I’ve been here before. Elena thought to herself.
She had planned for this one. She combed through all her previous miscalculations, judgements and choices – she knew where she had gone wrong. She devoured everything she could about the Carmengia Trail that led to the Truth Temple. From mentors to books, she voraciously took in everything she could. The Carmengia Trail was the fastest way to the top, but also the most dangerous. Much of it was uncharted and resembled the cliche of “the road less traveled”. Last time, she circled the bottom of the mountain for weeks, only following the well worn trail because she was alone and terrified to venture off course. The time before that she had a hiking partner but he decided to join another group part way up and she was unprepared to do it solo. Only a few dozen have reached the temple in the last century- which means the paths have become overgrown with dis-use. Last time, she literally couldn’t see the forest through the trees. A new path would have to be discovered as she went. Educated guesses would have to be made.
I know this feeling. I’ve felt it before.
Elena could feel here anxiety rising. It always starts as a tingle. Then a nudge. Then a low voice “this isn’t right and you know it“. Then a louder, slightly shrill voice, “stop! Listen to me!”, followed by an unexpected punch to the gut.
Is this fear or intuition?
Elena tries to calm the feeling by directly addressing it. Her thoughts seemed to oscillate between fear of the unknown, possible catastrophic events and a carnal urge to reach her destination. Fear then deep wisdom. Deep wisdom then fear.
” must keep moving. Just keep moving
The wise part of her tried to comfort the fear welling up inside her body. Gently she tries to work through the feeling, “I’m either running from a feeling or trying to lean into the unknown. Is this a sign that I’ve chosen the wrong path, an omen? Or is just that I have no guarantees? Is this a lack of control or a sixth sense to beware??”
Her steps become stronger, more deliberate, more determined, more focused. Her senses sharpen and everything starts to feel louder and brighter. Gratitude kicks in high gear as though a pharmacy in her brain needs to start dispensing high doses of seratonin, dopamine and oxytocin at an alarming rate. Her soul is preparing her for something. Something she’s missed and it wants her to see.
Fear slithers in the dark corners of her mind and hisses, “I think it’s a warning. BEWARE fool!”. Wisdom comes to the rescue, “A gift is coming. Magic and a blessing in the form of hesitation and trepidation for things unknown. Breathe my darling. Breathe, listen, walk. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.” Elena inhales and exhales almost mechanically trying not to think of the worst case scenario and uses every bit of emotional strength to beat back the tears and tough it out. She feels the solid ground under her feet, her legs felt week earlier but they are becoming stronger, more accustomed to the terrain. Two squirrels whiz around a tree nearby, seemingly playing with one another. She grins at the simplicity of nature. Just being in the moment, free from the past or future. No worries, except, you know, constant survival mode. “Maybe they were running from something trying to eat them? No, they were simply playing”. Elena chuckles at her own thought process, momentarily forgetting about her anxiety.
Johnny interrupts her thoughts, he wants to stop for lunch. They find a few logs and rest while eating granola bars and some jerky. He shares his excitement to visit an old hunting cabin he heard about along the Carmengia Trail, maybe settle in for a few weeks. The anxiety pounds back into Elena’s chest like a snare drum. What is this feeling? she thinks to herself. “Calm down baby, you aren’t in danger” the wisdom speaks to her.
She puts down her pack and reorganized everything in order to inventory her supplies, resources and tools. She felt a strong urge to make she knew precisely where everything was.
“Everything I need is here.” she thought, confused. “Of course it’s all there, I packed it and repacked it and triple checked my lists. Why the hell am I anxious?? Why can’t I find the source of my fear? I trained for this. I’m still training.” And she had trained. Like a young Padawan becoming a Jedi. She was learning to trust the force within her and recognizing the ego beating it back. “I know I can improvise if I need to. What is this feeling? Why am I uneasy?” I need to keep moving”. The alternating thoughts begin to exhaust Elena so she puts her pack back on and asks Johnny to quickly finish. Johnny seemed annoyed that she didn’t acknowledge him talking about the old hunting cabin. She was distant and distracted by her own thoughts. She heard him, but the pounding in her chest at the forming of his sentence seemed to be steering her. Beyond containing herself she had no ability s in conversation with him at the moment.
One foot in front of the other. Just take steps.
A wisper of hope. It’s akin to when you can see hundreds or thousands of stars in your periferary vision and yet when you try to pinpoint them they seem to disappear; you subsequently question your reality, your own vision seems unreliable. But you know they’re there.
