Nepal Himalayan Trekking September – October 2001
I journeyed by foot for 20 days in the worlds highest mountains. A land where walking is the only way to arrive at one’s destination. I went by group, I soloed and I followed yak and donkey trains, I walked in the driving rain where each rest stop required a mandatory Juka (leech) check. Yes, I picked the little blighters off my ankles. I trucked up the Lamjura Pass. 6 hours up and 4 hours down to the comfort of the village and lodge. My legs have never been so heavy with utter and complete exhaustion. I have never been so aware of my body, every breath, every muscle, screamed of my earthly presence. Any past thoughts or laziness of not completing or committing are obliterated. On the trail there is no choice to but forward or not, succeeding was very much in my face as just taking the next step.
I was nicknamed George Clooney at the first for my resemblance to the actor. But after I attempted to discretely move off the trail to relieve my self in the squat fashion I later realized how the trail curved scenically below revealing what turned out to be my not so discrete perch. I then earned the modified nickname of George “Mooney”
Things I learned from the journey:
1. You cannot take the next step without letting go of the last.
What a piece of gold for the journey of life. How often have I held to past, comparing partners, jobs that were better, summers of glory to what I was experiencing, wishing it was like it used to be, afraid to try something new, stalled in uncomfortable comfort, sleeping in when my gifts could be shared, hesitating to give my very best, deepest, most heartfelt self to the moment.
2. Mindfulness of each step is a gift.
Get distracted or loose attention and you risk a slip or twist. A twisted ankle or worse days walk from medical attention is a constant reminder to be vigilant. As life drifts forward we have a 3 choices: Be stuck in guilt of the past, fear (false evidence appearing real) of the future or be mindful in the love of each moment as it exists. I can tell you that looking too far up the trail as it ascends radically is akin to always slipping into that future and playing games with what outcomes you want to control. Looking ahead and letting self doubt sink in actually weighs the tissue of the body. I recall looking up and telling myself I can’t make this rise and actually feeling my body get heavier reacting to the emotion of doubt. Such is fear of what the future may or may not bring. The past what if’s and what could a been also distract from the beauty life in this moment. If I am not mindful and grateful for what is now in this step and each step as they exist then I miss the best part of my life.
3. The beauty and strength of being a follower.
I have been a leader most of my life and if not that then certainly very independent and in no need of someone else to tell me what to do. I was blessed with a breech birth that set that tone for my life and gave me stubbornness and discernment and questioning those who would lead. It made me a capable activist.
When the trail is long and steep I learned that two people walking together is more powerful than one. On many occasions I would step in pace with my lead walking partner. Right foot ahead at the same time. Like pacing or active listening in connected conversation. I felt the strength of two as one and was able to ascend some tough hauls. Following into the unknown is humbling and egoless and is a silent vigil to the power of two, or more. Talking and sharing on the journey is a delightful subset of this learning as well, the more we share who we are the lighter the trip.
4. Challenge and support takes magical forms.
Love is both challenge and support. On the trail, our colleague and friend Judith, found one big hill particularly challenging. Chris our host was very supportive in his verbal encouragement and step by step commentary to bolster her motivation to climb. They arrived at group rest stops often exhausted and many minutes behind the group. She was tiring fast and retreat was not an option. Support takes many turns and surprises and forms. While Judith was struggling up the infamously steep and high Lamjura pass a porter who had observed her challenge walked up beside her and simply took her by the hand. They walked together in silence. Judith described her feeling as a surge of strength though this powerful mountain raised hand in hers. The simplicity of the gesture and the grace of the open heart of caring that reached out was very inspirational to us all. How often to we reach out to touch someone just to let them know we are there for them. Not lost in words that may not need to be said but just honouring a profound presence of love and connection that could be the greatest gift of all. For Judith, it made the difference between completing this leg of her life journey. Recall the last time someone touched you and encouraged you along your path.
5. Discipline is a challenge
The higher mind of the spirit has a complex relationship the lower or ego mind of the body. The Body constantly gives messages to quite, slow down, veg out, take it easy, roll over and snooze some more when you awake. My ego mind fills my mind with thoughts of “can’t do it”, “not strong enough”. This same challenge is issued everyday. Personal mastery includes four pillars: gratitude, certainty, presence and love. How often have I slipped into ingratitude for what I have or don’t have, confusion and uncertainty for what is important to me, stuck in comparisons of what was and could be and of course imposing conditional love rather than offering and receiving unconditional love. It takes discipline and conscious commitment to my purpose. Walking the path required that with every step. Walking through life requires that with every action, every day.
6. There are many goals but only the purpose has heart.
Hiking to the summit of Kalapathar at 18,000 ft was my goal to achieve. How many goals do we pursue because they are there or because it is the thing to do. Perhaps for many it is to have the newest car the biggest house, the career with status, the latest in household electronics. I completed this trek because it was the thing to do. I decided to do it after I spoke with a German family with two girls about age 10 and 12. They made the grade so could I. One of the few western families I saw on the trail. Everyone else was doing it. It was on the map as the end of the trail and I felt that status could be mine if I fulfilled my ambition to hike to the top of the earth. A certain pride awaited me as I achieved one of the highest hikeable mountains on earth. This was my goal for many days. I slept poorly at the higher levels gasping for air in the middle of the night.
I walked up 20 feet and rested for 5 minutes to catch breathe. It was a hard climb. I stayed at the top for over half an hour visually embracing the magnificent vista. As I started down, I had a wave of completion, a kind of quite satisfaction. I took about 7 steps before a deep longing welled up inside. My goal was compete, it was time to return. Return to what? I then thought of all the things I loved, my family and kids, friends, work, my home, I even thought about my grade 1 teacher Mrs. Lampshire. I reflected on this for a long time walking down the mountain and realized that the purpose of life regardless of the short term goals that may seem to satiate the longing, is ultimately to return home to love.
This is the essence of my life purpose. People seek my services to help them remember what they have forgotten. That is, what is it that they truly love. What does home look like to them, spiritually, socially, relationship, career wise, health, mind? We spend some much time an energy searching for the meaning of the 4 great questions of life. 1. Where have I come from? 2. Why am I here? 3. Who am I? and 4. Where am I going? These questions are signposts for the searching soul in need of a home, the self in need of a purpose, the person returning to love. Awash in a sea of substitutes provided by consumer culture with a product or experience or vacation that promises a hand drawn facsimile and surrogate. The quality of the life journey is not measured by the number of cars we own, or money we make or indeed by the amount of mountains we have climbed but by the gift of the heart we give and receive in the service of increasing love in the world.
Perhaps Carlos Castenada said it best in this book the Teachings of Don Juan, “Any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you…Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question…Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good, if it doesn’t it is of no use.”