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Letting the Journey be the Goal

Posted Sep 08 2011 7:00am

Me on the infamous hike

To understand this blog post, you have to know that I have a thing for natural bodies of water. Whenever we were traveling during my childhood, I would veer off into rivers, lakes, ponds, or the ocean whenever possible. I love being in water, love feeling the river current, the ocean waves, the rocks and sand beneath my feet. I love the sound of water flowing, falling, and crashing.

Water helps me connect to myself. It helps me manage my creative flow (which is sometimes strong and overwhelming). It helps me allow my emotions to flow. To me, it represents everything joyful in life.

So, whenever I plan a vacation, it involves a natural body of water, or several. Last week, my husband and I celebrated our twelfth anniversary with a vacation in Estes Park, Colorado. I booked a perfect little condo overlooking a stream. I scouted hiking routes that involved rivers and lakes. Our room even had a giant Jacuzzi tub.

On the first day of our trip, my husband and I set off to hike around several lakes. We spent the whole day meandering by a stream, dipping toes into lake-water, and enjoying the majestic mountain scenery. It was relaxing and fun, but a little more populated than we desired. So, on the second day of our trip, we set off on a longer, more remote trail.

Let me just pause to say that for some reason, we were woefully unprepared. Normally two overly responsible citizens with perfectionist streaks, we somehow managed to completely blow it when we packed for the trip. My husband, the gadget man, forgot his GPS. We both forgot our rain gear. I forgot my hiking boots. (Yes, I realize that I was going on a hiking trip. Believe me.)

We couldn’t stand the thought of missing out on a beautiful hike, so we went ahead despite our lack of gear. (Very bad idea.) Wearing my old running shoes and praying for a sunny day, I took the lead as we started up the mountain. It was the perfect trail. Not only did it follow a crashing waterfall for miles, but it promised a gorgeous mountain lake at the top. It was hiking nirvana. I was so excited to see the mountaintop lake I could hardly stand it.

My husband was enjoying the photography opportunities, so we moved at a quick pace interspersed with long pauses for photos. I savored the little streams crossing our path, as well as the waterfall off to the left. The sound was magnificent – a melody like none other.

We hiked on, up the mountain. Up, and up, and up. And up. The incline was steady and intense. Sweat poured off of me. My muscles ached. My hamstrings shouted. Several times, we paused to assess. Should we turn around? Each time, I shook my head, determined to get to the lake. At mile three-ish (no GPS, remember) I felt sure we could make it. Around four, I thought we could probably do it. Around mile five, we stopped and watched the ominous thunderclouds gathering above us. We looked at the steep incline in front of us. “I really, really, want to see that lake,” I said. We forged onward.

Somewhere between mile five and six, I stopped. I sat down on a rock. I checked in with my body. I remembered that I’m a mind-body coach, and part of that means walking my talk. It means not just helping other people, but helping myself. It means listening to what my body has to say, even when it doesn’t match my goal in mind.

Yes, I really wanted to make it to the lake, which was at 6.3 miles. We were so close.

My muscles reminded me that we had to survive the hike down. My feet, somewhat disgruntled from the beating they were taking in those silly running shoes, had a definite opinion. My heart looked at the thunderclouds above and knew it was time to turn around. I wanted to enjoy my hike, not end up in agony or danger just because I had a goal in mind.

Let’s get real here. I adore lakes, it’s true. But around mile 4.5-ish, seeing the lake turned into a goal. It became about the end, not the journey. It became another way to feel good about myself through accomplishment instead of just because I exist. It wasn’t about listening to my body, honoring my truth in that moment, or anything else so noble. It wasn’t serving me to keep the lake goal anymore, and yet I was pushing to achieve it.

I’ve done that a few times before in my life. Just a couple, I’m sure. It’s not like it’s a giant pattern or anything. Or something I’ve worked on for years to find a balance in my life instead of constantly pushing myself. Or the very reason I ended up ignoring myself for years and suffering from chronic pain as a result.

Hey, the good news is that I realized, in that moment on the mountain-almost-top, that I was falling back into that pattern. In a flash, I saw the choice, right there. Forge ahead and ignore every signal from within, or turn around and be well in mind, body, and spirit.

It was a moment of truth. It was a mountain of truth.

We turned around. We didn’t see the lake. We didn’t get stuck in the thunderstorm. We did enjoy the waterfall, the trees, the smell of the forest, the birds, the chipmunks, and the cool air. We did enjoy being with each other, on the journey. We did enjoy moving our bodies for the nearly twelve miles of hiking. We did feel relieved to be only a couple miles from the car when the thunder started. We did have a fantastic day.

If we’d have had our rain gear, if I’d had my hiking boots, and if we’d left an hour earlier, I imagine my body would have been gung ho for the lake. However, in that moment, in those circumstances, it told me what was best for me. It was right. My feet were battered and aching by the time we arrived at the car, and I could not have gone another mile without suffering intense foot pain. As it was, I just took off my shoes and stuck my feet in the river. Swelling gone. I was immensely happy to be alive and well rather than in a summer rainstorm with no gear.

Because I’ve gotten used to life serving up interesting lessons, I thought a lot about the lake on my way down the mountain. I realized that I’ve been getting a little goal oriented lately in my creative processes. I’ve been pushing instead of listening. Not a lot, but just enough to mess up the equilibrium. Mother Nature, ever the wisest mind-body coach, reminded me that the goal is not what it’s all about. It’s not about the lake. It’s about the hike. It’s about the company. It’s about the pinecones and the forest smell and the animals.

It’s always, always about the journey.

I tell you this story today in case you have a wee bit of a tendency to push, ignore, and pressure yourself toward goals. In case you, too, forget that you’re already perfect, you’re already worthwhile, whether you make it to the top of the mountain or not. In case you are being hard on yourself instead of just hiking along, turning around when it’s right for you, and letting some goals drop away. In case you sometimes forget that quitting can be just as brave as finishing.

Your mind might have goals. Your mind might attach importance to them. It might attach a lot of things to them – a feeling of self-worth, a measure of success, etc. Your body will tell you what’s actually right for you, in each moment, on each hike. It will lead you to something beyond survival. It will lead you to well-being, joy, love, contentment, and relaxation.

Ironically, water is possibly the best example of how to live creatively and enjoy life. It’s ever flowing, ever changing. It doesn’t stop at the lake at say, “Ah, there, I am now done. I have achieved this lake and I have now arrived.” No, it continually moves forward, in trickles, in raindrops, in surges, in waves. It’s always in motion, fluid, creating something new the moment it has finished creating what came before. That’s how I want to be, as I write, teach, and grow. I want to enjoy the process as much as I enjoy the arrivals. I want to be fluid, moving, and ready to change my route and let go when that’s what needs to happen.

To you, I say this: Today, enjoy the hike.

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