Monday Musings….How to Pass the Toughest Test of Your Life
Last week, I left you on top of that mountain. It felt incredible to have fought through the tough terrain with my aging frame and breathless lungs. What surely seemed impossible physically was overcome mentally. There lies the proof that perseverance in the face of adversity yields incredible power. But the hardest test lay ahead of me, or rather below me, as I had to climb down that mountain in one piece.
Most of us have heard, and perhaps even experienced, that going downhill is so much easier and incredibly faster. Certainly that is the case in many sports. The decline may be steep but it is usually smooth, with a possible mogul here and there, but it’s not with every glide of the ski, or revolution of the bicycle wheel. Here was my dilemma – climbing up I could use my upper body strength and my feet to brace me. I could strategically place my body to move upwards and see where I was heading. Going down, I wasn’t sure at all how to place my body. I couldn’t tell which rock might be unstable until after my foot was already on it. The boulders sat there and taunted me to try and figure out how I would get around them. There was no defined path, no certain strategy. It wasn’t my lungs and legs threatening to stall me – it was fear! The descent required a different mindset other than ‘keep going’!
You see, keeping going requires my belief that I can make it. But the assumption is that once I make it, I can take a break, things will get easy for a while and I can coast. I mean, I’ve worked so hard to get to the top, I deserve to relax. But, how many of you barely get to catch your breath before the next trial comes, and the next, and the next? I think of those with chronic physical or mental health issues who struggle daily, ever hoping that tomorrow might be a better day. And yet it never seems to come. Fear gives in to doubt. And quite frankly, you are tired of hearing ‘keep going’.
And so there I was, in your hiking boots, on that mountain top needing to figure out how to get down before the sun set. I wasn’t sure if I could ‘keep going’. I wanted to paraglide down, but nope, I didn’t book that arrangement (not that it was an option). Why don’t they tell you that life, yours and mine, would be this hard? It seems that each one of us has to discover it ourselves.
The distance was daunting, time was ticking, and my body was breaking. As I took my first step down from the mountain, I realized this was the ultimate test. The ‘keep going’ mentality got me to the top but that would not get me to the bottom. I had to use a different tactic, employ different muscles, switch body positions, and deliberately calculate my next step. As I was sliding on lose gravel at one point, I instinctively grabbed a bunch of grass (interesting how grass grows out of rock) but instead of it snapping, it actually was as strong as rope. I had discovered a lifeline! It was a fluke, but now it cemented in my brain that this was a tool I could use to help me regain balance.
How often do we miss holding on to something in front of us out of fear that it won’t help? Eventually I reached the tree line, and I could use my poles. I had brought them with me for this purpose but they weren’t practical until I could actually dig them into the ground. We have to know when we can use the resources we already have to maximize their benefit. For the final descent, I had to critically evaluate each and every uneven step, and to be honest, because of the terrain, I had to double each of the 2000 steps down to the bottom because leaning forward with my weighted backpack would cause me to go head over heels, causing a human avalanche. It seemed like forever before I could see the bottom. This descent was definitely not easy or fast. It was gruelling and never-ending. So what seemed like an impossible challenge caused me to stretch my problem solving skills over and over and then put the ideas into action.
You see, the key to resilience is not simply pressing on and moving forward. It’s knowing and accepting that life will be challenging, we will fail, people will disappoint us, and our bodies will age. We need to train mentally and physically to keep going and conquer these inevitable mountains. To do so, we must think outside the box and having multiple strategies that work well in one moment, but need to be switched up in the next. It will be exhausting at times, and just like me, you will think that your legs are going to give out. We will learn that not only are we stronger than we thought were ever capable of being, but our minds are capable of creating an infinite number of imaginative solutions to navigate the rocky terrain we find ourselves in and bring us to safety. It will take endurance combined with ingenuity that will surely help us pass any test that this life throws at us.
This week’s song is I Lived by OneRepublic, a great song inspiring us to remove fear and replace it with hope!