I’m on an airplane flying out of Portland, taking the turn out over the Columbia Gorge to head south to California. On this clear morning I can see the peaks that define the landscape – Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and off in the distance Mt. St. Helens. As I look out, I’m aware of our flight being at the same altitude I was when I stood on the ridge of Mt St Helens just a month ago. And it doesn’t surprise me to understand that being on this plane, flying to speak at a conference when logistics seemed insurmountable, is happening only because I decided to take the long arduous hike to the top of that peak.
I had been planning on the hike for over six months, ever since a friend casually asked one cold rainy February morning if I wanted to join her and two friends to reserve permits to do the climb in August. I said yes and kind of put it out of my mind. Come June, after doing a practice hike that burned my lungs and strained my legs, I realized that I might actually need to train a bit. I did a few hikes, albeit not nearly as steep or long as what I would face on the mountain. I added in some conditioning classes and Stairmaster workouts. I thought I was ready.
And then two weeks before the date of the climb I panicked. Something inside of me began to doubt my ability. Making it to the top suddenly felt impossible. I began to lament my fears with friends, honestly looking to them for the support to back out. “This was crazy, right? “ The answers varied, some people empathized and told me to do whatever my heart felt was right. Others seemed unconcerned and encouraged me to go. I purposely asked people who would never consider climbing a mountain in hopes they would echo my concerns about life and limb. “This is too risky, right?” They concurred and I felt absolved. I was reassured that it wasn’t a great idea. I eased my guilt by telling myself I didn’t want to hold anyone back. I told myself it wasn’t safe to go because I might stretch beyond my limits in order to keep up and I didn’t want compromise the success of the rest of the group or end up injured. All of this made sense and I decided not to go. But the lure of the mountain lingered.
I knew there was something deeper here. Something I needed to learn not just about my physical ability to take on big adventure but a deeper metaphorical lesson as well. So I did the only thing that seemed to make sense and took a long hike the week before the climb where I could see Mt. St. Helens in the distance. I then asked the mountain while staring off at the grandeur of the peak rising up from the valley floor, whether I should attempt the climb. And as I stood there with sweat dripping down my back and my pack heavy on my shoulders, the answer came clearly: “Yes, come. There is something here for you to see that will be entirely new”.
I know, I know, crazy talk, right? Even to me this sounds ridiculously hokey and a little too new age, but as I stood there I felt something shift inside of me and I knew that it was really ME saying yes. There was a part inside resonating with the effort it would take to get to the top of that mountain and it was time to give that part some airtime. Without realizing it, I had stayed in the place of playing it safe, minding my limits, not stretching too far, in order to keep balance with all that all the healing I had done over the past three years. I had played safe and it had been appropriate during a time of emotionally intense healing through grief and now it was time to push a bit.
And the reality was that what I really pushed was my mind. My body was more than a little sore the next day and I definitely knew I had stretched myself on a physical level, but the hike was much more doable that I ever imagined. And that’s where I realized it was my mind that needed the expansion, needed the view from that summit, and needed the confidence I received standing on top and gazing out at the three majestic peaks that I now see again as I fly south to engage in something else that initially felt insurmountable.
With the hike I was living in an old story of how exhausted and tender I have felt for the past several years. And with my work I have been living in the story that I can’t travel to engage in speaking or networking because the logistics are too overwhelming to manage as a single mom. Luckily the invitation to speak at a parent coaching retreat came right on the heels of my hiking boots standing on that summit. I had recently felt the power of saying yes to something that seemed daunting so I knew to call the bluff that fear was trying to feed me.
I knew that just like the hike, all I had to do was take the first step. I didn’t have to figure out in the moment of saying “Yes”, exactly how I was going to figure out all of the logistics for covering child care, dog care, soccer games and homework. I only needed to know that my intention was to show up and put in the effort to figuring it out.
In retrospect, I think it’s easy to get lost in being comfortable and assuming that things that feel hard are truly out of our reach. It’s easier to pass on opportunity and stay in the safety of a world we’ve created without even really know if we still need the same level of comfort and care. It was humbling for me to see how I had gotten comfortable in my assumptions of what was possible and what was impossible. And even more humbling to see how I searched externally for some validation from others to concur with my perception. I’m starting to questions my assumptions a little more now and see if there’s room to try to take a higher view.
And in this moment, high above the clouds in the company of snowcapped peaks, I see the view stretching out for miles.