I was down the rabbit hole earlier this week. In the burrow, that temporary refuge against exposure created on instinct and as a byproduct of locomotion. I found myself there after hiking 3000 feet up Ruby Mountain with the rising of the full moon in Capricorn. Interestingly, I had worked this moon cycle with the intention of experiencing more fun in my life and bringing better balance to the serious side of myself, which had felt burdened as of late. So, yeah, I see now what you probably already see. I hear you saying to me, with your head tilted to the side in mocked curiosity, “You were in search of fun so you climbed a mountain?”
Okay, so to be fair, it was the Wildflower Festival in Crested Butte, and what is more joyful than flowers? There was also that romantic reference of Julie Andrews atop the mountain singing the hills are alive. But yes, I hear you, romance is different than fun. So, while the July full moon, or Thunder Moon, was rising in earthy Capricorn, I made my way up to 12,000 feet above sea level where I could see with great perspective my day’s journey.
It was literally breath-taking. From that vista, my journey was reduced to a barely noticeable line that, while etched in the earth, at times skipped and disappeared completely. The waterfalls and rushing creeks that feed the mountain lakes became doll house versions of themselves. Avalanched snow bstrokes became painted brush strokes on the mountainsides, and the ever abundant wildflowers simply disappeared into the mountain valley of green. It was glorious, and at the top, catching my breath, I marveled at my endurance, my ability to survive such rigor. Certainly, I recognized that others have endured more, but I held a sense of satisfaction in my own accomplishment. By the time I had descended back down to 8909 feet I was surprised to discover that I was in a dark hole. Unbeknownst to me, I had been digging my way there all along. Sure, there were physiological reasons for my exercise-induced depression from lack of oxygen, withdrawal from high endorphin levels, and just pure exhaustion. But, as I considered my desperate feelings laced with tremendous anxiety, I knew I had been considering my immortality all along the hike. Can I do this? Will I make it? Could my heart beat right out of my chest? Would I run out of water?
It was no wonder I had metaphorically burrowed into the safety of the earth where the sides of the world would press up against me and hold me safely in place. I was under pressure on that mountain hike. Of my own making, for sure, and while real in my head and body, I am not implying that my self-imposed life or death crisis warranted the same social concern as other mountain journeys in everyday life, like clinical depression and anxiety, or loss of income or of a loved one. But, all the same, the experience provided me a relatively safe opportunity to practice the lessons of self preservation in the face of fear.
The sensations of deep sadness and panic were a surprise. Denial had been at work. It had protected me from my fears, but with enough time and pressure even denial cried “Uncle” and I felt scared and even hopeless. It came down on me like one of those avalanches I had crossed. I was underneath it, deep in it when I remembered to breathe. In for 4, hold for 2, and exhale for 6. Just three times and then I returned to my normal breath. I did it as often as was needed and it helped release me from my irrational self, that part that was scratching against the dirt, trying to take cover.
Okay, I am under pressure, I thought. Meet pressure with pressure, carefully though, without panic and with thought. I grounded in the present reality where I was NOT dying of lack of oxygen, but was laying on cool crisp white sheets. I could hear the sounds of children running outside my room and the smell of popcorn wafted through the open patio door. A patch of sunlight fell on the floor and I watched it fade over the time that I spent prone on the bed waiting my turn in the shower.
It took two days to find my way out of the labyrinth. That place of convolutions and distortions, mostly self-inflicted, and it required that I was my own best friend. Reminding myself to breathe, to notice my feet on the ground, to see literally where I was in each moment and experience that moment through my five concrete senses. “You are alive,” I told myself, “Wake up, you are alive.”
Did all that beauty scare the bejeepers out of me? Was it too much wonder for my brain to comprehend? Was I humbled in the glory? Over the course of my hike, my thoughts turned to love and loss. To my children and the desire for them to experience that mountain climb with me despite the impossibility; to creatures I had loved and laid to rest; to considerations that I am stronger than I thought I was; and, often, to the realization that even so, I am still vulnerable.
Lately, many of us have been asking the question: How do we live in a world full of such suffering? My answer is two-fold. 1. Trust that everyone has the right to live their own journey. 2. Find time and space to have fun and enjoy being alive.
In the midst of what you see as problematic, it can be difficult to recognize the opportunities. I can help you discover a new way of thinking that will assist you in managing and negotiating life’s obstacles. You will find that this new way of thinking provides you opportunities that you hadn’t previously noticed as well as affords you the confidence and desire to live your life in the driver’s seat.
Tami Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBCCH, HTP is a licensed psychotherapist who practices solution-oriented healing from a deep ecological perspective. Her specialities include hypnosis for anxiety, performance, and creativity. Sessions on-line or in Boulder, Colorado include cutting edge brain therapies that will change the way you think. Learn more at attentiontoliving.com