we cannot get unstuck unless we are willing to part with something precious.
And the longer we resist what we know we must do, we heap more suffering on top of the pain.
Is there something you need to cut off in order to move on with your life?
Some of you may need to cut off a habit that is keeping you trapped.
For others, it might be a relationship.
Companies might need to let people go or eliminate a product.
It could be that part of your ego or pride needs to be amputated in order to stop causing problems at work or at home.
A personal example
I’ll give you a silly personal example.
A few years ago, my wife asked me to make a change by doing more spontaneous excursions to new places and hanging out with new people.
For a hard core planner, a creature of habit, and someone who is cautious about starting new friendships—this was actually a big challenge for me.
But I decided to do an experiment to amputate my former rigidity, hyper-planning, or going to places we had always visited.
Interestingly, we ended up meeting some great new friends and having some of the most fun camping trips we have ever had by discovering new places, many at the last minute.
But in order to do this, I had to amputate some of my former routines and ways of looking at what made for “the perfect family trip.”
Now, this is a far cry from chopping off my arm, but for some people who have done things a certain way their entire lives, the psychological and emotional change may require a similar level of courage as cutting into one’s own body. It might even feel like a “death” to our former way of doing things.
Research from psychology and neuroscience clearly reveals that our deep neural wiring and conditioned habits can be extremely hard to change, and require a high level of commitment.
Exactly how much of our behaviors are habitual (less thinking involved) has been debated, but this 2011 Harvard Business Article suggests it could be as high as 95%! After all, our brains try to save us energy by finding routine ways of doing things every day. When we don’t have a routine, we have to think really hard, which uses a lot of energy.
Is it time to burn your plows?
Many people use the expression that it’s “time to burn the plows” but may not know where it comes from.
If you aren’t familiar with the origin of that expression, it comes from a story in the Old Testament (1 Kings 19:19) where the prophet Elijah asks Elisha (a farmer) to come under his spiritual mentorship and leave everything from his former life behind.
In order to show his total commitment to this new way of life and abrupt career change, Elisha responded by burning his wooden plowing equipment and throwing a huge block party barbeque for his neighbors by roasting the oxen that had just been helping him plow the field.
Is it just me or does it seem like those oxen got a really bad deal!?
By destroying his farming equipment, Elisha was risking a big change and totally eliminating the option of going back to his former way of life.
He went all in.
Conclusion and action
Is life asking you to let go of something that is holding you back?
By staying where he was, Aaron could not have survived. By severing something, he went on to live big.
Maybe it’s time to take the risk of making a change with total commitment.
Take some time this weekend to reflect.
Have a great weekend!
Want more? Suggested Resources
- Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aaron Ralston
- 127 Hours (Movie)