In 2006 I led a three-month expedition in the Yukon and Alaska. It was a truly epic trip (and I don’t use the word ‘epic’ freely). We backpacked for the first month in the mountains, and were later met with a float plane and switched gear for a month of mountaineering. The first month was dreamy with regular northern summer weather of rain, snow and sun. I was working with two hilarious men, and it was a fairly normal month of teaching and expedition travel.
The second month we continued on without going into town. We received a new instructing team (aside from myself) and supplies via float plane. That month was savage; not only was I carrying a pack that was almost two thirds of my body weight, we had two of the scariest river crossings I’ve ever done. We also ran out of food for four days and my friend and colleague had a microwave-size chunk of ice land on him while we were ascending a mountain. We then spent four days in tents being hammered by weather, waiting for it to clear to have him airlifted to hospital.
I remember thinking that this couldn’t get any worse. It continued to be challenging, and I remember wishing it away. I wanted to fast forward my life. The final month was on a river, a challenging river at the best of times. But I was completely depleted and we’d lost the other instructor prior to the trip, so it was just myself and another man leading and teaching people to navigate white water and unpredictable hazards in one of the most remote areas of the world. I LOVE being on the river, but I was so lost in my inner conflicts that I remember distinctly trying to wish it away.
I wasn’t present a lot of the time. I was dreaming about what I was going to do when I was done. I was being challenged emotionally and physically, and I wanted to escape the discomfort. I lost perspective. I couldn’t enjoy myself because I was saturated with my frustrations and fantasies of how life should be easier. Less than a month after I was done with this expedition I was to head to Europe with my family to attend a wedding.
I spent countless hours dreaming of being there instead of remaining present. I imagined what I’d do, how much better it would be, all the things I would do that would make my life better and how I deserved it. Looking back, it feels surreal. I didn’t appreciate where I was or the opportunity I was living. I just kept wanting to fast forward my life. I spent the next decade doing the same thing. Wishing away the present and fantasizing about a future filled with better moments. I didn’t appreciate the people who were in my life or the immense privilege I had created.
It’s easy to escape reality with technology stealing our attention or by filling our worlds with work, family, volunteering and hobbies. We then try to fit in outdoor activities, hobbies, socializing and quality time with the people we love. I think having a full life is part of nurturing one’s emotional well-being. But having a full life in order to avoid feeling is unhealthy.
I like being busy. I thrive with a full schedule. But I have to watch my desire to hide from my loneliness or my feelings of being unlovable and my fear of not being enough. If I fill those feelings with things that keep me busy, it creates anxiety and discontentment in my body. When I allow those feelings to be present and create space to honour them, I find ease and peace in my body; I stop striving for things outside of myself to ease my tension. Practices like yoga, meditation, breathwork and practicing self-awareness help me allow those parts of myself to be present, and I stop running from them. They’re allowed, and I can have a full life yet still be present. I’m not wishing away my days for some imagined future.
As for my trip to Europe all those years ago, it was OK. I enjoyed some of my time with family while other parts were not great. To think I’d spent so much time wishing away my days on the river makes me sad. How little I appreciated what I had! As I wrote about last week, I think some of it comes from believing I was entitled to whatever I wanted, how I should be happy, and how I thought I was owed that.
All these years later, I live a content life. I’ve learned to listen to what feels good in my life, and I’ve stopped holding on to the things that don’t feel good. I’m able to appreciate my daily life, the people in it, my business and my health.
In this time of deep emotional turmoil in our country, I think it’s focusing on the drama that continues to bring up so much unsteadiness in our souls. Don’t ignore the things that require your voice, but if we were to stop getting pulled into all the drama we could ease our collective tension. We can do this by paying attention to our lives, connecting to what feels good on a daily basis and making space for pain and disappointment.
Don’t spend your life wishing for tomorrow or the end. Think about how much you’ll miss by imagining a better future and missing the good in today.