The Art of Mountaineering
In this chapter, I will speak to the art of climbing mountains, as a metaphorical story and then as a less tangible series of ideas about life. Let me start by telling a story of one of my favorite mountain adventures. There are three parts to my story and my mountain:
Each part of the mountain comes with its own unique form of paralyzation. Each part has its own challenges as well as solutions. Only by confronting each part as well as its challenges can we reach the top of our mountain.
My story starts with Owen (my brother though not by blood) and me sitting in his basement, spiraling. Over and over we brought ideas to the table of things we could do, only to bash them, move on and spiral once more. We were stuck in the discovery phase, part one of the mountain. Before we could even begin to climb, we had to sort through all of the options. We were paralyzed by our options. This kind of thing happens all the time in life – for me, it happens in many different forms, every day (Reference Inhibition Breakers in Appendix 1 for more information).
This part of the mountain is where people are often lost in their overwhelming feelings. Owen and I went through everything we could possibly do. We thought about going into town to eat food, we thought about watching a movie, we thought about hiking at one mountain, we thought about hiking at another mountain. Needless to say, anyone can appreciate the feeling of not knowing what to do.
Supplemental: When I was young, my mom, my grandma, and I were trying to decide where to eat dinner. We stood at a four-way intersection at a stoplight, trying to decide which crosswalk to cross. We were lost in our inability to act. This was emphasized by our hunger, clouding our judgment to act, even while continuing to be the problem that could be solved by any action. Finally, we decided to go somewhere arbitrary and we ate dinner. This memory has stuck as something that is terrifying for me. We wasted time and got frustrated with one another simply because our options were too many. Once we made a choice and satiated our needs, we were content. The fact that I have no idea where we went to eat speaks to the magnitude of ridiculousness that goes into the difficulty that is deciding where to eat. Every couple can attest to this challenge as well as the mutual frustration that is created. When this situation is broadened to life, imagine the consequences that could arise. Decision making paralysis is perhaps one of the biggest dangers in mountain climbing (life).
I remember the immense frustration I had at my situation with Owen. All we had to do was choose some adventure and I knew we would have fun together like we always did. I knew that we had many options, all of which would lead to a positive experience. Finally, I said to Owen something like, “Dude, let’s just go do something.” We agreed to get in my car and just start driving. This choice is something that a LIT Momenter like myself finds great comfort and excitement in doing. Whenever I feel stuck in life, making the choice to act without thinking leads me to move forward, rather than feeling stagnant. Even if the choice ends up being a mistake, by choosing to act based on my core values and choosing to grow from it, the experience becomes a positive one regardless of the consequences (unless they are really bad).
We got in my car and headed towards the mountains. I eventually realized I was driving towards our favorite hike, complete with waterfalls, a summit, and a freeing adventurous feeling. We got to the bottom of the mountain and set off on our hike both wearing flip-flops. We had one bag, not much water, and two granola bars. The discovery piece of the mountain includes not only a decision of where to hike but also the planning for that hike. This piece of the discovery phase is something that I will cover in a later chapter once I figure it out more. Our discovery was complete (though perhaps not thorough) and our climb had begun.
There is nothing I love more than climbing up a mountain, truly appreciating every moment. This part of the mountain is by far my favorite because the challenge is to overcome the discomfort of being out of breath, of being tired, and of being sore. The challenge is clear and unabstract, thus it is easy to conquer. The challenge is simple and the reward is immense. There is beauty all around me when I hike, begging my gratitude every step of the way and all I have to do is push my limits.
Owen and I started at the parking lot of a hike called race brook falls. We jumped down over the little drop-off next to the parking lot and began our venture. There is a stream at the very beginning, which we lept over. Then started our walk up the incredible waterfalls. Once we got to the first waterfall we decided, like we always do, to climb up the waterfalls instead of taking the trail. We stripped down to just our shorts and our courage and began the climb. This is absolutely one of my most appreciated pieces of nature. I love, love, love to climb waterfalls. The incredible exhilaration that comes from finding some way to get from one level to the next, by any means, is wonderful. The feat of climbing waterfalls is not an easy one and requires confidence and skill.
Supplemental: I remember appreciating the experience at the time, feeling a profound trust in Owen’s abilities to keep himself safe and in nature.
My trust in Owen came from years of shared experiences and from my understanding that he’s even crazier than I am. I knew that we would both make it up the waterfall. There is something amazing about trusting someone so thoroughly to take care of themselves. I think that this trust is absolutely essential to any lasting relationship of any kind. But I digress.
