"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." - John Muir
As I peeled open my eyes this morning I realized I was lying in my warm and cozy bed, covers pulled up tight around my body. This is quite the contrast from where I woke up yesterday morning.
I momentarily focused on my breath, tracing every inch of my body, feeling the tightness and strain in muscles and joints, the bubbling blisters on my heels, the skin rubbed raw on my hips and collarbone, the dull pulsing ache in my lower back and all I could think was... "take me back."
Take me back to the vanilla scented pines and grassy meadows. Take me back to the place where smiles and laughter filled the empty gullies and time was of no importance. Take me back to that place where egos and identities no longer mattered and we were one and the same, all entangled in the same goal.
Please, just take me back.
As I peeled back the covers I slowly sat up, staring at my reflection in the mirrors that adorn my closet doors. Thirty-five years of life slowly starting to show in the creases and cracks that lined my tattered and tanned face. What a wild ride these years have been. What a wild ride the last four days had been I thought.
The idea of taking a backpacking trip began back in July when I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my thirty-fifth birthday. Birthdays have always been a big deal to me. It's a time to celebrate life, all of it. The trials and tribulations of the year and more importantly, the triumphs and wins and the humility and grace that come with it.
I had two prerequisites; to be in nature and to be with people who inspire me and share in a mutual love of the wild. What came to be was far more then I could have ever hoped for. Thanks Universe.
After I decided on what I wanted to do I sent out an email to a few friends to see if any of them would be interested in going on a backpacking trip. Most were busy with other obligations but my friends Natalie and Molly were eager to test they're trekking legs with me. Slowly from there, others started to hear of our trip and show interest and others were invited. In my opinion, those that needed to be there found their way.
I think we decided on our location because of the mystery and allure that comes with the mention of hot springs. Nothing sounds better then burning your muscles to pure exhaustion then basking in the warm water of natural pools that have been kissed to the perfect temperature by the earth. With the Iva Belle Hot Springs as our final destination, we waited for a few weeks with anticipation and curiosity for our impending adventure.
As our departure date approached, my excitement grew to the point of feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. To get lost in the woods for four days is up there on my list of ideal and perfect days. I tossed and turned the night before as I lay there wondering what the weekend would bring. That's the thing about impending adventures, they always bring a mix of nerves and excitement for something of significance always happens.
I thought about the fact that since moving here in January, I have been overwhelmed by the people I've met and befriended along the way. Being so far away from my family and friends I've had since I was a child, I'm lucky to have seamlessly found a tribe of people that I feel like I've known for years. And if this trip proved anything, it was that life has impeccable timing and brings the right people to you when you need them most. People that make you feel loved and accepted just the way you are. People with similar goals of healing the world. People who make you laugh until your belly hurts and your jaw aches from smiling. People who make you feel understood. People and experiences that teach you just the right lessons at just the right time.
I can't even begin to describe in detail, the full trip so I've decided that I would share ten lessons I learned over the course of our weekend. This trip will stay with me for a very long time. It was, I believe, a tipping point for me. My soul needs the rush of adventure on a regular basis therefore I do declare, changes are a coming....
1. Learn to Love the highs and the messy parts of life equally
When we got off the mountain we headed into Bishop for a bite to eat. One of the things I love doing after a group experience, and something that I learned from my friend Natalie who was also on the trip, is individually sharing your high and your low point. For added measure we threw in what we were grateful for. As we sat back and listened to each one of our friends talk about their high's and low's we laughed and nodded and commiserated over each thing someone mentioned. When it came around to my turn my belly filled with flutters as all eyes were on me. I paused before I spoke. "As much as I want to say the moment we found the hot springs was my high, and the moment that Evan and I realized we went the wrong way and were lost was my low, I think that they are both equally highs and lows. It's all part of the overall experience. Getting lost was just as exhilarating (in its own way) and as much a part of the whole experience as was finding the hot springs after we thought we wouldn't. As much as that was an incredible high it's also a low because we will never again feel the joy and excitement as in that moment we reached our goal. I'm just so grateful for it all."
I believe that life is supposed to be this way. Looking back, my lowest points have lead me to many great things. Something I practice is trying to be grateful for it all. Even when it doesn't feel like it, it is all part of the creation of your human experience that can shape and change you for the better if you let it.
2. Never judge anyone
As human being we naturally judge others, usually within seconds of meeting them. We create stories and meaning of who they are before we've even given them a chance to show and tell us. This never was more apparent to me then on this trip. I had my judgments about each one of my friends before spending several days and nights with them. That doesn't necessarily mean anything negative, I had just perceived them a certain way.
Over the course of the weekend however, as each one unraveled a little more and opened up and shared, I realized how detrimental it is to judge someone based off of the little information you may have pick up about them. Listening to and observing them throughout the weekend shined light on each one of their beautiful qualities that makes them unique and special. Having preconceived notions and judgement is a dangerous road to travel down. If you can, and it's definitely a practice for all of us, try to let go of judging people before you even take the time to get to know them. Its pretty amazing what happens when you allow someone to just be without the unnecessary attachment of your own stories and filters places upon them.
3. Human connection is far more important then going it alone
Like so many people, over the years I've been hurt a lot, which for me, has created the habit of self preservation by pushing people away before they can get too close. I'm well aware of it and I think the awareness part is huge and powerful. However, it doesn't prevent me entirely from doing it. It's become my greatest coping mechanism when I start to feel tested by relationships. If it feels too tough, I push and back away. Someone is getting too close and my "stuff" starts to show up, I push and pull away. Heaven forbid someone sees my imperfect parts. If someone starts to challenge me, even if it's a lesson I need to learn more then anything, I push and pull away.
