Last week my daughter and I backpacked in the wilderness of Yosemite, hiking 24+ miles over 5 days. This was no “stick to the trail” trip, as I was with friends who had found their own routes from lake to lake over the peaks for the past 30 years. We clambered over fallen trees, walked through alpine meadows, up and down marble slabs with no set path to follow, guided only by their excellent sense of direction (and knowledge of the ravines!).
Needless to say, it demanded all of my focus. But wait! Wasn’t this supposed to be a vacation? Isn’t the goal of vacation to stop thinking for a while, let go, and unwind?
Well, here’s the beautiful thing: instead of being stressed about each foothold on the rocks, I relaxed into the present. I had nothing else to think about except where each step would land, and how to safely traverse the many challenging miles. Instead of feeling drained from so much focus (let alone the physical challenge itself), I found myself incredibly refreshed.
It was truly a challenge to stay centered with a 40 lb backpack over the rough terrain, but I found that the more I became inwardly aware, the more joyous I became. The outward elation of climbing a peak was wonderful, but I soon discovered that the more I yelled “woo-hoo!” (which was often), the less I felt the inner expansion.
Living life to its fullest became a practice of moments rather than an absence of stress. Sleep at 10,000 ft is challenging at best due to altitude and the startling hardness of the ground. Being incredibly attached to good sleep, it was a new experiment to just let sleep happen or not and be happy and unafraid. Each sunrise brought a spectacular new day.
Meditations were incredibly deep, despite the significant oxygen challenge. The stillness was profound.
My greatest lessons came from practicing these:
- From my heart, I radiated a field of protection over our group. Whether it helped is impossible to prove, but it certainly deepened my own awareness and redirected my attention from my own problems.
- I repeated phrases of gratitude and devotional prayer to deepen my inner receptivity.
- I tried to absorb as deeply as possible the deep sense of stillness, majesty, and power that emanates from every view.
How many years have I spent avoiding being fully present in the tedious moments of my life—counting rests, watching my breath, or playing simple scales? If I can’t transport myself during every mundane moment up to the magical transformation of 10,000 ft, I can at least practice the techniques above, and direct my restless impatience into deeply centered peace, my rejection of what’s in front of me into calm acceptance.
As I walked out of the park, my soul sang with inner freedom, ready to be infused into every note in the coming semester.
Wishing you victory in your challenges ahead!