I awake sore and stiff, curled up in the back seat of a stranger’s car. After bailing yet again from some bad weather on a traverse I keep trying to finish, I feel about as confident as I look… which is to say, pretty broken. There’s always a silver lining in failure, but sometimes we just have to accept and sit with the disappointment.
Artists call this process a work in progress, an unfinished piece slowly, but surely, coming together. In the outdoors, these situations take the form of summits not yet reached, traverses unfinished, or routes dreamt about but not yet started. In some ways the saying is applicable to our entire lives. Love, work, friendships, and most importantly, ourselves are constantly evolving: constant works in progress.
Sometimes, however, the evolution and progress pause and it can feel like we’re stuck in a whirlpool.
As I reflect on this season, I feel like I was everywhere and nowhere all at once. I have been digging deep lately, prying at the dark corners of my mind as I navigate the floodwaters of my worth. Awash in the murky tide, I have found myself grasping for happiness within. Normally, running and mountains help me to find solace in dark times, but even those have become a struggle as I feel both emotionally and physically drained.
I chase things fervently in life, and I know I’m not alone. After all, I don’t think many of us would even contemplate running 100 miles through the mountains if there wasn’t some deep-seated passion we can’t contain. But sometimes, our lives can take a downward spiral and we can’t physically run through, or away, from what ails us. For that there is only time, and a lot of learning about ourselves, until our thoughts lighten and we can run free again.
During this melancholic time, I am trying to practice patience with myself, but also curiosity and compassion. As my legs ached and I pushed myself into the dark on a recent outing, I found that the physical pain I was feeling seemed far more manageable than the emotional pain I have been dealing with. So at least in some way, I am gaining perspective and a glimmer of strength in the fog.
Life is fickle and not always fun, but we can always practice gratitude and kindness with ourselves and the world around us.
“In that painful moment when we don’t live up to our own standards, do we condemn ourselves or truly appreciate the paradox of being human? … Holding the paradox is not something any of us will suddenly be able to do. That’s why we’re encouraged to spend our whole lives training with uncertainty, ambiguity, insecurity. To stay in the middle prepares us to meet the unknown without fear; it prepares us to face both our life and our death. The in-between state — where moment by moment the warrior finds himself learning to let go — is the perfect training ground. It really doesn’t matter if we feel depressed about that or inspired. There is absolutely no way to do this just right. That’s why compassion and maitri [loving-kindness], along with courage, are vital: they give us the resources to be genuine about where we are, but at the same time to know that we are always in transition, that the only time is now, and that the future is completely unpredictable and open.” — Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
I shuffle downhill in the darkness. The light of my headlamp illuminates as a small glow in front of me. I pause for a minute and sit down. I turn off my light and lay against the tundra. The Milky Way glows brightly overhead, along with the waxing moon. The mountains are silhouetted against the inky sky. I don’t lay there long; tears well up in my eyes. I have to keep moving before my aching heart stops me. Like the artist whittling away at their work in progress, I too chip away at myself and the ridgeline that unfolds before me.
Call for Comments
- What are some ways you’ve pushed through physically and emotionally difficult times?
- How do you practice compassion with yourself?