Sunday, April 09, 2017
Ha Ling Peak at sunrise, and rising to the self.
I wasn't always an outdoorswoman. It honestly wasn't until I started yoga that my relationship to that which I used to avoid changed—rather than judging myself harshly for not being able to break a “bad” habit, I began to observe the discord at an arm's length, and approach it with a process of enquiry. Why did I seem to be blocked around something I kept telling myself I wanted to do? What excuses was I making? What is it about this person, place, or thing that makes me uncomfortable? What is it telling me about myself? Is it only difficult because I am telling myself it is (I believe it was in Hamlet that Shakespeare wrote, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”)?
Usually the things we avoid are the things we need the most.
I remember how rigid I used to be—if I believed something “wasn't for me”, then it was so. There was no fluidity or flexibility to my attitude, even if it was something I had never tried before. I told myself a narrative about who I was—some of it influenced by people who tried to tell me I was a certain way and so I should only enjoy certain things, and some of it purely my own creation—and in doing so I created mental and emotional blockages and patterns which prevented me from enjoying life to its fullest potential. If it wasn't to contribute to some idea of success or to a long-term goal, it wasn't something I would spend time doing.
Looking at my life now, I've lost count of the things I do purely out of pleasure, rather than with the hope of achieving something. Moving to Canada is a fairly major example of something I'm doing without any aim other than to enjoy. Here, stripped away from all that I knew, I have room to create new narratives, form new habits, and keep making way for the version of myself I want to become, rather than the version I feel I have to be.
You also may be wondering how yoga could help with all this—but that's a blog post for another time.
In recent years, every challenge is purely a question I pose to myself, without judging myself for the answer. Sometimes I meet myself with nurturing, knowing that sometimes today is not the day, but more often than not now, I try to rise to the challenge, purposefully putting myself in situations I know will confront me. Choosing to live deliberately. Pausing for long enough to listen. Even micro-challenges—like driving on the other side of the road here in Canada; taking a deep breath and messaging photographers I think I could be friends with (reaching out to total strangers is putting myself out there in a big way and always makes me nervous); eating a vegetable I wouldn't normally eat; reading a book I wouldn't normally read—it all serves to form new pathways in the brain, to avoid falling into the prison of doing the same things over and over for years without bothering to ask why, to get into the habit of breaking habits.
How many times have you tried to do something new (change your diet, start exercising more, stop going to bed late, start waking up early, drink less coffee, buy fewer clothes, consume less sugar, look at your phone less) only to find you just can't seem to do it? We all know it's a choice, and yet somehow we feel powerless to change.
Beginning new habits out of guilt doesn't work. Forcing yourself to do something from a negative place in a misguided attempt to better yourself is not the way. It adds weight and heaviness rather than lighting you up from the inside, giving you the fiery courage to believe in yourself. It's one thing to be aware of your shortcomings and love yourself anyway, and another to beat yourself up for the most human part of you: your imperfection. Own your flaws and watch as resistance falls away to reveal the best parts of you. Start with small changes, many times, and work your way up from there.
So, when I tell you that I hiked Ha Ling Peak for sunrise, a mountain with a 2,407m elevation that I can see from the comfort of my kitchen, know that it took years of internal and external work to get me to a point where I was game enough to wake up at 3:30am to hike a mountain with a friend I had only met a week prior, just for the pleasure—yes, pleasure—of it. I was nervous; it was my first hike since my ankle surgery in November and probably my first serious hike in a year, let alone in Canada, where it's still below 0ºC most mornings, the trails are snow and ice, and the bears and wolves and cougars are hiding in the trees. With an elevation gain of 700m, Ha Ling is a hike that only gets steeper from the start. Doing it in the dark with the thought of every apex predator watching us and a backpack that only seemed to get heavier was definitely a challenge for the body and the mind. Know that for things like this, sometimes being physically fit is less important than being mentally fit, because it requires pushing yourself to do new things when it's far easier to just turn around and go back to bed.
For a while there, I wasn't even sure I'd make it up the mountain, let alone do it in 2 hours...but when Max and I finally got above the treeline and saw the orange starting to light up the tips of the mountains surrounding us, I knew that once I finished the gruel scramble up the scree—yes, at times I was on hands and knees—I'd be in for an incredible reward at the top.
I wasn't wrong. Up there, -4ºC felt like -20ºC standing in 100km/h winds, the danger of falling over the edge or causing an avalanche with a single misstep on the snowpack was real, and my face and my hands lost all their feeling, but it's when I take risks like these that I feel all the more alive. It may have been over as soon as it begun, but my first Canadian sunrise summit didn't disappoint.
And now that I've done it once? I know I can do it again.