Sometimes mountains cross our paths…sometimes it is just one often if can feel like a range of them. How do you summit? Do you keep walking. Do you stop and turn around? Do you take step…take three breaths and take another?
As many of you know I decided to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, what I found out to be the tallest ‘freestanding’ mountain in the world. I did not do it because of this, nor am I a climber, much less a regular hiker…This was a journey for me. I chose to do this when I decided to start BELIEVE and 11:11 magazine. They seemed like such mountainous tasks in the moment…that I needed something that felt bigger. So I figured, why not climb a real mountain. If I could do that, I could overcome anything. It was a passage full of symbolism and insight.
The hike takes 3.5 days up and 1.5 back down. There had been a blizzard two nights before my start, so the top of the mountain was covered with beautiful white snow. The mountain stood majestically, a magnificent view from my cottage room. I was to go up with another woman placed with the group, a guide, 3 porters and a cook. The woman, known as Smiling Coyote was an avid hiker, very strong and most definitely prepared for this journey. I, had been well intentioned on being prepared but somehow never got around to the rigorous training and eating regimen I had outlined for myself 8 months ago.
The journey up the mountain was amazing in that I was able to pass through various climatory regions, seeing different types of foliage along the way. There were lush rainforests, grasslands, desert plains and snow covered areas…it reminded me of life. We have times of fullness, times that are just even keel, times of drought, and times of cold…we pass through them all much like walking through this climb.
It was both mentally and physically challenging. Technically it is not a difficult mountain but the air gets thin because you are hiking to 19,500 feet.
Upon the last day up, we stopped at Kibo hut to sleep for a few hours. We would leave at midnight, making the way to the top in the night with hopes of a sunrise in the morning. As we journeyed upward, the air got thinner, the breathing became more labored and the climb steeper. We would take a few steps and be totally winded. I found that I was comfortable moving at my own pace. I had no judgment about it. People passed me…the other woman decided to go on…but I was alright at my own pace. We all must go through life, not comparing our walk to any other…just travelling at the pace that we can handle.
When I felt I could not go further, I stopped for a while and rallied myself to get back up. By the time we were midway, I began to feel severe headaches and dizziness. The guide motioned to keep going, saying the words “pole pole (pronounced polay polay)” which is swahili for slowly, slowly. I did move slowly. I began to vomit. Others on the hike did as well. It was known that this is common on the mountain and particularly because of high altitude. Yet the guides urged people on.
Each step I would tell myself to keep going. I continued to get sick along the way. The other woman kept saying…”I have to make it to the summit…if I do not make it to the summit then it was all a waste.” So many people were here just for the summit.
I continued to get sick now feeling the mountain spinning around my head. I continued forward. Finally, I could see that all of the others had passed. I became sick for the fifth time and then it hit me. I realized I had gotten what I came for. It was the journey not the destination.
The journey through the mountain had been a way for me to understand my journey through life…to see the many climates I could and did walk through…it was to show me that terrain can get rocky and can still be overcome….it was to say that one need only remember to breathe and drink in the moment and allow the experience. This was a lesson in how to learn to move slowly rather than rushing through ….and finally an illustration of how we…how “I”… will continue to push against the grain of life sometimes no matter how bad it might feel. How often do we keep moving forward in situations that don’t feel good. I saw that when we do move when especially when not in our best interest, then of course life throws up things to tell us to stop and rethink the path.
I recognized that I came here to see me…to see my own strength, perseverance, endurance, and grace…and I did. I also came to recognize how easy it is to simply…”make another choice.” And in all things, they simply are just choices…not right or wrong, not good or bad…just what is.
I called to my guide and said I was choosing to go back. I have reached the summit I needed to reach. I was 30 minutes from the top of Kilimanjaro and was extremely proud of myself for how far I had come. We returned to Kibo and I pondered all of my revelations.
Smiling Coyote returned a few hours later. She was very disappointed because she was terribly sick all the way to the top and on that day there was no visible sunrise. The cloud cover was too heavy. After sitting down and feeling remorse at not having the photograph she wanted, she heard some others talk about Uhuru Peak which was another 1.5 hours walk from the summit around the top. Uhuru means freedom.
Smiling Coyote immediately became disgusted. She felt she should have continued further and reached freedom. By not going to the very end, even though she reached the summit, she had lost out on freedom. For her, the trip did not feel complete and she felt as if she failed.
This also caused me some reflection. We can all see the same situation from so many different angles. I was thrilled and I did not get to the top. She reached the top and was miserable because it was not enough.
How many times do we miss the whole journey, looking for the end…and then when we get to the end feel unsatisfied and want something else? How often do human beings feel their worth is accomplishment of a goal, task, award, or some material item? And in doing so attach some grand meaning to having or having not gotten it? How often do people focus so much on the end point that they miss out on everything along the way?
If I can leave you with only one piece of wisdom…remember that the reward is not at the end of something…at the end of life…at the end of some grand task…the reward is the constant walk along the way… it is the average, the mundane, the little surprises, the small miracles, the grand miracles that pop up along the way. The end of something should only be important in that it allows you to turn around and look at how magnificent you have been along the journey. So don’t rush…especially through life. Take one step…take three breaths…remember “pole pole”. Sometimes the flat ground, the small hills, the mountains that appear in your life are the real summits…All you have to do is …
BELIEVE…Beyond the Illusion!!!
Simran ” Simmi” Singhï¿½