My beloved plants his teachings when we are hiking.
He often speaks stream of consciousness as he skips down the trail, kicking rocks of intelligence and wisdom up into my face as I, with tremendous effort, suck-wind to maintain his brisk pace on all accounts.
Recently on a backpacking trip that included weather fluctuations of sunny to cloudy to rainy to sleeting to hot to cold to thunder to lighting, Elliot confessed he finds hiking in the wilderness more interesting as the stakes grow higher (meaning the weather deteriorates and the trail goes away). He tells me he likes rough weather and prefers to make his own trail than follow one.
Hearing this come out of his mouth, I stop dead in my tracks, only to realize I am being sleeted upon as I trudge up a mountain with no trail.
Me? I like a trail. I love a roadmap. I value a guide. I especially love these when the weather is poor in the middle of nowhere.
Elliot? He likes to be the guide.
I like to know what the forecast will be, especially when I do not know where I am.
Elliot likes to be the forecaster.
Quite the pair we make eh?
So here I stand freezing, being pelted by ice, thinking about how this no-trail tricky-circumstance bullshit Elliot is into on our hike, which is supposed to be my vacation, is exactly how I do yoga asana.
Ah yes, the way Elliot likes to hike is the way I like to yoga.
I am the kind of outdoor gal that can handle a little drizzle or a hint of thunder but all in all I am fair weather hiker. This is in stark contrast to how I do yoga.
I am not a fair weather yogi. In fact, I, like Elliot on the mountain range, find that the more extreme the circumstances of the asana in shape and action, the more interesting the pose and practice. Some people call this kind of practice ‘advanced’. Meh, I do not think it is that so much actually.
Some days I call it idiotic, some days I call it neurotic, and some days I call it psychotic. Much like, I must say, I find it a little stupid to hike up an enormously steep climb in sleet even when I know the view of the glacial lake will be stunning. Much like how I stand in awe watching Elliot shamelessly and meticulously in his completely obsessive way pack all the items into our bags just so, double-checking the knots and straps. And much like how I simply can’t understand why this man would rather sleep outside alone in a sleeping bag in the middle of nowhere when he could sleep in a bed with a 200 thread count and a naked wife. That sounds cray cray to me. But you know, mama nature is calling.
All these silly pokes and jokes aside I get it.
Elliot hikes the way I yoga.
It’s a special breed of yogi who commits to practicing asana two hours a day. It’s a certain kind of pleasure-in-pain mentality when you go after poses, for the sake of the challenge of the pose and the potential vista or valley of beauty in our internal wilderness. Not many people go out for a hike and think, “Well that was a waist of time”. Likewise, I have never done a yoga practice where I thought: “Ugh that was a waist”. (Ok maybe once or twice when I attended a class I really disliked but even then, it really was not a waste of my time. Down dog just never seems wasteful to me.) To do all this inside body-hiking and somatic-mapping into the potentially uncharted and unseen territory internally while being willing to experience the changing weather patterns of one’s psyche and heart, is simply no small feat.
Sometimes when I practice, it is emotionally sleeting in my heart--my insides being pounded from some life experience. But I keep going amidst the freezing cold particles of soul-dust whipping up against my furrowed brow. Why? Well, because, the view is amazing. From the angle of the finished pose the view from inside is magnificent, even if it is emotionally overcast.
Of course there are times when I have to turn back. The circumstances of the pose mixed with my weather will on occasion combine in such a way that it is actually unsafe to go any further up the mountain of the pose. I have to turn back to camp. (Camp usually being down dog or child’s pose or, a heap on the floor). Even Elliot would agree that despite his love of inclement hiking weather, some days you do not get to summit.
The lighting gods stop for no one. The mountain does not get less steep.
The pose stops for no one. The pose always stands as it is.
And just like when the weather outside is what we might deem as perfect, not too hot, sunny with a bluebell sky, there are days I practice when my mood is bright, my heart full, and my practice like a steep but very doable uphill climb to the rewarding alpine lake.
My teacher and mentor will say: “we have to get lost to get found”. Well she is right.
Elliot is the master of loosing himself in the vast external nature of this gorgeous planet. And when he returns after these trips, he is ever more himself. I in compliment relish getting lost within the vast internal forests, valleys, and mountains of my inner wild. When I come back out, I too am ever more fully myself.
It is important to say here as well, that the reason Elliot can go off trail is that he is the master of reading a map and he wields his compass well. When he learns a lesson to help him guide himself (and others) into the wild he takes note and remembers it. He can go into the backcountry but he goes prepared.
Herein lies the next layer of this lesson.
I love being in the backcountry of my yoga practice. In fact I love looking at a pose and figuring out how to do it. But make no mistake; I also spend time researching the pose. I look at the routes other people took. I compare. I consider. All the lessons of the actions I learned in the less steep poses that came before and that are similar to the one I want to climb now, I carry in my mental backpack.
I do not go into the inner wild and leave my senses behind.
Elliot would be the first person to tell you that nature always wins.
Well, guess what? The pose always wins.
Mountains are unapologetic.
So is scorpion.
So sure, I love going where there is no trail. I love being the guide. And I especially thrive when the inner weather is ‘poor’. And see that’s just the thing. Elliot will never say the weather for outside is poor, he will just say the stakes are more intense. I too would never deem an emotional weather pattern poor. I just think it makes circumstances more potentially challenging. I also always carry a big pack of knowledge and tools with me into the depths. That way I can always find my way back to camp regardless of the weather. The inner compass never left behind.
So with that, what shall we say?
Onward and upward my friends…