My trust in nature has been blooming my entire life. I can always go to nature when I am sad, lonely, confused, or even happy and content and my life will be improved. Nature is my safe haven, where I am free to be myself, where I am free to live tethered only by my own limits. For me, being in nature shows me very obvious ways that I can improve myself. I often enter a situation afraid and come out of it more confident. Nature makes growth clear to me as I think is true for many. I have even found it helpful when growing emotionally and mentally, which may surprise some. When in nature for extended periods of time, I am reduced to my most authentic self, often losing the unimportant things that take up so much brain space in my day-to-day life. This lets me take the time and energy to develop my emotional and mental strengths and weaknesses, separate from the controlling, manipulative grasp of society.
The climb has its challenges, and while they are simple they still exist and must be conquered. After we had crested the waterfall, we decided to keep going, in search of a place I had been years ago. We alotted our time and decided that we could keep hiking and still make it back before dark. At this point, we picked up the pace, increasingly aware of our decision to wear flip-flops. It was hard to hike quickly while wearing them and our feet hurt when we took them off, so we alternated between the two. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have changed this choice, but at the time, boy was that a pain in the ass. Sure, maybe the hike would have been easier had we worn sneakers or boots, however, my vivid memories of the mountain came from this hardship that was created. I’ve gone on countless hikes in “real shoes” and they have all meshed together. The defining moments of the climbs we have in life are the challenges, the irregularities, and the moments that we are successful at beating our challenges.
We reached a point close to the summit, exhausted and ready to give up. We looked at each other and could see the determination fading. However, we continued on, pushed by our excitement and love of adventure. I guarantee I would have given up if not for two things:
Finally, after this tiresome, exhilarating, and wonderful adventure, we had reached the summit. At least so we thought…
As soon as we reached the so-called peak, we started doubting if it actually was the peak. There was no view, it was nothing like what I remembered from years ago. For the purposes of the story, we will call this the precipice.
What does it mean to be at the precipice? It means it is time for a decision: to leap or to return. In this case, Owen and I had to decide if we trusted our gut, saying that the peak must be somewhere else, likely further ahead, or if we should settle with what we had found and return to my car and avoid being outside after dark. Remember, at this point, we only had another two hours or so of sunlight. It would take us about that amount of time to return to the bottom. We were stuck, paralyzed by this choice.
Here I will stop my story for now (finishing it in the next chapter) to elaborate on the importance of recognizing mountains in life. I will elaborate on the journey up the mountain and the common trends that show themselves time and time again while on a mountain. I will break down the journey up a mountain once more and describe them more broadly, with specific meanings.
The Discovery – The discovery is defined as the unintentional series of experiences that lead to some kind of nugget of knowledge that begins a climb.
This piece in the journey of life, as opposed to on a journey up a mountain, is much more vast and much more confusing. It’s hard to explain what exactly constitutes this piece of life, because, if I’m being honest, everything I’ve ever done has led me in some way or another to the discoveries I have made and will make. The actions we take do not always have a clear path to what they will lead me to discover, and often do not. When I really think about it, it seems like there may be a great deal of overlap between the discovery and the climb. The differentiating factor, though, is that the climb has a goal – there is a reason for taking every step. The discovery piece is that of a sponge. I am absorbing everything I can in life in order to grow full of information and then squeeze it all out, expunging a discovery and resetting the whole process.
However, the discovery umbrellas the other two parts and must do so if I want to continue to grow. In order to find my next mountain, I must be aware of my experiences during the climb and at the precipice. These experiences will lead me to my next mountain in due time.
The Climb – The climb is defined as the series of intentional steps that lead to a big choice (the precipice).
In life, the climb often consists of introspection, writing, meditation, reflection, advice from mentors, etc. The climb in life is much more abstract than the climb of a mountain. The challenges are no longer as simple as needing to take the next step up the mountain. A challenge at this stage could range from a simple technical step like reaching out to a person to something much more complicated like doubting the discovery you made. The first challenge can be solved by simply doing the action and beating the laziness or fear that is stopping a person. The second challenge extends into every part of the mountain and is much, much harder to deal with.
An example of this in my own life is my experience at college. My ‘discovery’ before going to college was:
When I got to school, I realized that my discovery hadn’t been authentic and had actually been fabricated by those around me, my entire life. This realization shook me to my core and actually became a new discovery:
This situation emphasizes the importance of being in a constant mode of discovery so as to not miss signs and opportunities. It also shows how some climbs often mature more quickly into the precipice than was originally intended. As soon as I had a new discovery a new climb began, which would inevitably lead me to the precipice of the first discovery. Because my two climbs would eventually cross, the precipice was adapted. I will explain this more in the following section.
