Walking through consciousness

For me walking has always held a magical allure that is hard to resist. It is when walking that I can more easily connect with the essence of my soul. It is then that I experience not only peace, but a oneness with myself and the world that can otherwise be elusive. The Rim of Africa hike is described as a “trail of no ordinary proportion”. And indeed it is. Nothing about it can be described as ordinary, and finding just the right words to communicate the experience may just be a “task of no ordinary proportion”. When I signed up for it, all I wanted was “time-out”; a chance to transition from one phase of my life to another. . . a chance to breathe in deeply the energy and beauty of Africa before moving to the Middle East. What I experienced was so much more than a mere in-breath.

For ten full days I could immerse myself in a different consciousness. I could forget about the world I normally inhabit and walk through a physical and mental space that was expansive, sheltering, challenging and comforting, all at the same time. The rhythm of each day flowing quietly into the next, quickly distorted my experience of time as measured by clocks and watches, and dropped me into a dimension where the rising and setting of the sun set the pace of my heartbeat. The soft notes of a pennywhistle floating towards the dawn of each new day not only gently coaxed me from the world of sleep and signaled in new horizons to conquer, but had the ability to caress my soul into a new wakefulness. . .

Each day allowed for time to walk in quiet, reflective mode and the guides all had wonderful poems, thoughts or suggestions to enhance this special time. What I found interesting was that I had trouble reflecting, as that involved thinking. How often have I not yearned in the busy-ness of life to stretch out those pauses between thoughts into a space of pure quiet! Yet in this mountain space those pauses came naturally and stretched not only into a suspension of thinking, but also into an inhabiting of a calmness and peacefulness that linked my soul to that of a larger, expansive earth energy. I felt connected and “real”. As if I at last discovered my true self without all the trappings of personality, duty or emotions.

When I left, I decided to work with two theories, as I thought them appropriate not just for the hike, but for my life in general. The first was that acceptance of something gives you control over it. When we think of control we tend to connect it to the ability to change or alter something, or perhaps even to force our will onto something to dominate it. I encountered pain, discomfort and fear on the hike and my first impulse was to try to change my reaction to and experience of it, as it was not what I wanted, and certainly not something I liked. Not only was this instinctual or habitual behaviour on my side, but I had difficulty with how to accept the condition so that I could gain control. My whole focus was on the control part instead of what it actually means to accept something. The more I thought of this statement, the more I realised that the control was not so much gained through any effort on my part, but simply a letting go of the need to change, alter or dominate whatever I had difficulty with at any given point in time. The moment I could accept the situation by surrendering to it and simply accepting the experience for what it was, I found that I suddenly had no emotional attachment to the experience, and thus, I gained the “control” I was so focused on finding!

The other theory I took with me holds that the higher you raise the energy of life through your physical being, the more elevated your consciousness will be. Consciousness not only refers to our awareness of something, but perhaps most importantly, to our perception of it and ultimately our response to it. Phrases like “live on the edge”, “try harder”, “push through the pain”, and “conquer your fears” are often accompanied by images of achievement and success. These phrases and images intruded on my contentment on a daily basis when the distance we were hiking were just too long, or the mountain we were climbing, just too high or steep, for me to be completely comfortable physically. The intrusion often made me feel less than adequate and not tough enough. I wished for a stronger body and had to over-ride my physical tiredness through mental determination and focus. Later, when I reflected on this I realised that I should accept my physical body for what it is: not as strong and tough as I sometimes will it to be. I also realised that I do not have anything to prove by putting myself in situations where I have to be tougher than what I am or having to endure more physically than what is comfortable. I should stop listening to those who live by the philosophy that pushing harder and further is better. What I should do is find joy in my physical strengths and weaknesses by immersing myself in those physical pursuits that are suited to where I am right now. In other words, appreciate what I have by living with gratitude in the moment of acceptance, instead of burdening myself with the philosophies of others that have no relevance to my life.

I found myself on the third last day of hiking frozen in fear while descending an exceptionally steep and tricky mountain slope. The tension and fear exploded from my body in an avalanche of tears. Tears of frustration, humiliation and anger. Not in my wildest dreams did I expect this kind of physical challenge and it caught me completely off-guard. I cannot truly say that I feel particularly proud that I conquered that mountain or the one the next day, as I didn’t quite have a choice not to pick myself up and carry on. What I discovered was that, although I have a strong will and ample determination, I felt cheated and lied to, as the hiking guide did not prepare me emotionally for this experience. Now, reflecting on that moment, I realise that it is a great metaphor for life, and as we do not get issued with a hiking guide for our life, we often feel angry, disappointed, lost, humiliated and cheated by life when we encounter the unexpected. What we feel in that moment is perhaps not as important as what we do when the initial shock wears off. Can we pick ourselves up again, lift our chin, face the world and refuse to give up? I do believe that it is in the way we allow the experience to form and shape us, teach us and guide us in which our strength and character lies, and not in our initial reaction.

As I walk through my life, I will remember with fondness and appreciation the beauty of the space, the generosity and love of the people I shared it with, the valuable lessons I learned, and the joy of my soul bathing in the challenge and delight of this special experience. . .

Time-out

In Neal Donald Walsch’s Conversations with God – Book 3, there is a discussion on why we need to sleep. In contrast to popular belief that it is our bodies that need rest (which I certainly believe is also true), it is explained that it is the soul that needs “time-out” from the body. Our souls apparently find it really hard to assimilate with the new physical “host”, and while the body is at rest and sleeping, it gets a chance to be free of the physical. I like this explanation, and I can certainly believe it when I think of how, when I feel a tad depressed, that I have a natural inclination to sleep more. So if the soul does not like the “physical” it can escape to where it is more pleasant. It sounds like a neat and tidy explanation to me, until I think of the following: why can’t I sleep when I am worried, or when my body is uncomfortable? What is up with my soul if it doesn’t want to “escape” from that?

I decided to try out my self-inflating hiking mattress two nights ago, and boy-oh-boy did I wish that my soul escaped that experience! Apparently it enjoyed the physical discomfort my body was in, as I had a fitful and restless night. And to think that for 11 nights on my upcoming Rim of Africa hike, that is going to be my bed. I would lie if I say that it doesn’t make me feel a wee bit concerned. A phrase from the above mentioned book comes to mind, that may just be the solution to my sleeping worries: acceptance of something places you in control of it. So if I accept the discomfort, I would have control over my ‘comfort’. Mmmmm, I will have to try it out and report back on my success or failure of it.

I am looking forward to this opportunity to take some time out to hike and allow my soul breathing space after moving my belongings into storage and before I embark on my UAE adventure with my husband. I am planning to also test the following idea from Conversations with God:

The higher you raise the energy of life through your physical being, the more elevated will be your consciousness.

I am off tomorrow morning, but I’ll be back in three weeks time to tell you about my hiking adventures…