On this trip however, I have never felt more accepted for just being me . I realized the importance of leaning into that discomfort. If someone doesn't like you for who you are, well, that truly is their loss. When you feel like pulling away, lean in even more then ever. Connection with others is a vital part of our human experience. It's through others that we can learn so many valuable lessons about humility, love and compassion.
4. Nature will humble you
I want desperately to believe that eventually, nature will win. That we as a collective whole will wake up and realize the damage we've done to our beautiful mother and we will work feverishly to correct ourselves and fix this beautiful places we have been gifted with. It's easy in our day to day life to forgo our responsibilities of taking care of her but get out in nature and you will have no other choice but to see.
You will be humbled by her magnificence, mesmerized by her beauty, strengthened her resilience and graced with her patience. You will see that she is far greater then any of us can ever be and has more power then we give her credit for. She could destroy us all if she wanted to but she chooses to let us continue to do our thing, hoping that one day we will all wake up.
Let's wake up, shall we? I mean, look at the beauty she gives us...for FREE.
5. Think like a bear and you'll go far in life
Every night before we tucked ourselves away for bed we had to put everything that would attract animals in a bear box and place it a good distance away from our camp. One morning as we were making coffee and breakfast, Natalie shared a story about how supposedly the bears have adapted over time and have learned that if they throw the bear boxes over a cliff that they would bust open and when they got to the bottom they would be met with an array of tasty treats. The bears knew that whatever was in those encapsulated boxes was far better then what they were supposed to eat in the wild.
I initially laughed at the thought of a bear hurling a black container over a cliff and then working it's way down just to eat the goodies inside. However, it got me thinking about how smart these bears actually were. To make the connection over time that what was in that box was a treat, is pretty amazing. If we take this and apply it to our own lives, where can we evolve our thinking so that we can see more of the magnificent things that life has to offer? What would happen if we allowed ourselves to be busted open so that more of our goodness can spill out?
6. Right past pain is courage
I think each one of us on this trip had a moment where we wondered what the fuck we were doing. I remember asking myself quite clearly, when the pain of my hips and feet were almost too much to bare, "Why the fuck are you doing this Amanda? Didn't you learn your lesson on Mt. Hood? Why do you keep doing this to yourself?" But then you dig a little deeper, right past the pain and pull out courage and push on. The funny thing is, like the pain of childbirth, you forget that it ever hurt because you are so overcome by the happiness and joy of the outcome that the journey brought you. Pain is a distant memory.
7. Fear COINCIDES with growth
I have a bunch of irrational fears and a bunch of totally rational ones too. They look something like this: snakes, sharks, dark open waters, opening champagne bottles, climbing up ladders into dark attacks, venturing into creepy dark basements, evil ghosts, first dates, getting sick again, never finding real, lasting love, losing my family, losing my friends, speaking in front of large groups. You get the idea. The funny thing is, right behind that door that says fear is something even greater; courage. Every time I push myself a little bit deeper into exploring and pushing through these fears I am always met with something really wonderful; more courage, more strength, and a greater belief in myself.
8. Community is an essential part of life
I like to spend a lot of time alone. I'm an introvert after all. However, one of the greatest things I witnessed on this trip was the power of community. Your community is your tribe, the people in your corner, those that just get you, who will stand beside you when you are braving the storms of life. They will cheer you on when you have yet another mile to go.
I had many moments on this trip where I wanted to stop. As physically strong as I am, it's amazing what can happen when the mind gives up. That is when you need your community, your cheerleaders, your people, your tribe. It's the most important time to lean on others for support. Those that will and can lift you up. We did that for each other. We would cheer each other on or we'd be okay with stopping for a break to help each other find the comfort they needed.
You are never alone when you have your tribe. You are never alone within your community.
9. WE ARE MEANT TO BE WILD AND FREE
You may have read in a previous post that, "all good things are wild and free " is one of my favorite quotes. There is a reason that part of this is tattooed on my inner left bicep. It's something I truly believe in. After I left my marriage I thought a lot about how I wanted to feel moving forward and what I came up with was Wild & Free. Now I don't mean going wild and crazy, partying till wee hours of the morning, or sleeping with every guy I meet to feel personally liberated. That will never be apart of my definition of wild and free. What I mean is, do the choices I make lead me to feeling expansive, open and heart-centered or closed off, contained and fearful? I use this as my barometer now. I ask this with every choice I make. With every opportunity that presents itself to me. Do I feel WILD & FREE?
And nothing makes you feel more wild and free then being surrounded by the beauty and grace you find in nature.
10. LET GO and accept what is
My birthday always bring a mix of immense excitement coupled with a little bit of sadness. It's a time of great reflection, a time of assessing my life, past and present and claiming to the Universe how I want to live moving forward. I always thought that when I turned 35 I would be married, have some chubby cheek, curly haired babes while simultaneously changing the world through helping others in some profound way. My reality is quite different. I'm 35, single, waiting tables and the proud mom to one overly emotional and highly moody cat. In some way I am still helping people, I think that will alway she a part of who I am, but it doesn't look like the way I pictured so many years ago.
On the last morning, as everyone was still sleeping I crept out of my tent and sat on the smooth granite slope watching the sun slowly begin to peek over the rocky, tree-lined mountain and I really, truly let go. As a tear streamed down my cheek. I took a deep breathe in and surrendered, and accepted that I was exactly where I needed to be.
And that feels really fucking good.