The Precipice – The precipice is defined as the choice one must make when they can see their past and future climbs most clearly.
The precipice demands one of three choices:
It is very important to note that different people will be more comfortable with different choices and that different situations often sway people. No one choice is inherently better than another without regard for the situation in which the choice will be made.
I will now expand on each choice, after which I will give examples from my own life:
If you have ever felt heartbreak, you know how I feel.
Heartbreak comes from love. Love of people, for most. For me, this heartbreak comes from my love of life and my subconscious betrayal of my dreams. I know what I think I want, and yet, I stall out. What follows is an ache, deep inside me, proving my shameful cowardice.
Standing at the edge is one the most, terrifying, exhilarating, ominous, exciting, and unique experiences. At every turning point in life, there is a cliff. I am standing at one now. Every once in awhile I am given the opportunity to truly shake up my course in life – to make a choice that will drastically affect who I am and where I am going. In ways, this is the best point to be at in life, and in others, it is so remarkably impossible, that it seems to freeze me to my core.
Standing at the edge, I can see a brief glimmer of the horizon, but mostly it is enshrouded by fog. I turn to look at my past and see my memories, faint, recent, wonderful, painful, all having brought me to this moment. Do I jump? Will it be safe?
My heart desperately says to do it. How long will it be until I walk my talk?
At the precipice, my mettle is tested, my vision questioned. My brain is spiraling out of control, misunderstanding every little thought, and obsessing over meaningless aspirations of society. How is it possible to have spiraled so deeply into this state of dread and regret in only two weeks. I have never been depressed and I don’t know if I am today, but I feel dead inside, revitalized only in sparse moments when I let my heart live.
It doesn’t seem fair to all the people who have had far fewer opportunities than I have. It doesn’t seem fair to my family who lovingly raised me up to where I am today. It doesn’t seem fair to my friends, who don’t seem to understand the depth of my sadness. It doesn’t seem fair to my brothers who seem to be the only ones who are capable of understanding this part of me. It doesn’t seem fair to me, to simply give up on this life of predetermined greatness.
I have no doubts that if I were to follow the typical life path of someone who wanted the typical definition of success, I could find it. However, what is success, really? Is it not defined subjectively? What I long for seems so distant from the acceptable, that I quite regularly quiet my beating heart of dreams, silencing any possibilities before they can be born, grasped at. I preemptively murder my aspirations every day.
I know that I must live my truth or I will fall far into the depths of loneliness, sadness, and meaningless. More than anything, I want to have a purpose. My purpose seems to change at a mile a minute, swiveling from one goal to another. Simply tracking what I want takes all of my time and energy, because I don’t have the courage to acquiesce to what my heart is screaming for me to do. It’s easy, really, if I listen to my heart. And yet… I simply can’t, I simply don’t.
I feel the ache of a betrayed heart whenever I choose safety over my dreams. Daily, I find myself impossibly let down by my own ineptitude. Simply take the step, Faolan.
As you can see, choosing to leap is no easy task. This kind of choice is actually the most challenging form of choice any person will ever have to make. At the precipice of the biggest climbs, our thoughts become twisted (perhaps due to lack of oxygen), or intentions come into question, and our courage becomes lost. It is at this moment that fully taking on the responsibility to be our most authentic self, kicks in. In this moment, one must know exactly who one is. Once a person knows who they are, then they will be able to feel the pull of their heart leading them. In this example, the importance of being authentic is so dramatic. If I choose to remain in school, I wither because I am denying my heart. If I choose to leap and I am wrong, I lose the chance to be in school. What do I do, then? Here, I will stop, once more finishing my story in the next chapter.
The ideal outcome of a mountain, through the eyes of a dreamer, is to take the leap and fly. There are two possibilities when one leaps: to fly or to fall. These are mostly based on luck, preparation, and outside help. However, there is one key way to increase the odds of flying: this is to take not a leap of faith, but a leap of heart.
Some things to think about and a challenge:
Every person has their own unique mountains, gear, teammates, and ambitions. If I may, I would like to challenge you: When is the last time that you were paralyzed by a choice? Being paralyzed by a choice is a good sign that you have come to the end of a climb. Next time you notice this feeling (perhaps it could be something you have felt for a while but have shut out?), take action, set intentions, and realize that you are at a precipice. There is no right answer for you, but you must, must, must come to some answer, you must not be passive – make your choice.