Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Big Hairy Homo Who Went Up a Mountain and Came Down a Hill

[Brace yourselves, gentle readers - it's gonna be a long one!] What a weekend. So where was I, you ask? I went to Colorado for a shamanic workshop (look at me come out to some of you as a shaman in training - woohoo!) near Boulder. It was an intense and intensive 3 days. I won't tell you about much of it, but there is one thing I wanted to share. Have you ever been to Boulder? If not, picture a town at the foothills of some serious peaks. This means there are lots of hills and such in the area. They even have a park nestled into a valley and connected to a mondo butte there. So 25 of my closest friends and I went up to Boulder for a ceremony, the details of which aren't important to the story.

As we stood at the start of the trail, I looked up. And gasped. And my heart sank. A lot. It was steep. Bigtime steep. My brain told me there was no way in hell I could make this journey. It was sunny outside, and therefore very hot. I had my Nalgene with me, which was about half full of water, as I'd consumed the first half in the car ride to Boulder. But it was time, and we started walking in a single file line. We'd been instructed to walk in silence, so there was no talking as we began up what I like to refer to as Mount Olympus.

It didn't take long for problems to set in. I'm not great with stairs or inclines to begin with because my athsma kicks in. Having a cold in my chest and lungs didn't help much either, and soon I was breathing with great difficulty. I used rythmic breathing to stay in control and prevent panting or gasping for air which helped. I was sweating profusely and my legs were aching - my calves were on fire! I had brought only my Birks for the weekend (which are not great climbing shoes) and they tried to slip off my feet with every step; I had to curl my toes slightly to keep from losing them altogether. Rocks, pebbles, dust, and weeds flowed in and out of my shoes as well.

With each step, I thought "This is too much for me. I can't do this. I'm not as fit as the others. I probably won't add any value to the ceremony anyway, and they can do it without me." A hundred different excuses kept filtering into my mind. Each time we would come to a bend or the top of a rise, a new path, other more steep than the last, awaited us, and my despair grew. But I kept walking, halting step by step, thinking "the top of that ridge would be a good place to stop and rest. Just a little further and I'll collapse - the middle of a hill is not a good place to stop. There's nowhere to sit!" *One more step*

I could feel those around me watching me closely for signs of heat stroke, cardiac arrest, an aneurism, or spontaneous human combustion. They were aware I was struggling, and would smile meekly at me now and then, offering their silent compassion and support. It seemed like absolutely everything was working against me, trying to keep me off the mountain, and I was all too ready to let it. But still I kept walking. Someone pulled back and told me "Don't waste energy by doing this" and "draw strength from the earth beneath your feet." *One more step*

At some point the messages in my head changed somewhat. I wanted to make it just a little further before I stopped. Be that much closer. *One more step* The end wasn't in sight, and I didn't even really know how far we had to go before we got there, or what the end would look like. I started remembering some of the things we'd learned and talked about over the weekend, and things I've told my friends (and some of my gentle readers) over time.

- The easy path is not always the best one. *One more step*
- I am not doing this alone. *One more step*
- I have support. *One more step*
- It wouldn't be hard if it wasn't necessary for it to be. *One more step*

I was suddenly drawing strength from within...and from those around me. From the very world around me. It wasn't easy. It was very painful. But the next thing I knew, we were at the top. I looked at my step counter, and we'd traveled almost 2 miles up a VERY steep trail. And I realized...I didn't even stop once to rest. I realized I had tapped into a strength I had already known once. You see, I ran cross country during my freshman year of high school. I did it to prove to myself and to all the assholes that I could go out for a sport and keep up. So I went out for the most grueling, demanding sport we had at Wright High School. We ran around 5 miles a day in practice. I finished every race, though was last at all but one meet (someone dropped out in Hardin, MT) - but I finished them. And I still remember the moment I finished my first race without stopping to walk and rest a moment. But at some point, I doubted myself enough that I lost that strength. I let the world and those around me convince myself that I was weak and incapable.

The ceremony was beautiful and amazing. I would have missed out on so much! And as we returned down the hill, my mind started in again, processing the experience. The trip down seemed like nothing, and I knew that if I had to, I could come back up the hill again as well. I noticed the grandeur and sheer awe-inspiring beauty of the trail on the way down; I couldn't see it on the way up, as I was too focused on the task at hand and just getting through a rough patch. And so, without further ado, are the condensed lessons for this epistle from the mount:

Sometimes, we have to endure the impossible to experience joy - or growth. I feel now as if I can accomplish ANYTHING, and all it took to get there was a near-death experience. ;) Beauty is always around us, even if we can't see it readily. We are never alone; even if we're not hearing support or encouragement - it's there. Strength exists. I don't own the strength I tapped into; I share in it. It exists in me, in those around me, and in the world itself. It's something we can call on anytime we need it. And remember, when in doubt: *One more step*