Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Ups and Downs on the Path

I think I've already mentioned that I'm not a naturally athletic person. If left to my own devices and inner drives, I'd much rather curl up with a good book, a good movie or my computer than head out to do anything physical. It's just my nature.

Through the years of my life, however, I've worked hard to get into better shape physically and to embrace more exercise and activity into my regular routine. I do a bit of yoga, weight training and cardio on a regular basis. As for outdoor activities, the only things I've ever really embraced are skiing and hiking. I especially love hiking and being out in the woods.

Last year was my best hiking year ever! I hiked about a dozen times during the spring and summer. For me, that was a lot of hiking.

One day, hiking up a favorite trail of mine, I had a pretty important realization. I was hiking along the trail, steadily climbing up, up and up. Suddenly, the trail started to descend into a little valley. I felt myself sigh and my motivation level slumped a bit. True, it was a stretch of 'downhill' and easy hiking. I knew, however, that I was going to have to regain that ground to eventually get to my goal at the summit. I always had the same reaction when I would reach that spot (and a few other descents on the trail), but I had never thought much about it.

I realized in that moment that I felt like I was 'wasting' effort and energy by having to go down, only to have to go back up again. Part of this, I'm sure, is because of my personality. I'm very goal oriented and I like to know where I'm going and get there as efficiently as possible. I also don't naturally gravitate to things that cause me to exert myself, so I'm sure that's part of it as well.

At any rate, I started reflecting on the fact that I would rather just climb straight up to the summit and have all the hard work over with, so I can just enjoy the 'easy' walk back down the mountain. It suddenly hit me that I also have this attitude a lot in life, and that it really makes it frustrating for me when I experience set backs and detours.

Yet, this is the nature of mountains... and of life. On a mountain, when you are going up, you will inevitably come to valleys that must be crossed in order to reach your goal. You are still on the path, you are still covering valuable territory, but for a time, it can seem like you are going the wrong way. It's true in life as well. We often find ourselves needing to go around obstacles, or on detours to get where we are going. They key is to recognize that its all part of the journey and it all has value.

On my hike, it's all exercise! It's all good for my body. The changing terrain is a challenge for my muscles. Variety is good... and healthy. I still, eventually, get to the top, and I've enjoyed a lot of beautiful scenery, tantalizing scents and encounters with critters and sometimes other hikers along the way.

It's the same in life. Sometimes the detours and the back tracking we need to do give us some of our most valuable and wonderful life experiences. We often learn more from our detours and struggles than we do from things that go smoothly and directly the way we want them to go.

Recognizing this aspect of my character and my perspective allowed me to challenge it and work on embracing my path in a different way. Now when I reach the 'downs' on my hiking trails, I smile to myself and enjoy the process of going down to go up. I think about how metaphorical it is for the attitude that I want to cultivate towards life. Every step has value! It's a matter of recognizing that every step I take is a part of the journey. The journey and its quality are what I want to focus on these days, even more than on getting to the mythical 'there' that we all are always pushing for.

Next time you find yourself going 'down' - just remember that going down is often a valid part of going up. It could be the most important part of your journey. Only time will tell, but our job is to fully give ourselves to the step we are currently taking and to keep moving with our goal always in our mind.

Happy Trails!

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