Life is not easy. We tend to approach situations with predefined expectations based on our past experiences. And we want rainbows and unicorns as the result. Instead, Life often gives us lemons and toads. It’s during these times that we often overlook the fact that we have a choice. The choice of how we respond to the situation. We can resist reality and try to remain in our comfort zone, or we can lean into the discomfort and accept it for what it is. The former results in suffering, the latter in growth. Your choice. Pretty simple, right?
Actually, it’s not that easy. It doesn’t take much to get caught in the web of our internal stories and outdated belief systems when things don’t match our expectations. Before you know it, you are in a downward spiral and unhappy with what life is giving you. So, where is the choice in the situation? It all starts with Gratitude.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Victor Frankl
My last backpacking trip provided the perfect opportunity to practice this lesson in my own life. We had planned the 4-day, 45-mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail for a few months. We watched the forecast closely the week leading up to the trip and were well aware of the approaching storms. We were committed, no one would consider backing out that late in the game.
As we arrived in the trail town of Hot Springs the evening before our hike, a National Weather Service Bulletin warned of flash floods and heavy rains for the next few days. The French Broad river was close to flood stage and still rising from the 1.5” of rain that had fallen over the previous 24 hours. This wasn’t just an approaching rain shower, but rather a series of dangerous storms that we would soon be facing. I was a bit nervous, but also buzzing with excitement.
The rains came as promised late on day one and continued periodically throughout our four days on the trail. The pattern became predictable. Mornings were foggy, damp and sometimes windy. The skies would try to clear around mid-day and the sun would tease us for short periods of time. The afternoon rains would prevent us from drying out completely and the overnights were filled with intermittent storms.
I didn’t sleep much that first night due to several intense thunderstorms and the anxiety caused by inadequate seam sealing on my new ultralight shelter. A slow drip seemed strategically placed right above my face and kept me up most of the night. Even with my rain jacket draped over my head, I remained worried of other possible leaks knowing that I had three more wet days to deal with. The next day was more difficult than expected due to lack of sleep, challenging climbs and wet feet that started showing signs of hotspots and blisters. I quickly learned the importance of map scale when trying to gauge the elevation profile of each days hike. The constantly changing terrain and unpredictable storms continued for the duration of the trip. By the fourth day, I began to question the sensibility of hiking the last 5 miles with multiple blisters that continued to worsen and slow my pace.
Despite the less-than-optimal conditions, the trip overall was a huge success. The damp conditions highlighted more shades of green in the lush vegetation than I even knew existed. There were more wildflowers blooming than I have ever seen in one place. The fog and mist that settled in the valleys provided the classic views of the Appalachians that seem to only appear in magazines. The cacophony of birds made the lush, wet environment feel more like a tropical rainforest than the mountains I have enjoyed most of my life. The bonding between friends and mutual support in helping each other learn, grow and overcome personal challenges was priceless.
Blisters will heal, clothes and gear will dry and the sun will shine again. It’s during the unpleasant times that we fail to see the magic that is always present in life. Choosing to accept it and look inside for growth opportunities builds resilience and strength. Like the Lotus flower emerging from the mud, it’s the rainbow or unicorn we seek. We just need to be willing to look outside our comfort zone to find it.
My Yoga practice helped me see the natural beauty and find growth amidst the discomforts of this trip. I heard the lessons of my yoga teachers replaying in my mind as I hiked alone in the wilderness. “Become comfortable with the uncomfortable”, “Observe your thoughts without judgement”, “Notice your emotional reactions to the discomfort”. It all began to crystalize and I saw the clarity and truth of those statements up close and personal. At one point as I hiked alone into an approaching thunderstorm, I stopped as the heavy rains enveloped me and just looked up into the canopy of the towering old growth trees. I had a big smile on my face and began laughing out loud for no reason at all.
I had made the decision to be on the trail those four days, aware of the impending storms. Instead of focusing on the discomforts of torrential rains and thunderstorms, sauna-like heat and humidity or blisters and aching muscles, I chose to lean in and be grateful for the opportunity to be on the trail in such a beautiful environment, the camaraderie of good friends, and being self-sufficient and confident in my gear and having the skills and ability to handle the adverse conditions.
I was testing my new gear and myself, learning much in the process. I was growing and getting stronger for future adventures. I was integrating ancient Yoga wisdom into my life. But most importantly, I was Grateful to be alive and living in the moment. It was Glorious.