Last week I climbed Ben Nevis, at four thousand four hundred and thirteen feet its the completely highest point in the whole of the British Isles.
I didn’t even feel like going out of the house, let alone to Scotland (living in Devon it felt like a very long way for someone who didn’t even want to get out of bed!) I had promised my best friend that I would go with her and that, for her 50th birthday, we would climb Ben Nevis, and I would not dream of letting her down, so off I went.
A few days before going to Scotland I had also booked myself onto a Bhakti Yoga retreat in Glastonbury, so the plan was to go on the retreat then on to Scotland. Bhakti Yoga involves devotional practices such as Puja and Aarti (ceremonies honouring various aspects of the divine) as well as Kirtan (devotional and joyful singing and chanting). Any other year I would have been looking forward to this so much but this summer I felt as though I’d had my limbs torn off (see previous posts), and could hardly summon up enough energy to get on my Yoga mat let alone devote myself on retreat and then go and climb Ben Nevis.
However, I had made a promise, so off I went. First of all as I approached the retreat venue at Glastonbury (which was for two nights) I felt an overwhelming urge to drive straight past, a resistance to sitting with myself and my ‘stuff’. I hadn’t sat quietly or given myself any still space whatsoever recently and I felt trepidatious and frightened by the prospect. I didn’t drive past, I don’t know what made me still go in, but I did. The weekend was very beautiful, I learned so much and basked in the healing energy of other women with not dissimilar life experiences in many ways. I learned that we all experience sadness, loss and grief. No-one ever really completely recovers but we do go on, on with our lives and on in our minds and hearts. In spite of this very nurturing positive experience I felt resistance to being there all weekend until the last half an hour when we all picked a goddess card. I picked Amaterasu. Her story is one of her hiding in a cave after a traumatic life experience, and the world wanting her to come out and show her beauty and inner light for all to see, eventually she does. At this point I cried, I realised I had been hiding away, not physically perhaps but emotionally, hiding how I felt, hiding even from myself. I had no future plans, hopes or dreams, I felt lost in myself. I learned that Yoga practices are more important than ever when we least feel like doing them, and that our practice is not always easy and definitely not always lovely and fluffy.
It was time to get real.
And so off I went to Scotland. We set off from the cottage we were staying in early one fairly sunny morning to do the mountain. I was still (unknown to my lovely companion) trying to talk myself out of it. I did not feel as though I had done much training (although it turned out I had done enough), and I quite simply felt a bit….well….sulky like a child!
So off we went. Of course it was a massive climb, starting on grassy slopes and nice clean paths, gradually becoming less green and more rocky the higher and higher we climbed, until eventually we were right up in the clouds, zero degrees, surrounded by stony piles of cairns, reminiscent of Himalayan kingdoms. I felt strangely homesick then for the Himalayas and wished I was there surrounded by prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, being carried away on the ether of the thin mountain air to the world beyond.
This whole feat took several hours and was extremely hard physical work. Because of the focus and determination and gratitude I felt towards my friend I took what strength, physical, emotional and spiritual I had and pushed on and on. I dug into my depths. The higher I climbed the easier it seemed to become, although technically the terrain was much more challenging. Is this a metaphor for life? The further we go the tougher it gets yet at the same time we learn to navigate, to endure and to keep on keeping on (if we are lucky enough to have within us from somewhere that kind of sense of focus or resilience).
Following the retreat and the Ben Nevis climb I now feel strangely light and somewhat unburdened. Its as though I recognised something that I needed do, to let my light shine for all to see, and also proved to myself that I do have strength, focus, courage and determination to continue this journey, however it may unfold. I am really amazed by myself and how much I can achieve and feel as though the mountain somehow absorbed and took away a whole load of heavy emotional baggage.
The body holds onto so much, moving, working muscles and deep breathing, focusing, fresh air, friendship and keeping going even when you don’t feel like you want to are all incredibly healing. We underestimate the many many layers of our beings, physical,emotional, breath, energy. By working with the physical body (and I am not saying everyone needs to climb a mountain but you can make your own mountain, whatever that may be for you), we can begin to release deep seated anxieties, fears and traumas and to learn that we still have strength and resilience and we are capable of so much more than we realise. We should never underestimate ourselves as amazing human beings.