The story of how I found and fell in love with yoga – Part Two
I rock scrambled on Knife Edge, occasionally staring over at the sheer 4500-foot drop-off into nothingness on either side of me. I was talking to myself as I went, reminding myself to take it easy, stay low and breathe. One wrong move and I was toast. I had never done any hiking quite like this before, and I asked myself more than a few times what right I thought I had to be up on the ridge at all. (Especially since I didn’t wholly trust my body not to betray me.) All of my fear was compounded by the fact that I was scrambling with my brother. If one of us has to fall today, I offered up to the mountains, the sky, the wind, please let it be me.
My brother, Andrew, and I were on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine after having summitted Baxter Peak with my Dad and his two friends. Andrew and I opted to descend on a path that included the infamous and dangerous 1.1-mile-long ridge trail – the Knife Edge – while the other (smarter?) portion of our hiking party returned down the same route we had just spent the day ascending (which was certainly not without its own challenges.)
On Knife Edge we were in the clouds. The trail ahead and behind would disappear from view into foggy whiteness for a few minutes and it would seem as though Andrew and I were alone in the world on top of a cruel and rocky hellscape. (Think, like, Mordor.) Then the clouds would drift away and we would be awed by humbling, expansive beauty in every direction. We would periodically exclaim “Four on the floor!” – a fun reminder to stay low and ground down into the surrounding rocks with each limb. We laughed, we worried about my dad and his friends as we questioned our own sanity, and we philosophized about life. We even made trail friends with a group of boy scouts and their amazing guide.
It took over 2 hours to cross just over 1 mile of terrain that day. Somewhere along the way, as I shimmied over rocks and climbed a natural feature called a “chimney,” my fear converted fully into joy. The sense of humility that the mountains and vastness imposed on me was enlightening. This was the feeling of aliveness. My whole being buzzed with clarity, gratefulness and contentment. It was as if being so high up on a mountain allowed direct downloads from the ethereal space between my head and the stars – my body was the antenna and the connection was clear.
From what I have surmised, lots of people feel this same way in while extreme terrain and/or while pushing their bodies to the limit. Fortunately not everyone has to go to crazy lengths to tap into the feeling. People even catch a whiff of it for themselves at quiet neighborhood parks. It’s the sensation of being tuned into your brilliant vitality, while also knowing that this one life is very precious.
I felt something changing in me on the mountain, though I couldn’t pinpoint why or how. A gentle but powerful inner voice, familiar but oft ignored, caught my attention. The voice assured me that it was okay to be happy and to want to be happy in this life. That I wasn’t asking too much for myself to be embraced in stunning natural beauty more regularly, or to be working at a job that enriched my life and my connections. I let a vivid fantasy of life beyond my current job set soar. The voice told me that if I were to quit my job that it would be okay; I would figure it out. I didn’t have to know all the steps ahead of me on my life path – it was just important that I didn’t fall off the current path on top of the mountain.
I hadn’t dared to contemplate quitting my job so seriously. It felt “irresponsible.” But, honestly, yes – I was increasingly unhappy at my job and I was having more trouble each day making the most of it. The work felt shallow and I felt restless. I was only 25 and I wondered, Is this it?
All of the conditions on Knife’s Edge were right for me to hear and to trust my inner voice. My soul. I didn’t have these words to explain it to anyone at the time. I just had a giddy conviction that I could do whatever I wanted and that I should stop wasting time.
Having made it beyond the ridge, Andrew and I still had an arduous descent along a boulder-filled trail back to the car. (Where, hopefully, the rest of our hiking party would be waiting for us. They weren’t. That’s another story!) I was delirious. Loopy. We had been hiking since 6AM and it was now approaching the dinner hour. I kept asking my brother if we could lay down and nap in the middle of the trail (Let the bears have me! I don’t care!) and I butt-scooted down each rock ledge we encountered – I didn’t think my knees and ankles could bear another step. So I slid down a couple-thousand feet of a mountain on my ass.
Despite this delirium I still felt a deep, ringing clarity in my body, mind and soul about my mountain-top, cloud-tinged decision to quit my job and take more ownership of my life.
So I did just that: I returned home from my trip to Maine and I gave 2 months notice at my job. I didn’t have anything else lined up. Then I left the country for a month and half to visit Singapore and New Zealand.
When I returned home again I didn’t know what I would do with all my newfound free time, but it would turn out that I had plenty of time for yoga.
To be continued…