My Ironman insists on celebrating his birthday on top of a 14er in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Literally, on the summit. And I always, always, always forget how difficult it actually is to hike one of those things, so I say, “YES! Let’s totally hike that mountain that requires ten straight hours of hiking and a 4 am wake-up call on vacation!” and then I start hiking and remember: Holy freaking cow, this is really, really difficult.
Worth it? Yes, because the spaciousness of the summit and the silence of the trail are unforgettable. But still difficult.
So, readers, in the (likely) circumstance that you never marry a former Trail Guide who expertly guides you to the top of a 14er summit (or two) every summer, I humbly present to you my Yogi’s Guide to Hiking a 14er.
- Tell yourself it’s easy. Literally, start every sentence with: “It’s easy for me to…” And fill in the blank. In challenging and strenuous situations (for instance, climbing to the top of a pile of rocks 14 thousand feet in the air or getting your work done before deadline or talking to the most annoying co-worker in the history annoying co-workers) your thoughts (in Sanskrit vrtti-s) can spin wildly out-of-control. Hiking to the top of a 14er mirrors life in that it is mind-game. Gaining control over the 70,000 daily thoughts in our mind alters the spinning trajectory of our vrtti-s to be helpful instead of harmful. Our mind LOVES to distract us from achieving goals such as ‘being present’ and ‘being content’ and ‘not dying while walking these last 7 miles’ with negative vrtti-s. Negative or harmful thoughts are usually caused by deep emotional triggers (in Sanskrit: kleshas) and they turn over and over and over again in our subconscious until we believe them. Starting a sentence with, “It’s easy for me to…” re-sets the turning/tumbling/ridiculous cycle of self-judgmental thoughts and helps you focus on what you CAN DO. Like, for instance, take one more step. In fact, “It’s easy for me to hike this whole trail, even though my lungs are exploding.”
- Wear gloves. It’s cold. And numb fingers make everyone crabby.
- Listen to silence. I believe it’s ultra important to understand that the core of our being is always quiet and still. It is our Inner Light, our Inner Wisdom, which is connected to Spirit. A little bit of the Atman lives in each person’s heart and offers an Infinite wellspring of grace, joy, love and wisdom. The vrtti-s spin like wheels, distracting us with outer definitions of who we think we are and how we aren’t good enough, but the inner light of awareness (purusha), is a hub stillness. Listening to silence means learning to listen to the still small voice of awareness that shines through all the vrtti-s. Sit yourself down on a rock and listen. It’s incredibly quiet on the mountain. It’s intoxicating and beautiful and freeing.
- Get an alpine start. If you don’t get it done in the morning, it’s not going to happen. This is true of your yoga practice and your meditation practice. Set your alarm and get up in the dark if you need to. Be diligent in your personal resolve to consecrate your day toward Love and set your intention. Do it first thing in the morning or the day will get away from you. Remember: you have time.
- Take frequent rests. I recently learned that resting is a spiritual practice. And that taking naps is an important part of staying healthy and whole. When climbing that GD mountain of day, set aside a specific time of the day for an 8 minute savasana, legs-up-the-wall-pose or guided meditation. Resting is necessary for your body, mind and spirit to re-align. Rest at every mile mark, take a drink, eat a snack and enjoy the view.
- Be creative in your route. There is no ‘one right way’ to get to the top. In fact, there may not even be ‘a top’ in life. Everyone measures success differently. Give yourself permission to be bit creative with your route and your end goal. Stay safe, but let your dreams run wild and free. Seriously. Do the things that most inspire you and do them with passion. You may not have a 9-5 job, you may not wear a suit to work, you may not have a giant house or even a giant ego; be creative and courageous find what really makes you come alive. The view from ‘the top’ will be priceless.
- It’s about the journey. Sometimes, things are worth doing simply because they are beautiful and interesting. The spiritual journey of yoga is one of those things. The poses themselves are fun, but the inner journey of discipline, strength, flexibility and being willing to travel light is what matters most. Every step forward on the spiritual journey of healing the mind from addictions, cravings, compulsions and falsity is worthwhile. Every step forward into the Light is worth it—difficult and sometimes scary and sometimes hard as heck—but worth it. Keep walking. Try to enjoy the journey, because you’ll really never get this day, this trail, this hike ever again.
- Don’t be annoyed when a 3-year-old summits faster than you do. Refer to Number 7.
- Pack a chocolate bar. There is nothing sweeter in life than taking a moment to savor your hard work and delight in all your senses. When you achieve even a minor life goal (like putting all the clean dishes away?), enjoy the sweet moment to its FULLEST. Open a Cadbury, snap a few yoga photos from the summit, gobble up that Freaking Fresh mountain air and then start walking back down the trail. It’s waiting for you.