The Edge of Awareness
As I boarded my flight to Nepal I knew that I was not the most physically fit person in the world but that I live for a good challenge. In the end, I like to surprise myself. I signed up to trek to the base camp at Mt. Everest with a group of strangers. I didn't sign up for a local hike, a run, or an obstacle course, it had to be bigger, crazy, unreal. Why? Because the purpose is not just to test my physical strength, it’s an exploration of my mental strength and how that plays a part in who I am as a whole. I set out to prove to myself at the end of my thirty first year of life that I was worth life. That I could take my body as it was up the side of a mountain and become familiar with myself, as myself and control my mind.
By day ten of the trek this concept had become reality and the test of my mental strength became excruciatingly apparent. I'm exhausted, my legs are shaking and while I knew going into this trek I wasn’t the most physically fit person I didn’t realize how mentally unfit I was as well. I cry, a lot. So when I decided I was going to live or die by completing the trek it was a simple mantra that I could repeat to myself knowing that giving up was not an option. Live. Die. Complete this trek. I was willing to die on that mountain to find whatever it was I was looking for. Sometimes I felt like I would die. At some point I became okay with that. I had no room for any other thoughts, thoughts became exhausting.
There was something beautiful about the simplicity of repeating only one thought. I sat alone on a very large rock somewhere in the Himalayan mountain range trying to catch my breath. At just over 16,000 feet the altitude makes the air so thin every breath we’re used to taking turns into three. Here I was, dressed in what felt like 18 layers of thermals, gasping for air with snot running out of my nose and all I could think was, “Live. Die. Complete this trek.” You literally need every ounce of energy you have just to keep moving forward. At some point in the week leading up to this moment the initial excitement of signing up for the trek and spending a week in nature had faded and I had stripped my life down to the bare essentials of what kept me alive. While I needed sleep and food to keep my body mobile and able to slowly creep up the mountain it wasn’t long into the journey I realized where the majority of my strength had to come from, my mind.
I slowly gathered this monster of a thought and proceeded forward with each footstep reflecting a word. Live. Die. Complete this trek. Soon thereafter we approached a group of people waiting in a line. I didn’t understand what we were waiting for. I channeled my patience. As I approached I noticed the width of the walkway was about 20 inches wide. On one side was the smooth wall of a towering mountain and on the other was almost certain death. We were over 16,000 feet up and I imagine the drop was at least four thousand of those feet into pure nothingness. We were to high in elevation for anything resembling a tree or soft place to land to exist. That same narrow path was a descent, steps, uneven steps leading downward. Underneath your feet was loose pebbles covered by sand. I was certain if I misplaced one foot, if I took one wrong breath I was going to fall off the edge of the mountain. This is when I stopped again to catch my breath from the lack of oxygen at this altitude but also out of sheer fear that my mantra I made up to control my mind had officially become reality. Live or die. Hugging the wall, I had a brief millisecond to go internal and ask myself what I was doing here. Why was I climbing to 17,590 feet to the base camp of Mount Everest? What reason did I give myself for doing something this extreme at this point in my life? Was I actually willing to die for this?
It was in this moment where the answer became so simple, yes. It’s funny that it only took me a fraction of that millisecond to decide that I was willing to die for this because I needed to change, to push my boundaries, to find myself. I had no intentions of discovering this when I boarded the plane to Nepal. Before this I had spent 31 years of my life wandering and following metaphorical trails that my Western society had set out for me. Little did I know that born from a risk and a round trip ticket was my chance to take a real trail on the other side of the globe and prove something to myself. In other situations, I might have really cared how the four or five people near the bottom felt about waiting for me, about the judgement they were placing on me, but in this moment, I knew that if I cared I would die. I didn’t have a choice. I had to be slow and focused to survive. When I reached the last step downward and looked up to see their faces they showered me with smiles and encouragement. These people didn’t ignore me or get impatient, they saw me and appreciated my struggle and were out there with me. We were all in this together.
You’d think spending ten days on the side of a mountain would make you feel alone and isolated from the rest of the world but to my surprise I had the complete opposite experience. I connected with humanity and found it full of kindness. I was surrounded by things I feared, nature in all of its varying forms, people from literally everywhere on the planet and while I did spend a lot of time walking alone and struggling with my physical limitations the only other memories I have are that of the kindness of others and how in each respective moment that kindness made me realize my strength. For all the hours I have spent trying to lose weight, trying to lift weights all of the sudden I was aware of my strength just as I was, just as I existed. In the moment I finally reached base camp, I didn't just exist in the physical sense but I existed in a mental space that I knew was me. Everything I had been taught about who I should be or what my goals needed to be melted away. I became this aware being.
This trek was the first time I submitted to death as an option for the choice I made to go in search of something that would alter me forever. So often we don’t try things because we fear judgement for who we are or how we appear. We’d rather make everyone else comfortable and in by doing so we let our spirit and our self-discovery die. It’s important to know what makes yourself feel powerful. For me, it’s climbing a mountain and proving my physical and mental strength just as I am. It’s also proving my commitment to any and everything that I set out to do. Somewhere near the base camp of Mt. Everest is the old me and returning is the empowered me. I will never forget this adventure for this adventure has become my life.