Empowerment is about learning to face your fears. I’m learning through my own life transitions how to get closer to my fears, to work through them, and see the amazing strengths I have as a woman that I was afraid to see before. This is what this story is about: Women Empowering Women to face their greatest fears –and in the process to transform and grow more than you ever believed was possible.
So here’s the story:
Getting to the top of a 19 thousand foot peak is no easy feat. It takes 6 long days and I mean “long” days of 8 hours of hiking in rain and wind on very challenging terrain. No, it is not just a walk up! “Hardest thing I ever did,” I tell my friends.
Especially if you take the Machame Route and not the “tourist route,” which starts at 6000 feet and takes you around the circumference of the mountain while going up steadily until you reach the final base camp and the summit day climb. So getting to that Summit Day takes perseverance, determination and training. But the “Rest Step” was also a tool that I believe got me to the top.
My Colorado Mountain club friends who trained with me, as well as my cousin, Jane Henderson Brunton, taught me this step. But I really didn’t pay attention until I got to the 5th day and our trip leader was teaching it again. The reason he was teaching us again is because we were all feeling quite weary and a little worried about making the summit the next day. It was a boost to our spirits to know we could make it if we went slow enough to rest gently on each step, and stay in pace with each other to feel the support. It was going to be a long climb that last morning and we knew we needed all the tools we could get. (You summit the final 4000 feet from Barafu Basecamp starting at midnight in the freezing cold so that by the end of the 8 hour climb you are seeing the sun coming up — a metaphor for the deep awakening of joy inside of you as you summit in the new morning. Every guide takes their people up this way—it’s the way you climb this mountain!).
How many times in your life have you wished you had not pushed through something difficult, had instead pulled back and listened to yourself and checked in a little bit more? So much of my earlier life has been about just that — pushing through and not looking back until the dust clears. And we do this usually because we are FEARFUL! The only problem with this is that you often are not integrated with all of you when you do this. In other words, you let a part of you push you forward TO AVOID THE FEAR and hope that the rest of you will be okay. Well I was working with this tendency on the mountain all week and I consciously had to talk with myself about “trusting the guides” and letting myself relax into the experience of being led.
I was very anxious about climbing this huge mountain. I had to listen to the part of me that was scared and reassure her, talk to the guides some more, ask questions, share my feelings with my cousin, write in my journal. etc. The result of all this internal work on my part was that I was able to contain my FEAR better and stay more present in the moment. My mindfulness practice also helped me notice the sensations of fear when they came up. So I worked with my desire to push through the pain and get on with this experience and instead just allowed myself to savor and be with it all. There was fear and there was excitement and awe, and courage and determination and passion. I only felt these other emotions when I moved my fear over and that was hard to do because it was really engulfing me.
So as we began our summit climb at 12:15 AM on January 22th, we formed a chain or line going up. It was pitch black and freezing so I don’t have any pictures of this. However, know that the “Rest Step” is what kept us going and going in those freezing cold conditions.
We started walking this “rest step” slowly in a rhythm that felt calming and reassuring. We were going to make it, I felt. Kicking my right heel forward and leaning into it allowed my left leg to extend and straighten and I could rest back on my left hip. In a second or 2 I then kicked my left heel forward not putting weight yet on it and let my right leg straighten resting for another second or 2. In this way, we slowly moved up the mountain. There were times on this morning when it was hard to distinguish between the cold bitter wind ripping me apart with cold and the intermittent tightness in my chest that would come and go. That was the altitude. When the wind started blowing colder and colder and whipping the cold into our bodies, I relied more and more on this step and the rhythm. When my mind said “I am freezing and getting hypothermic, I need to stop”, I simply rested a little longer on one foot and allowed myself to breathe in more oxygen. I realized after a few minutes that I was ok and able to go on. I also asked for support from my guide/porter who was nearby to support me. Asking for support to add clothes, get water, turn off my headlamp were all things that contributed to my success.
Isn’t that a perfect metaphor for how to deal with difficulty each and every day of our lives? Just take a “rest-step,” in whatever way that is for you. It’s like taking a “gap” as Pema Chodrun would say, or a breathing break to reconnect with your wholeness and see that you are all there and you can muster up the courage, strength, determination and energy to go on with whatever it is. What is your “rest step” in life to get you through?
As I descended this huge mountain, I began to feel the fear subsiding. When I relaxed more, felt myself coming back to wholeness, I found that there was peacefulness and confidence underneath. Too bad this fear blocked so much of me until after summiting this peak. I knew I could climb this mountain and I felt confident. When I moved the fear over the peace and confidence was right there. What an amazing discovery! Now I wanted to try to do this in my life when fear arises next time.
A friend told me as I left for the trip when I was expressing my fear, “Fear is the same thing as excitement in your body. The only difference is the story you tell yourself that makes you feel fearful.” Yep, so it’s time to change the storyline, right?
Want to learn more? Learn about the tools I offer in my coaching program for working with fear. Want to learn how to work with your fear doing something like climbing a mountain? Check out my nature-based Adventure Retreats for Women. My next one is July 12-16 in Vail, CO where you can learn how to be with your fear in a duckie (inflated kayak) on the Colorado River. Here’s where to sign up. Early Bird Deadline is April 30th so hurry! https://women-in-transformation.com/retreats/