Hiking on a mountain is not just a memorable experience, packed with beauty, and occasionally dotted with moments of challenge. It is more of an intensive course on life, with modules whispered by the land, key messages passed on from leaf to leaf like an heirloom, and notes scribbled on stones. Even I, a fascinated but rather average-level hiker, have descended from the peaks with more than just memories and a few photos. All this information is encoded in some form of a forgotten language; thus, it needs to be deciphered by each one of us, leading to messages that are different and alike at the same time – the way humanity frequently uses diverse perspectives but always ultimately converges on some common ground.
These are the five most important lessons I have understood myself so far:
Lesson #1: Create your own story
All mountains share common characteristics, but each one tells a different story – that’s why they are all attractive. These stories were not imposed: the mountains created them themselves over years and years of changes, patiently sculpturing their own identity from the lava of their veins to the scales of their surface. Within the context of a shorter timeframe, we, humans, also have the means and opportunity to create our own story, stepping on the original identity with which we were born. Yet, in our need to be part of a tribe, we often prefer to conform rather than author our personal tale. The mountains reminded me that I should become the creator I was always meant to be, for my story – just like any other story – is important to be told.
Lesson #2: There are no short-cuts; own the level you stand on
There is a reason the path is always long, and frequently tedious. There is a reason the journey is more important than the summit – or, often, the journey is the primary goal of the expedition. In a fast-paced society where results are expected instantaneously, any delay is perceived as negative: a loss of time; a failure. I remember, in the movie “A Walk in the Woods”, the hero (Robert Redford) was told to watch a video of the Appalachian Trail instead of hiking it: it would take him just 4 minutes to see the whole trail; why spend the time, money, and energy, and why endure the risk on the actual path?
The truth is that there are no short-cuts to success – and to life. Everything needs time and patience to be built up, the way a peak cannot be reached in a day; an apple flower cannot turn into a fruit in a few hours; a company cannot succeed overnight. This slow pace is not a burden we have to carry. It is not a punishment. It is what gives us the gift of ownership. On the mountain, we need to acclimatize in order to be able to move to the next level. If we move too fast, we will fail to summit, even if our physical condition and preparation are superb. Pushing harder is not always perseverance; it might just be ego. However, if we go more slowly, we learn what it takes to reach each new plateau. Sometimes, we do not even need to take strong action: we might just have to linger at the particular level long enough for our body to adjust. Or we might be directed to go a bit down. Once we adjust, though, we own the level we stand on, and nothing can take this away. We do not step on shaky ground anymore; we are solid. It is the journey that transforms us; let it take the time that it needs.
Lesson #3: Be brave to ask a question; be receptive to hear the answer
Walking in the mountains for days is like an extended meditation: it clears the mind from debris and clutter. Hence, answers to what we are looking for are easy to be heard. Most frequently, though, we are afraid to ask tough questions. Mainly because we are afraid of the answers we will get – answers that, usually, we already know at some deeper level. A several-days-long hike leaves enough room for an intimate discussion between us and ourselves – and the mountain, of course. It is the time we can dare to pose the question we have been avoiding; it is the time to be brave, for nothing else demands our attention. We have the luxury of the energy to be courageous, surrounded by an environment that has been inspiring prowess for centuries. And afterwards, we should sit still and listen: the answer will be whispered, reverberating among the slopes and from within. If it is a tough one, the mountain will protect us and heal the blow. At that moment, wisdom is born.
Lesson #4: Appreciate and celebrate the small victories the way you would celebrate a major success
On a long hike, we applaud, hug, and pat each other on the back every time we make it to the lunch point or the camp for the night. The summit is a long target, it might not even be achieved this time: we cannot wait to celebrate only on the peak! Instead, we appreciate and celebrate every moment that makes each day easier and more delightful: a clean toilet (sometimes, even the presence of a toilet instead of the bushes); a sunny day to warm us up; a cloud to protect us for a while from a tiring heat; a tent already pitched when we arrive; a tasty lunch; a surprise dessert at dinner; an unexpected view; a stunning sunset; a warm night in the sleeping bag; a good story shared under the stars; a civilized toilet and a shower at the end of the trail. Embracing and appreciating every little moment does not only build the momentum towards the ultimate achievement. Most importantly, it reminds us that life is constantly beautiful, as long as we pay attention. It is there, on the mountain, when our comfort zone is challenged, that we are taught again how to pay attention to everything, remembering the enchantment with which we used to explore life as kids, several years ago.
Lesson #5: Be humble
While hiking along the perilous slopes, it is easy to remember of our human fragility in front of nature’s magnitude. It just takes a heavy rain, a snowstorm, an avalanche to turn happiness into misery, excitement into resentment, and adventure into tragedy. The vastness of the terrestrial and celestial landscape only highlights how minute our presence is in time and space. How worthless it is to try to fight or control mighty powers we do not yet understand – and we will never understand, as long as we do not respect them. It puts our existence – our successes and failures – into perspective. Thus, it is only in humility that we can approach the mountain gods – the same humility with which we approach everything divine and holy – and once we surrender to it, we are reborn into the higher being we deserve to be.
Chief Initiator – Transformational Journeys