“Is it Johnny?” Elena asks herself. ” Yesssss!” fear hisses, “of course it is! He wants to go to the cabin and you don’t. He never really wanted to climb the mountain, he just wanted someone to go with to get there. If you want to make it to the top, you will have to go alone, or stay with him as long as you want and never complete your journey.” Her thoughts now consumed with fear of being alone again made her pace slow to a crawl. Johnny was almost out of sight, they had an agreement to keep on schedule and allow each other to hike at their own pace so he kept moving while she fell behind. In full panic attack at this point, tears streaming down her face, she tried to catch up before he was completely out of sight.
The first time Elena and Johnny hiked together they didn’t have the right gear, they were wildly unprepared for the unkept, overgrown trails and thought they could get through with sheer grit and resilience. They dreamed up stories of the temple at the top and the feelings they would experience once they got there. They were trekking on pure hope, passion and desire.
Elena planned as much as she could. “Had Johnny?” she thought to herself. He seemed like he was more prepared. His equipment was new, he even had hiking poles to help with endurance. “Why didn’t I bring hiking poles?” Elena chastised herself. “Oh yeah, I wanted to carry more water instead. The stretch before the snow pack is long and I didn’t want to get dehydrated, that can be deadly. How did I miss that? Was I really so impressed with his brand new gear and hiking poles that I didn’t notice how much he hadn’t studied the trail? What about when we hit the razors edge higher up? Then what? What if we encounter the bears that are coming out of hibernation. What if I have to share my water? I didn’t want to do this alone and no one else was as excited about the trail like he was. I didn’t want to overload him with my concerns about what could go wrong. Should I have??This could be dangerous. What else is he not aware of? What will I have to make up for? Can I support the both of us when he runs out of resources? Oh my god. I foolishly picked a hiking buddy that could put my own survival at risk. Stupid. I thought he knew the risks.”
Elena now felt completely out of her body with fear. Johnny didn’t know the trail like she did. He was unprepared. He wanted to settle at the cabin for a bit, she didn’t. She had goals. She didn’t want to get to comfortable and accomplish nothing. She had been very good at starting things her whole life and not finishing them because she got scared or comfortable, or both.
Elena was now hyperventilating. Her breath felt constricted and shallow. “He’s not prepared. He has different goals. I don’t want to be alone. I’m going to have to do this alone. I don’t want to be alone!”
Elena now had her head on the ground and realized it was mainly red clay. That was only at the higher elevations that she had never reached before. “Shit. I’ve never gone this far before.”
She stumbled upon a cluster of stars in her mind she didn’t see before. The internal hurricane began to pass and the tears dried up. The light inside of her soul was lifting her up like fellow runners bringing a marathoner over the finish line. She stood to her feet, wiped the tears from her swollen eyes and began to walk. She saw Johnny coming towards her in the distance.
“There you are! I though you were behind me but I turned around and have been walking back for the last 10 minutes trying to find you. I thought maybe you fell and got hurt!” Johnny yelled, unable to hold back his panic and concern. Elena felt it to be comforting. “Are you ok? Have you been crying?” he asked when he got close enough to see her red nose and moist eyes. “I’m ok” Elena replied, “I stubbed my toe back there and it really hurt like a bitch, so I had to sit down and cry it out. It’s all good now but it was NOT 10 min ago”. Elena let out a heartfelt laugh as she finished her comedic response. She was genuinely relieved to see him.
Her wisdom was now in the driver seat “This is about my fear. This is about leaning in to what terrifies me the most. No one can do this mountain alone. It’s simply too risky and a persons morale could plummet without the presence and emotional support of another human being. The cabin he is talking about is further than I’ve ever made it before. Let’s get there and see how it is.”
She felt peaceful and warm.
“C’mon, I found a lake ahead.” Johnny said, seemingly relieved that Elena was ok. They hiked in calm, quiet unison to the lake with just the sound of their footsteps and afternoon birds chirping throughout the trees. When they reached it, Johnny pulled out a filter straw and drank right from the lake. “Oh my god” Elena though to herself, “he IS prepared, just in different ways than I am. Wow. I’m glad we are doing this together, however long it takes.” She was reinvigorated, relieved and filled with love all at once. Love for the present moment, love for her breakdown, love for the trail. But most of all, love for the opportunity of the journey.