There’s a lesson in looking forward. It isn’t that I don’t like looking back. It’s just that the past deserves only so much visiting. It can be dangerous to dwell there too long, or too often. So I’ve learnt to take my lessons, pack my bags and move on. Life is out there, waiting to be lived.
I’m not trying to minimalise problems, or be callous. I just think that beyond the comfort, beyond the barriers, is where truth lives. That is where real growth begins. And maybe today isn’t the day to push beyond, but tomorrow might be. Remind yourself that you can do anything, and strive for magic in your life. It exists if you believe.
And so, as I have done many times over the last eight months, I packed my bag and began a journey. It was a journey forward, but without regressing, it took me back. Way back.
It was a journey through the Himalayas, to the Annapurna Base Camp. And it began as most journeys do, with a single step.
I would watch the sun rise for consecutive mornings. My eyes would fall on dewdrops glistening on fallen leaves. I would laugh. I would cry. I would promise myself some things.
I would give thanks for the moments that led me there. And I would realise finally how it wasn’t necessary for me to leave much behind at all. In fact, I carried it all with me. And the load wasn’t heavy as I looked forward. It was lighter than it had ever been.
And so with my pack, a good friend, and someone to guide the way – we set off.
The sun belted against my skin. The dirt road beneath my feet glistened with shiny rocks. I collected a few. We talked with the excitement that often marks the beginning of something.
And as we ventured on, the road grew a little steeper. We fell silent. With one foot in front of the other, we climbed. Sweat dripped down the small of my back. Birds flew overhead, mocking our struggle. Goats nibbled on leaves beside the road, their keepers sleeping nearby in the shade.
And the ‘up’ seemed to go on forever. I’d think we were almost at the top, turn a corner and see the path disappear into the clouds. So instead of focusing on the top, I focused on the next step, and the next. The occasional glance forward was just enough to remind me of where I was going, and that there was nothing I could do but put one foot in front of the other to get there.
That night as we sipped hot lemon and ginger tea, and ate dal and rice, we laughed. We anticipated the road ahead. We wondered if we would make it. We shared stories, and goals, and warmed our toes in wool socks.
As we crawled into bed and zipped up our sleeping bags, we decided to just focus on the next day. Anything bigger than that seemed overwhelming. Sometimes it’s so much easier to break things off into little pieces and just devour them one at a time. If we look at the whole picture, we’re tempted to write it off as ‘too big’ and give up. Often we look too far ahead, and try to fit too much in. We forget to enjoy the moment. If we only care about the destination, or reaching our goals, we miss lessons. We miss the details. We miss life.
When we woke, it was light. The sun had risen enough for us to see but its rays hadn’t reached us yet. It took hours for it to finally spill over the hills surrounding us. We packed our things and ate Tibetan bread for breakfast before we started walking. It was best at sunrise. It was cool. The day was only just waking. I would watch life uncurl itself in the light. It was my favourite time to walk.
That was a big day. We began our ascent and the road was hard, and long. And maybe that was where things really began, because we stayed quiet. We fell into the silent introspection that marks solitude. We weren’t alone, but we weren’t together either. It was shared, but it was deeply personal. We all knew that, even though it was never said. I have never felt so comfortable with silence as I did over the next eleven days. We nodded Namaste to passers-by and fell into a quiet rhythm. It was just us, nature and the long road ahead. And that was when the words stopped, and the real journey started.
Days unfolded in a hot sweaty mess. Routine rose in the shape of breakfast, walking, lunch, walking, dinner, and sleep. It was imperfectly perfect. It was minimalistic. It was shaped with laughter and conversations with strangers. We began to learn and practise some basic Nepalese. We shared meals, and card games and when words could not explain – smiles spoke the language. We watched the landscape change with every passing day. And just when I thought it couldn’t get anymore beautiful, it would blow me away all over again.
The road was shaped by strength, and growth and physical challenge. It pushed us into new terrain, both inside and out. It was grand and took us to heights we’d never ever reached before.
I found the deeper we went, the more ‘in the moment’ I became. All my worries and thoughts fell away. I found myself feeling more childlike than I had in years. I wanted to run ahead, skip over stones and push myself forward until I could barely breathe. I dripped with sweat despite the cold. My moments were lit with new friendships and a kindness so soft, it warmed me. And I would stop and breathe in some of the freshest air I have ever touched, and smile to myself.
They were some of the happiest days of my life. I was not left wanting, or hoping, or dreaming for anything more. I had everything I could want, right there – to tthe point where I began fantasising about living in the hills, far away from the life I knew – with a vegetable garden, and animals, and friends, and one of the most amazing views in the world. And if you’d offered it to me, right then, I probably would have taken it. It was all I ever wanted. It was happiness as I’d never known.
Days passed us by. They were each different, but little similarities connected them. Basically, we climbed up, and down, and up, and up. We would catch glimpses of our destination as we went. It seemed so far away and I thought it would be impossible to arrive. But we just kept on walking. And I was so lost in the beauty of each moment it didn’t feel like hard work at all. It was just slow and steady, onwards and upwards.
After a week we saw the Annapurna Base Camp at the top of the hill before us. My legs were heavy. Exhaustion overcame me. My skin was dry and my clothes were dirty. I hadn’t showered for days. I didn’t care. The snow fell in white flurries around us, and avalanches cracked the silence. The whole picture was covered in a fine blanket of soft white cloud. Each step was in slow motion. Each ragged breath tore shreds from the one that fell before it. The altitude stole our air, but we found enough to take our final steps. And as I watched our destination grow closer, I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t actually believe we had made it.
It was icy cold. The snow fell. We awoke to perfect blue sky and a view that took my breath away. It was magnificent. We were surrounded by towering snow-covered mountains. They seemed alive. And as the sun rose, it caught the tips of those mountains and then spilt down their sides like honey. It was more and more beautiful as the minutes passed. The white coating was flawless. That picture, and those moments, are some of the most beautiful memories my mind holds. And it was all the more beautiful for our achievement in reaching it. It was magic. I won’t ever forget it.
And so all the challenges that met us, we tackled head on. It was tough. It was a long, long way. But it was tremendous, and beautiful. It was raw. It was real. And we made it.
There wasn’t a day that went by on that trek when I wasn’t aware of my body. I became acutely aware of its strengths, and weaknesses. I valued it. I nurtured it. The same body that has carried me through thirty years of life. The same body that is getting a little older, and a little less resilient every single day. The same body that might not be in the best shape, might not be 22 anymore, but is just as beautiful in its own ways. The same body that holds scars and stories. The same body that has taken me halfway around the world, and climbed mountains.
I have not treated myself as kindly as I could have over the years. But I am making changes. I won’t go through this life comparing myself, or my life, to others. I am in it now. I am committed.
There may be many things I don’t have. But there are many, many things I do have. I have the ability to climb mountains, travel the world, learn new lessons and surround myself with love.
However the rest of this story unfolds, well, I can only hope for beautiful things in my world. I know there will be ups and downs. There will be good and bad. But whatever waits, I am ready. I will climb more mountains. Many more.
So I am rich, where once I was poor… and although I may also be poor where once I was rich, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
** we climbed with Krishna and Raj from Nepal-Tibet Trekking, and I couldn’t recommend them more if you need guides or porters for your trek in Tibet or Nepal.