Happy Festival of Hygieia (Greek Goddess of Health),
Just in from an inspired run on a delightful Sunday morning. Soft flakes of gently falling snow rubbed shoulders with the flowing angular light of post equinox inviting me to fall under the earworm spell of the La La, La La La chorus of “Me and Bobby McGee.” As is often the case, between the upbeats of my mental music, my mind turned to reflecting on the past week.
In “Illusions” by Richard Bach, the main character says, “We teach best what we most need to learn.” This was indeed true this week for me. I had several conversations with folks about “putting down the stick.” The stick being a metaphor for beating ourselves up for not being good enough, fast enough, slim enough, disciplined enough…not being enough of something…you fill in the blank. As somewhat of an expert of stick wielding, I was pointing out that using the stick never helps–it just adds injury on top of injury.
So as I ran this morning, I was thinking about writing about the putting down the stick and then thought, “I don’t have any good pictures of a stick,” and “That’s not necessarily a good image to leave in our minds.” So then I thought of my ice axe. And the good picture I have of my ice axe (some of the websites I post to allow pictures along with words). Then the penny dropped, and I had the connection of image, metaphor, and clarity I was looking for.
The ice axe is the premier tool in the mountaineer’s tool kit. She uses it to arrest a fall if she or someone on her rope team slips. Steps are cut with its adze to allow upward passage. The pick creates holds in blank ice faces that open up new routes. The ice axe also serves as cane, rest, and support. I would never climb without one.
The ice axe, however, is also sharp and dangerous. It can impale, slash, and injure. Kill even. There must be a healthy respect for its ability to cut deeply and as a result, careful training and practice are a must. This morning, I saw my mind as an ice axe. It has the ability to secure passage through unfamiliar ground, over obstacles, and to places of intense beauty. But is also has the ability to cut me to pieces or stop me in place by being stuck, wounded, or confused.
In mountaineering, it is imperative to hold the ice axe, “not too tight, not too loose.” Hanging onto it with a death grip will quickly tire the smaller muscles of the forearm and soon the ability to grasp will be lost or the rigid grip will cause the axe to be torn from the hand in the event of a fall. A lax grip, however, is equally problematic because the ice axe will bounce about and hit the climber’s leg or be easily lost before it is needed.
Ideally as well, I hold my mind “not too loose, not too tight.” Like using an ice axe, I learn and practice to keep on my on track but without rigidity. I work to drop the stick and pick up a tool. Learning to steer between the ditches to find the middle road of each continuum with gentleness and compassion. As I type it now, it seems to have lost some of its profundity, but I will carry the metaphor around with me for the next while.
It was a good week in the training department. I reintroduced hypoxic training into the repertoire and watched to see how my body would react. I suffered a bit of a headache after my long session but that’s to be expected when I visit 4500 metres for the first time in three months. I had two great sessions with Phil and got all my runs in for the week. The Kili team had a great hike in yesterday from Quidi Vidi to Logy Bay. I may have a new favourite part of the East Coast Trail for training hikes. It’s good to see the team getting stronger and stronger each week–both in our physical capacities, and our ability to watch out for each other.
My book was supposed to arrive in town on Friday but instead I got to practice the paramita of patience. Hopefully, it will appear “in person” on Monday. Donna promises to have bungee cords ready to keep me planted on the ground. The book launch is planned for April 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Johnson GEO Centre on Signal Hill. We picked the GEO Centre because of it’s location on Signal Hill where I spend so much time training and because it’s got easy parking. Please drop by if you can and come celebrate the book’s entry into the world. There will be munchies and I will likely read some passages from the book.
Mountain Hardware is having an ad contest where folks can submit an advertisement for their gear. There are some great prizes and I’ve entered an ad called, “Mountain are my Teachers.” If you’ve got a moment, please visit their site and vote for my ad. You may have to scroll down through many entries as the number grows each day and the ads are served up in random order each time the page is accessed.
Finally, I had a wonderful coffee with Linda Cox this week. She attended a presentation I did last summer when I was freshly back from Everest. She was struck by a picture of my hiking boots I showed. I had taken them off in the teahouse in Lukla. I was in such a sad and disappointed place but their arrangement caught my eye and I took the picture. She asked if she could paint the photograph. On Thursday, she revealed the painting to me and it was beautiful. The feelings and details of that moment/photograph were so aptly captured in her painting. I loved the grain of the wood on the floor and the delicacy of the how the laces hit the wood.
Linda is making it possible to make prints and cards from the painting so I’ll look forward to sharing it with you at some point in the near future. I so enjoyed hearing of Linda’s journey as a painter as she worked to bring the boots to life on the canvas. We’ve titled the painting “Journey’s End” but as I viewed it I was moved by a sense of invitation. It’s time to put those boots on again and in a few short weeks from now, I will.
Thanks for coming along on this and many journeys. As Myles Horton and Paulo Freire suggest, “We make the road by walking.”
Have a good week of walking,