Susan had been writing an excellent series of blog posts about life off the mountaintop, and thriving in everyday life. Once in awhile I’ve found within me the desire, time and resources to temporarily escape to the proverbial mountaintop – that’s where I am now as I write this.
My “mountaintop” is the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. No matter where life leads me, I repeatedly have ended up spending my “down time” and vacations here. It’s beautiful – from the incredible Pacific Ocean to the amazing Cedar and Spruce forests to the towering Coast Mountains – for me this is the most amazing place on earth. I have explored all over this region, and I’ve only scratched the surface.
Most of the time – I’ve spent my time here alone. It’s how I felt I have recharged my inner batteries, and gained some perspective on my life. What’s different this time? This is the first time I’ve been here since beginning The Practice – and The Practice has allowed me to learn and experience far more here than anytime previously.
When I have wanted to get away for a while, what I have really wanted to do is to get away from people. That has meant going to isolated areas to experience the glory and power of nature, with as few other people around me as possible. Preferably zero other people. Sometimes I get asked why I do this – and my general response until now has been that most people are annoying.
Being away on vacation this time, along with some Practice under my belt, has allowed me to do some self exploration, and learn a few things – occasionally the hard way. Here’s two lessons I picked up on so far:
1 – Being far away from big cities doesn’t get you away from people. Even in a remote town in northwestern Canada with a population of 500, there’s 500 people there – some of which were just as annoying to me as some of the people in the city of 5 million where I live. Some were also wonderful, and people are people. I realized that assuming I don’t actually want to live on a mountaintop in complete isolation and that I enjoy the conveniences of modern society, I can never fully escape human interaction. And those humans I met had all the same troubles, foibles, joys, sorrows, angers and pains as anyone else.
Since people are somewhat inescapable, and people will behave like people always behave – some good, some bad, some annoying – I’ve realized what I’ve been trying to escape is my emotional reactions – my negative emotional reactions. I mentioned earlier that my usual response to the question of why I travel alone to far off places is that people are annoying and I’m trying to get away from them – in fact it’s my responses I’m fleeing (mostly my feelings of annoyance at other people’s behavior). That’s a huge difference. I can’t control other people’s behaviors, but I can control my reactions to their behaviors. I kept wondering why these escapes weren’t really working, and why I never truly just let go and enjoyed myself – it’s because basically I’ve been trying to get away from myself.
I’ve realized that my mountaintop isn’t an isolated, far away place, it’s a state of mind where I choose my reactions and responses.
I’m happiest when I’m experiencing joy and calm, and I’m least happy when I’m experiencing anger and frustration. The Practice has already taught me how to choose my responses to situations, events and people, I just need to keep practicing to choose joy and calm.
2 – When you ask the Universe a clear question, and you get a clear and immediate answer – don’t ignore it. This is my common “pay attention” lesson, and traveling alone heightens its importance.
A couple of days ago I was hiking on a well marked and well maintained forest trail. On occasion during these kinds of hikes , I sometimes get the urge to explore a bit off the trail. Trusting this and stepping a bit off the path has, in the past, resulted in some very unique and amazing experiences that have taught me a lot.
On this day, I came across a large cedar tree that had been cut down. The massive trunk lay flat on the ground about 4 feet away from its giant stump. This wasn’t unusual as it was a well-maintained park, and cedar trees rot from the inside out so trees which die near the trail are often cut down for safety.
The trunk was covered in beautiful moss, and the undergrowth had formed an incredible archway over it. – truly a beautiful sight. The trunk was so long, I couldn’t see where the end was. I got the urge to go exploring.
As I’ve been taught to do, I asked The Universe if I should walk on top of this fallen tree trunk to see what was at the end of this tunnel of foliage. I received an immediate image of myself falling and hurting myself.
I assumed this was my long standing instinct to avoid exploring, my fear of not knowing what’s out there trying to stop me from stepping off the path. So I I decided to bolster my courage. I got up on the stump, inched forward, took a little jump from the stump to get to the trunk lying nearby… and immediately lost my footing and fell – spraining my wrist, bruising a rib or two, and receiving some significant scrapes to my belly.
It hurt – quite a bit – actually it hurt a lot. Previous to The Practice in my life, I would have sworn at the tree, myself, the moss, and anything within earshot, loudly and repeatedly. I would have then berated myself for not realizing how slippery a moss covered tree trunk is likely to be.
I immediately realized my mistake, which was not spotting the difference between what was me (the fear of leaving the path), and what was not me – The Universe clearly telling me what was about to happen and that I shouldn’t do it.
Despite the physical pain, I continued laughing at myself – which caused an increase in my physical pain (bruised ribs and laughing do not mix). And on it went – wince, laugh, cry, laugh, lose my breath, laugh…
I learned several lessons – first was a reminder to listen to the first information I receive and trust it. Second is to know which messages are coming from inside of myself, and which are from outside of me, so I can tell which information is coming from The Universe and which is being generated from my own anxieties.
Also – moss covered logs are slippery.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had to learn these lesson (more like the 100th time on trusting the information, although only the second or third time on the slippery log thing), and I needed a reminder.
As I was walking out of the park, it occurred to me that if I had hit my head and been knocked unconscious, I might not have been found for days as I hadn’t seen a single other person all morning, and I could have died. As I rounded the last bend, several other people came walking in at the trail entrance.
The Universe had my back, even as it was giving me a valuable reminder.