Several years ago I had the opportunity to take a year and travel around South America. While living there, I was deeply drawn to the summits and rough terrain of the Andes. I sought out mountaineering trips in Patagonia and then, upon traveling north, set out to summit Aconcagua, one of the Seven Summits of the world. I had chosen a trip that traversed the Guanacos Valley route, a lesser-travelled route to the summit. Unlike the normal route, it was relatively untouched and much longer, taking about 19 days.
Reaching to 22,837 ft, this mountain was a sure to teach me a lesson or two on the art of perseverance, mental fortitude, and emotional endurance. What I didn’t realize was that it would also teach me the art of surrendering to the journey.
Our highest camp was at 19,000 feet. The air grew thin and breathing became a struggle. Sleep was scarce with violent winds and disrupted breathing patterns due to a lack of oxygen. At that altitude, each step is slow, methodical, and rhythmic. Each foot placement is carefully chosen so as not to send scree and rubble falling back onto the person behind you.
As we climbed, hour after hour, day after day, I quickly became aware of the impact that my thoughts and perceptions had on my experience. When I was fretting about how exhausted I was, how much longer we would be climbing, what the next bit of terrain would be like, etc, I suffered and grew weary with the journey. With a heightened awareness around this, I quickly adjusted my approach. I relaxed into the coordinated rhythm of breath and pace, and focused on my immense appreciation for the experience and my surroundings. The journey to the summit became enjoyable, much more precious, and much less difficult.
As I look back, I can see that the very same lessons that allowed me to thrive on the climb to the summit of Aconcagua are the same principles that I now help my clients to embody on their quest for sustainable business success.
These are the same principles that I return to again and again, when I lose my center and the journey starts to feel more arduous than exciting.
Before I share these principles, let's first look at some common situations that describe those who are stuck in an ongoing struggle with weight and health.
1) Lost in the Woods
Many times we become blinded by our resistance and dissatisfaction with what is and how far away from our goal we are. We abandon the active pursuit of our desires. We may be drowning in information, weighed down by the fear of failure, or confused by conflicting advice; either way, we are not actively involved in the climb to the summit. We are stuck under a pile of maps, unsure of what path to take and frustrated that we aren't any closer to the summit.
We may have even abandoned feeling our desire for what it is that we are trying to achieve. It may exist as an abstract thought in our head, but it no longer resides in our body and we no longer have the felt sense that its attainment is possible.
We become disenchanted, discouraged, and apathetic towards the idea of ever reaching our goal.
2) Swimming Upstream
In this scenario, we approach every day as though it is a boot camp. We are taking actions each day to help get ourselves to where we want to go, but we are driven from a place of fear and self attack. We feel as though relaxing into what is, means giving up on their goal, which creates even more fear and resistance around embracing the present moment exactly as it is.
Intense strategies that originate from a place of fear and self attack create and perpetuate a chronic low-level stress response. Overtime this leads to BURNOUT and chronic depletion. While our strategies may be effective under different circumstances, when done with an attitude of force, they become destructive and counter-productive.
We forge ahead unskillfully. We lose sight of the beauty of the journey, wanting only to summit. We clumsily climb upwards, quickly running out of the physical energy and mental endurance that is required to reach our destination. Our pace is not synced up with our breath and we struggle to get a deep enough breath for our mismanaged pace.
3) Swimming Upstream While Lost in the Woods
In this scenario, we oscillate between the two scenarios described above. We push and push to reach our goal while hating the parts of the journey along the way, and then, when we are utterly burnt out and have still not arrived we throw our hands up in the air in defeat. We unravel map after map thinking that we must be on the wrong path because we don't seem to be getting any closer to the summit. We stand still, longing for the attainment of our desires while indulging in behaviors that will bring us anywhere but where we are trying to go. We experience a deep resistance to the reality that surrounds us, thinking that anything other than where we are trying to go is unacceptable.
I often tell clients that they need to first love where they are at before they can get where they want to go. Many people fear that if they love and appreciate where they are in that moment, then they won’t have the motivation to get where they want to go. But I’m not asking clients to give up on their deep desires or goals. I’m just asking them to enjoy the moments that fall between now and the time when they manifest what they are working towards... to appreciate every step of the journey rather than just longing for the destination.
So what’s the solution? How do we create movement and evolve when it feels like we’restuck in quicksand? The answer is somewhat of a paradox, but time and again I’ve seen it to be true.
When we resist what is while trying to get where we want to go, we stay stuck in our tracks. You’ve heard it before: “What we resist, persists”. Resistance keeps us swimming against the current. Getting nowhere. It’s a shortcut to burnout, apathy, and frustration.
So if you’ve identified at all with this post, experiment with the following Four-Step Process:
1) Define your Goal – What are you desiring most right now in your life? Desire- it’s not a dirty word. Own your desire and feel it in your body. Let your desire breathe passion and life into your efforts. When the action steps along the way feel like tedious to-do’s, take a moment and reconnect with the feeling of your desire in your body.
2) Each day ask yourself: "What actions can I take today that will get me one step closer to my goal?"
3) Become aware of actions that are out of alignment with your deepest desires. Feel the discord that such actions create within your being each and every time you indulge yourself with such actions. With awareness and embodiment, these habits often lose their grip. There is no need to force or push against them.
4) Surrender to the flow of the present moment. Relax into the breath, trust in the unfolding, and practice loving presence in the here and now.
5) Anytime you start to get stuck in addictive and sticky thought patterns about how things should be rather than how they are, or anytime you start to attack yourself, redirect your thoughts instead to something small that you can be grateful for in this moment.