It’s Sunday once again and the time has been a blur. My mom was admitted to hospital about a week ago in serious condition and I’ve spent much of the week sending my love, prayers, and good thoughts to Edmonton. It’s hard to be so far away and I’m very grateful to my brother who has been stepping up and managing things on the Western front. Please include my family in your thoughts and prayers over the next while.
With my mom being sick and another friend passing away suddenly the week before, it’s been an intense time of grieving and being reminded about the preciousness and tenuousness of our existence. I try to keep that awaked-ness and appreciate and make the most of each moment, meal, and day though it’s so easy to be lulled into forgetting that this life will end.
I received a new pair of motocross boots for my birthday and they arrived in the mail. The first time I went to ride with them on the bike they felt so awkward and weird and confining that I instantly balked and changed them out for my more familiar hiking boots. I tried again the next day. Same reaction. That sense of unmanageability and panic was familiar. I felt it last at Camp Two on Mount Everest when I put on my down suit on the night I was trying to decide whether or not to continue up on my summit bid. Sometimes when I’m struggling to make a decision, I go down one of the paths a ways to sense how it feels to make that choice.
That evening, in the midst of a terrible hormonal pre-menstrual storm of typhoon proportion coupled with physical exhaustion from fighting my third bladder infection, the down suit seemed impossible to wear. I was triggered. I couldn’t fight or put down the rising sense of panic I had being in the suit. I knew it had nothing to do with the actual suit itself; it had to do with being rebounded or triggered into the past. It happens so much less often now than earlier in my life, but on that night, at 6500 metres above sea level, I couldn’t muster the clarity of thought to work with the panic on any level other than reptilian fight or flight. After a long night of see-sawing back and forth, go up, don’t go up, work with the panic, run away from the panic, go up, don’t go up, it was finally 3:30 am and time to make the final decision. At the moment of decision, I felt I didn’t have the resource and resilience, both physical and emotional, to venture higher on the mountain that day and be present enough to keep myself safe.
Unfortunately, later that morning when I decided to descend to base camp, I didn’t know that there would be another opportunity for a summit attempt (in fairness-no one did at that point). So assuming I’d just given up my only shot at the mountain, I packed up all my gear and carried a monster load down the mountain by myself in the early morning light. Had I known another attempt would be possible, I might have waited at Camp Two for a few days to see if I could regain enough strength and composure to continue climbing. I’d only had a four-day turnaround between my acclimatization trip to Camp Three and returning back up to Camp Two so more rest may have been helpful. Or not. It will be one of the questions I live with.
What does this have to do with motorcycle boots? Let me make the connection. What the boots have given me is yet another invitation to work with triggers from the past in a high-risk situation. Driving a motorbike and climbing Everest are both dangerous pursuits. Fortunately for me, I get several chances to drive my bike unlike a summit bid on Everest (plan for 3 years, raise 45,000 dollars, train for 12 months, and it all comes down to a three or four day period in late May where you get one shot at the summit…in most cases).
Here and now, I could try to drive with the boots, get freaked out and triggered by the feel of them, ride with my other boots and then come back the next day and try again. Same result. Try again another day when the parking lot was clear enough to get enough practice to be willing to go out on the street with them. Hate the boots for the first few hours and eventually do enough gear shifting to find a way to make the feel/fit work. I made peace with the feeling and the trigger and then reflected back to what happened on that night in Camp Two.
Even though I practiced in the down suit here as much as I could, I will practice more next time. I will also practice working with all of my triggers whenever they present themselves. I don’t want them to have power in my life anymore, so I will as Pema Chodren suggests, “Run towards the biting dog,” instead of running away. Steer into the groundlessness instead of away. And in all things, be compassionate with myself…I did the best I could that evening and in all the times I couldn’t stand wearing the boots. It’s not failure in failing to keep them on, it’s failure if I fail to keep trying to put them on. One ride down in the new boots, many to go.
Thanks for coming along on this multi-faceted journey with me. I appreciate your support.