?Life Lessons Courtesy of Mt Washington?
I came for a hike and I left with some meaningful life lessons. ??Like many of you, I am practicing the art of creating a fulfilling life, and I share this with you in hopes that you too may get in touch with your own ability to consistently open to life, take on new challenges, and step outside your comfort zone.
My story begins in Tuckerman Ravine, a glacial cirque on the southeast face of Mt. Washington, in New Hampshire?s White Mountains. We arrived at the base of trail, looking for a ?good hike.? Many were hanging out in the parking lot, looking simultaneously exhilarated and relaxed — I wanted some of what they were having! The Mountain Club volunteers suggested we embark on either the Ravine Trail or the River Trail. Looking at my footwear (running sneakers), I was discouraged from tackling the former, even though we were told it was – by far – the more compelling trail.? I felt an immediate hesitation to embark upon the Ravine Trail, not just because of the footwear warnings, but also because my internal naysayer was saying ?it might be too wet, too hard, too risky/dangerous?? ? you get the picture. ??Both routes started from the same base, so we determined we’d start up the Ravine Trail, with the caveat that we would turn back to the River Trail if the Ravine Trail got too treacherous. After a few hundred yards, it was clear that it was wet, cold, icy, slushy and slippery. I actually felt relieved that my internal fears were confirmed ? that meant I would have no choice but to take the ?easier route.? Yet, I also felt a subtle disappointment, like I had let myself down in some way.
The River (aka ?easier?) Trail was beautiful, slippery, and icy, and we were walking on several feet of packed snow. It was uneventful and my feet stayed dry and relatively warm. The next day, with renewed energy and a bit of recycled regret from the day before, we decided to give the Ravine Trail a go. What follows are a few of the insights I had along the way.
Fulfillment is always a step beyond your comfort zone.
Part of me does not want to push the envelope or take risks for fear of things getting messy or chaotic ? there is safety in staying within the lines (?or trail). The experience of the River Trail was ?nice?? fine, really?but it wasn?t exciting, and it certainly was not fulfilling. On the other hand, those ?Ravine Trail choices? in my life that have brought me to my edge, that wake me up?now, those have me feel more engaged and ultimately more fulfilled, even if I get my feet a little wet on the journey.
When you shift your perspective, your whole world shifts.
When I finally committed to the Ravine Trail, I felt more alive. Immediately, I felt happier. I had made a choice to go for it and there was something joyous about that. When I stopped being concerned about how things would turn out (i.e. I stopped trying to control the situation) and brought my focus into the here and now, I felt freer. I looked up to notice the beauty around me, and everything felt more spacious and expanded?inside of me and out. In the process of saying yes to this invitation, I said yes to the part of me that wants to have more fun, experience life as an adventure, and feel the joy that is always waiting for me. I said yes to a more expansive part of me that is often obscured by my fears and concerns and the illusion of needing to be in control.
It?s easier when you (stop resisting and) lean into it.
As I walked down the steepest part of the mountain, I was focused on reducing the potential for slipping and falling. At one point, I got to a place where I couldn?t resist the slipping and a woman behind me said, ?It?s easier when you lean into it.? Those were the very words I needed to hear ? I felt my shoulders relax, my knees relax, and my posture strengthen. Her clear and truthful message at that moment allowed me to free both my mind and my body; the rest of the way down the mountain, I was slipping and leaning into it and sliding and gliding and felt like I was eight years old again. I was having fun!
We are all dying to play and play is life-giving.
That feeling of running and sliding down the mountain is almost indescribable. I was giddy and silly, light-hearted and free, unrestricted?and alive. As a mother, I know the immense value of giving children space to play, as so many things are learned through that medium. But as we get older, we forget to engage in the simple joys of ?play mode.? We are conditioned to learn through reading and memorizing and googling?.but we have forgotten that a day of play can bring us back into a child-like realm, and that from there, infinite possibilities open up. That day, I reconnected with that part of me that was open, innocent, willing, absorbent, and alive as a child. My play-time that day gave birth to this blog post, and it was a joyful experience to boot!
Choosing fulfillment is a practice.
A fulfilling life isn?t achieved through the flip of an on/off switch. It takes a conscious desire and intention to create it, choice by choice, day by day. My tendency to avoid fear or discomfort or risk doesn?t go away, but I can override it with choices like hiking the Ravine Trail. My practice is to notice I have a choice, acknowledge my tendency to choose the easier, safer option, and then choose what aligns with the type of life I want. Do I want the comfortable, safe life where I feel a strong sense of control? Or am I willing to challenge that tendency for the potential of more joy, more freedom, more fulfillment? Over time, with practice, I can live consistently open to life, willing to take on challenges and new opportunities, and stepping beyond my comfort zone.
I now understand all the buzz and ?good energy? that I experienced in the parking lot when we arrived at the base of Mt Washington. I attribute the palpable joy in the air to the presence of people operating outside their comfort zones, in the spirit of play and adventure, reveling in the camaraderie of others, celebrating the process. Those are elements of a good time, and upon further reflection, of a good life.