One of the things I love about hiking mountains is that I always learn about life and myself. This held true while climbing Mt. Washington, the tallest mountain in New Hampshire, this past July.
The most powerful insight I gained from Mt. Washington was how susceptible we are to the power of suggestion, and how damaging it can be if we are not aware of when it is acting upon us.
When I arrived at the base of the mountain, there were several signs posted warning of avalanches and falling ice. The rangers I spoke with echoed this warning. While I am never one to do something stupid at elevation, especially when I am hiking alone, I didn't get a sense that the ranger had a real conviction about his warning. My intuition told me that the trail wasn't really that bad and that the ranger was erring on the side of caution.
So, I decided to take the risk and go up the trail.
While it may at first seem like I am about to make a big mistake, I should share that after 30 years of hiking, I enjoy taking measured risks, but rarely, if ever, will I take stupid ones. I decided I would continually assess the trail and if at any time I felt the danger level was too high, I would backtrack and take a safer trail up the mountain.
As it turns out, my intuition was right. The trail was not impassable or dangerous. Yes there was snow and ice. Yes the rocks up the vertical ravine were wet and slippery. But at no time did I feel my life was in danger.
But here is what did occur along the way.
My mind ran with the suggestion that there was danger. All I could think about on this gorgeous day was a huge chunk of ice the size of a Volkswagen barreling down the mountain and crushing me like a bug. The amount of fear I felt was distracting. Butterflies filled my stomach and my legs were unsteady.
My mind was preoccupied with what I would do if this did occur. What would be the best way to survive an avalanche in the terrain I was hiking? What rocks would I seek shelter behind? Did my phone have reception to call for help? Was there anyone else on the trail that I could hike with or assess whether the trail ahead was safe?
I was completely focused on the fear rather than the beauty and peace of the trail.
Sadly, the only place any danger existed was in my head. There was no real danger on the trail. All of my fear was the result of a suggestion of danger.
And that's the thing about fear and worry: we become consumed by something that is not real and does not actually exist, and it takes us out of the reality and beauty of the present moment. And that is a total waste of time and energy.
Many of us live our lives in a space of fear and worry that is usually based on asuggestion rather than reality . . . which if you think about it, is the equivalent of living in a land of make believe. At least when we were kids, the land of make believe was something to aspire to and was filled with rainbows, unicorns, lots of candy and happy endings.