Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mountain Lessons

I go to the mountains to escape, recharge, exhaust, inspire.  I find a clarity of mind when I push my body so hard that the insecurities on loop in my head eventually fade to the rhythm of step, climb, step, climb.  Life is reduced to the essentials, both in the loads I carry physically and mentally.  I sleep well under starlit skies and the fluff of down.  I feel like my best self, caked in salty, dried sweat and mud, with a genuine, honest smile and an undeniable feeling of self worth.

Off the mountain, I writhe in my sleep with dreams of the past. I wake up sluggish and feeling drained from negative imaginary interactions.  I constantly question what I'm doing with my life.  If I need to grow up and focus on a career and a savings account.  If leaving my two-year relationship to create my own happiness was a huge mistake and I have gone backwards in self development. Am I just running away from that which was hard and uncomfortable? Am I weak and a shitty person? Distractions help these thoughts from looping on repeat, but at the end of the day, when I go home to the room I rent, alone, I wonder if it is all worth it.  I miss him, the dog, the life we shared together. 

But I don't miss the person I was with him.  Almost imperceptibly, I became weak, insecure, neurotic. I allowed myself to be degraded, a lesser human being existing in his shadow.  He told me he was moving to CO with or without me, and I went, because he was more important to me than the life I had loved and created in UT.  I missed living in the mountains; seeing the Front Range on the horizon was a painful reminder of their good tidings, distanced by fields of Monsanto corn.  I was constantly reminded of all my flaws and faults, but never received support in working to improve them.  I was sharing a life with someone, and I never felt more alone.  I wanted nothing more than to talk about these issues, but our communication was pathetic, and when I tried to bring up my concerns, I was called ridiculous and shut down.  

I've always considered myself confident, independent, strong.  Sure I slip up and many things go wrong, but I've found ways to fix my problems.  I've survived a stolen passport abroad, moving cross-country alone, traveling around the world and the US.  I love to adventure, meet new people, leave my comfort zone, smile.  I am my best self when I am challenged and supported.  

I've been battling all these feelings of worth for months.  I grew up with a mother that never valued emotions and talking it out.  I used my summer to run away to the mountains and desert where I spent most of my time alone, trying to work through these feelings.  

At first I felt worthless.  Like I was a walking failure. I cried myself to sleep over text messages. I wanted to hide. Escape. I hid behind pretty Instagram pictures with a smile that was forced, strained. 

But then, it got better.  

The mountains exhausted me so that I couldn't replay my insecurities on repeat. I was getting physically stronger; hiking, climbing, paddling. Time was helping me get emotionally stronger. I was regaining a confidence in myself that I was a capable human being, and I was allowing myself to be happy again.  

Then I relapsed and went back.  I wanted to see if time had helped, if getting back to my better self could be the difference in fixing the relationship. It hadn't. I felt bad for leaving all summer, ending it, and I went back with my tail between my legs trying to apologize in words and actions.  Things seemed to be better, a familiar feeling of normalcy quickly returned.  But so did the feeling of worthlessness and insecurity.  Conversation was polite, yet superficial. I was trying to do everything I could for him, but I felt little appreciation or thanks. He treated me like a house and dog sitter, someone to stock the fridge and cross chores off the list.  I felt my self-worth plummet again. I loved the person I was in the mountains, but I loved him too.  It became painfully clear that these two people couldn't co-exist.  

He didn't want to work on a future together. The damage was deemed irreparable.  

And so I left.  

I returned to Park City, where I had a job waiting, I found a room to rent, and I went back into the mountains. My head was clearer this time. I had tried, I had learned, I had grown. I spent time alone to work through my thoughts, but I also started reaching out to the supportive people in my life that I valued. I met new people for what felt like the first time in years. I awkwardly asked to trade phone numbers at trailheads with other women I met hiking so we could go hiking together. I opened up with people about all the emotions I was experiencing, both positive and negative. I was healing, slowly, but surely, and creating a life that made me happy.  

If I had an internal compass, it would be pointed at Happiness.  Sometimes I lose my way, but whenever I feel lost, I have tried to re-evaluate and return to the things that make me happy.  I can only control my own happiness, not others, and no one else can make me happy.  And the mountains make me happy.  

Recently on a hike with my friend Bethany (, she shared her gratitude practice with me, a daily reading from "The Pocket Pema Chodron" ( Lately I've found myself practicing more mindfulness and awareness of the positive things around me, with the goal of appreciating the good around me, and not the negative feelings that still sneak up.  She shared with me that she keeps a gratitude journal, and she gets strength in times of weakness from rereading past entries that highlight the good around her. Aside from loving this idea, and the desire to begin my own practice, she gifted me her purple journal writing pen to start me on my journey.  If you're not familiar with Bethany, this AMAZING woman is leaving in less than two weeks to begin a 5 year long journey from the southern tip of South America to Alaska, encouraging others to embark on their dreams, and drawing attention to grass-route initiative for micro-financing and education for women along the way.  So yes, it's just a pen, but the symbolic gesture was pretty grand, and I'm stoked for her trip to begin and to see her change the world.

As we sat on the saddle of Mt Olympus, with another awesome gal we met while hiking, she pulled out her book "The Pocket Pema Chodron" and asked if either of us would like to read a random passage today.  I eagerly volunteered (sorry Brittney!) and flipped to a passage.  The topic was mountains.

The Journey Goes Down, Not Up

“Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak we have transcended all pain. The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all the others behind—our drunken brother, our schizophrenic sister, our tormented animals and friends. Their suffering continues, unrelieved by our personal escape.
In the process of discovering bodhichitta, the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. We jump into it. We slide into it. We tiptoe into it. We move toward it however we can. We explore the reality and unpredictably of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of bodhichitta. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.”
-Pema Chodron
This passage hit home for me.  I have been running to the top of mountains to feel like my best self, but why I have I struggled to bring the lessons of the mountains back to the insecurities and self-doubt I stash at the bottom? Another recently conversation I had explored this idea. How can I bring the confidence I love from the mountains to the other aspects of life filled with doubt?  How do I face the areas of my life that need those lessons the most? In a way, I am the one that escaped to the top of the mountain, and still the one suffering at the bottom.  

But I'm learning to bring those lessons down with me.  To discover the unconditional love that will not die.  To love strangers, friends, myself. And with compass in hand, I'm choosing happiness.