My backpacking and climbing adventures have taken me far and wide this summer, and put all of my faculties to the test. While climbing Bear Creek Spire I heard a crack of lightening and the rain began. A high peak, and all that rock getting slippery in the rain, then the lightening threatening with all of our metal gear; I had never been in that situation before. Not really knowing what could happen, I realized that if things didn’t go well, this could be bad. I thought, though unlikely, I could die. The words of guide Rick Poedetsky rang in my head “I hear lightening and I am off, fast as I can go.” Days later when actually ascending that summit I did the last climb to the summit block without a rope, a boulder perched atop an almost 14,000 foot peak. Just breathe and move slow I told myself as a 360 degree view of hundreds of desolate peaks stretching in every direction came in to view, most of them lower than I. Alone with the clouds, the rainstorms I could see wetting areas fifty miles off, my brother 15 feet off to my side, and the wind whipping my damp hair around my eyes. I could hear each breath I took slowly taken from the wind, and then given back. While backpacking through Sequoia and Kings National Parks later this summer my friend Lance and I faced a steep talis field and a high snow field to cross without proper gear. Having been off trail all day we didn’t relish going back, the lightening and thunder set in again, but I had been trying for two years to get into the Kaweah basin, so one foot in front of the other. We climbed the Pyra Queen Col and with the crumbling face of Black Kaweah to our right, and the now sun lit peak of Queen Kaweah to our left we came over and faced the huge, beautiful, empty and rarely visited Kaweah basin, the hard won culmination of our trip. The next day while hiking late in the day down the Kern river a torrential downpour started. We were soaked in minutes and looking at our watched it was 6 pm. We had 7.5 miles left to go. So we started swinging our legs and walking, exhilarated at first, and slowly as the heat of moving quickly was worn down by the heat-wicking-wetness of our soaking clothes (even my rain jacket was eventually soaked) we began to worry if we’d be able to heat up. Would we be able to find the hot springs, would our sleeping bags be wet? Would I start shivering once we stopped and develop hypothermia?
I feel pride at these accomplishments, but I also feel humbled that in spite of each of these moments, plus all the slightly less dramatic but truly challenging moments of huffing and puffing to the point of collapse, I feel more challenged now by the emotional state I find myself in on return. Moments of levity and joy in the late summer punctuate a feeling of lowness that I cannot understand. Is it a comedown from so much time outside? Maybe. Is it the mind demanding the rest that perhaps the body needs to replenish? I’m not a christian, my morning practice involves journal writing, Buddhist meditation, Sufi poetry, and occasionally another spiritual text. This morning the text was Do Not Look With Fear, by Saint Francis de Sales;
Do not look with fear on the changes and chances of this life; rather look to them with full faith that as they arise, God-whose you are-will deliver you out of them. He has kept you hitherto. Do not but hold fast to His dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand, He will bear you in his arms. Do not anticipate what will happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
What if getting through depression of feeling down is as “easy” as taking a deep breath, putting one foot in front of the other, and having faith that it will pass? But these emotional issues are different than climbing a mountain, with a mountain you know definitively where you are going and what your goal is; up and then down. But when you feel lost in your day, where do you take the next step? What is the step of faith? Perhaps I will have unfailing strength, but how do I direct it? Today I am going to try to make that decision in the present moment. When I feel that sinking loss of momentum, or that self-doubt, I’m going to try to feel what my heart needs, to be in the trees, to talk to a friend, to sit in silence, to cry, to laugh, to ride my bike, or to look for a job. And then that will be my next step. I’m going to try to feel connected to my beautiful past and my beautiful future in my moments of feeling disconnected and dark. Uggh, it’s hard already, the hardest part of feeling down for me is the self-judgement. I should have accomplished more by now, I shouldn’t have made those mistakes, why did I put my heart into that long-shot of a romantic interest, have I not been a good friend, is my personal life not as great as I sometimes think it is, does everybody think I’m annoying/weird/too-fill in the blank? And then I laugh, because the only thing I can say really is oh well! Here we go with today, take a breath, and put one step in front of the other (until I run into someone who feels more like myself and the joy fills all the moments, even the ones where I have made a mistake).