Hike #5: Motivation
A good hike has its own value in physical exercise, sunshine, and being out among the precious living things that comprise our world. Good scenery is nice too: geology, geomorphology, sky.
Yet as I’ve said before, hiking, too, is a metaphor. It is a window into thoughts, a door into insights. As I was hiking this week to Ward Spring in Big Bend National Park, I remembered favorite hiking buddies. Whose qualities can be described similarly to all kinds of travel buddies. We each have different qualifications and values on all those fronts. A former travel buddy opined, “The faster I go, the more I can see.” Yet for me, the opposite is true. The slower I go, the more I can see. Is it a literal desire, or metaphor?
Ward Spring trail is my favorite hike so far this year. Simply a walk across the flat to a spring and small canyon coming out of the Chisos Mountains. But not simple in that it climbs five hundred feet over 1.8 miles, a perfect (for me), steady incline with a couple of steep spots that caused me to scramble down on my butt on the way back. Near the end, the trail drops down in the wash that leads to the spring. Before I get to any trees or brush marking the presence of water, I smell it. A downward breeze brings a dank of mud—a smell so remarkable in the desert.
Continuing up the wash I am visited by a pyrrhuloxia and flittering sparrows. The pyrrhuloxia is a cardinal-like bird with a ridiculously fat seed-cracking beak. They gather sometimes in Marfa in the winter, in large flocks. I say hello and continue on until the trail peters out, up the side of the wash overlooking the thicket of vegetation protecting the spring. A perfect rock presents itself for a rest, a snack, and shadow pictures.
Invariably, how I reflect on a hike is flavored by my Sunday meditation practice. I “go” to church with my mom in the morning, and then afternoons I’ve been meditating and listening to dharma talks by a favorite teacher Larry Ward. Ward, hmm, like the spring. OK, good opportunity to bring him in.
Ward published last year a book called America’s Racial Karma. I have found some of his talks from the time he was finishing the book. Through a lens of history, he teaches about the roots of our racial suffering that impact every single person. He sets a profound challenge to become a bodhisattva, one who relieves suffering in the world; we all have the responsibility and capability to do our part for change. Ward writes of a mercy he envisions:
Mercy is, first, offering a safe space for those who appear to be other. How do I
recognize when I am in such a space? Well, my body relaxes, I feel at ease, and my
nervous system is no longer in a state of hypervigilance. In a safe space, I am nourished
by the taste of being welcome in my own skin just as it is, and all my gifts and talents
can reveal themselves with joy, encouraged and supported enough to learn and
grow. We feel beloved.
Father Mike is looking for that space too, preaching today about the need to live a life motivated by love. Together, these messages resonate with a clear need and purpose in myself: how do I learn to love the world?
In a little while, I will put on my daily Yoga with Adriene with an unassuming bodhisattva of breath and movement, our dear love muffin Adriene and her dog Benji, reinforcing my journey. Maybe another word for bodhisattva is understated superhero.
As I hike the moderate uphill, I think about struggle. The kind of struggle that is surmountable and leads to accomplishment. I have a leaky heart valve that doctors agree is really nothing for me to worry about. Yet, the inefficiency it causes has been explained by my doctor as a contributing factor to the way I huff and puff up the hills on a hike. I have always been this way. Even when I trained hard for months for my big hikes, I was easily winded. I pay attention to my breath on the uphill, counting steps against breaths, slowing down when they are one to one. On very steep and switch-backed sections I must stop. That’s why I so enjoy the Ward Spring trail. I huff and puff and count, and modified my speed accordingly, and keep going.
Isn’t that how we like our challenges? Pushed to our edges, but not exceeding them? Where is that edge for me as I try to learn to love the world? What a strange goal, anyway? But why else be here?
What motivates me to hike is the perseverance it breeds, the knowledge that struggle and difficulty don’t need to be a deterrent. Yogi Adriene reminds me, “You are strong.” Her words help me along the trail. And the lesson spills out all over my life. Because being able to do a good, hard hike is nice—but only in as much as those lessons get transferred over.
If we are to be motivated in this life and in this world by love, we need the fortitude to see it through. And that can be s o e f f i n g h a r d. Recognizing that it is hard and doing it anyway is a quality and value worth embracing, and worth practicing.