A Lesson from a Mountain


In Krabi, Thailand, there is a place called Tiger Cave Temple, a Buddhist
temple that sits on a mountain nearly 1,000 feet high (278 meters to be exact.) The cave got its name from a monk who, when meditating, claims to have seen tigers walking through the cave. Ever since, the site has been a popular tourist attraction that only the strong-willed can enjoy… after all, not everyone is willing to climb 1,237 steps to see a temple.

When I visited this place two summers ago with my brother and a friend we were staying with in Thailand, I was feeling disheartened about my journey. I had spent two years working and saving to fly my brother and I out to Thailand, but after being there for some time, I realized how difficult it was being in such a new place. Nobody spoke English. The food was not my favorite. I was always hot and always tired. It was all so new and overwhelming that I began to think I may not have been cut out for this adventure. I remember lying in bed after the first few nights and debating booking an early flight home – my doubts about the trip were far outweighing the adventure of it all and I didn’t know how to handle it.

But I kept on. I had worked too hard to get there and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t tough it out and give myself time to adjust.

At the end of the first week, we all flew to Krabi to spend a weekend at a resort owned by a friend of the friend we were staying with. The resort was surrounded with mountains that were lightly painted with trees and had soft edges that made the view gentler. The first night there, we made a short walk to the beach and watched the sunset before cruising the market for some street food. The next day, however, is when the real adventure kicked in and we headed to Tiger Cave Temple.

We all stood at the base looking at a sign that says “1,237 steps to top mountain” and watched as monkeys danced along the side. Our gazes shuffled between the sign and the top of the mountain and back to the sign again as we took everything in.

My Thai friends are all laughing and making comments about climbing to the top – some have done it before, some haven’t. They go back and forth between speaking Thai and English, so my brother and I stand to the side and take in our surroundings. Eventually we all come together (everyone speaking English, thankfully) and huddle around the bottom discussing how bad 1,000+ steps can really be and judge the expressions of others coming down as some sort of guide to decide if we should go up. After some discussion, we decide to make the trek, my brother and I being the first to start and one person staying behind with our stuff.

When the sign says 1,237 steps, it fails to mention that these are not normal steps. Some are small and could barely be considered a step, others are six inches or more and require a heap to get up. It wasn’t long before my legs were physically shaking, and I was drenched (and I mean absolutely soaked) in my own sweat. The 100+ degree heat, 90% humidity and physical exertion made it impossible to do this climb elegantly and I fully expected to look like a troll when I finished.

Thinking about all those steps doesn’t sound like something too terrible and it was easy to convince ourselves that we could do it. But in the actual doing, it became very evident how easily the mind had played us. There were multiple times when my brother would stop in fear that he was going to throw up and swear he couldn’t keep going. Occasionally, I would sit on a step trying to rest because my head was spinning so much from dehydration that I could barely see straight (did I mention I didn’t bring a water bottle?). I encouraged him to keep climbing, keep breathing, and he can do it – words I told myself the whole way up as well.

Ten steps. After a certain point, that’s all I could do before I had to stop and rest. I would would take ten steps then sit on the blue railing that lined the path to the top and look around. The trees were so thick that there was no way of telling how high you were and the only way of telling how far you had come were the signs that scattered their way to the top to let you know how many steps were left. People coming down from the top would give words of encouragement, telling us how worth it it is to get to the top and to keep going. I would smile at them and sigh with exhaustion because speaking was not something that I could do easily at that moment. But once I could breathe again, I would climb another ten steps.

You’d be surprised how much thinking you can get done when climbing a mountain. For a while I thought about my time running track (partially how I regretted quitting because I was very much out of shape – something this climb made very apparent.) But more specifically, I thought about my first time running in high school. I remember sitting in the car with my older brother as we headed to my first high school track practice. I was training with the long-distance team, which my older brother also ran for, and I was pretty nervous. My only previous track experience was field events so running six-eight miles a day was going to be a challenge and I knew it. My brother was telling me about what to expect; what the coaches were like, who the runners were, who to stay away from, etc. Then, as encouragement, he said to me, “your mind is stronger than your body, remember that.” This was nearly six years ago, and I still think about that quote every day.

As I climbed ten steps at a time, I kept my brother’s words close. “My mind is stronger,” I would mutter silently to myself. With each step, I would push anything physical I was feeling to a place deeper down and bring this thought further out. My mind is stronger than my body.

100 steps to go.

90 steps.

80.

I had never felt fatigue like I did when I was pushing through the last few steps, but my mind is stronger. If I believe I can do it, nothing else can stop me. It’s like Louis Zamperini once said, “If I can take it, I can make it.”

20 steps.

10 steps.

Final step.

I made it.

Without hesitation I made my way to a water fountain that had a small cup tied to the faucet with a string. I drank diligently until I felt even the slightest bit refreshed and my mind was a little clearer. I became strangely aware of the fact that all my clothes had soaked through with sweat and I didn’t even want to know what my face looked like. I was disgusting and I knew it. But when I made my way over to the edge and looked at where I was, nothing else mattered.

1,000 feet up and I could see everything. The tops of the trees felt small below. I could see the sections of land that were busy with people and the sections that were devoid of people but dedicated to agriculture or forests. I could see other temples peeking from the green scenery, their tops of gold or white standing out as the sun caused them to glow among their surroundings. I could see the dirt roads that cut sharply through the land and disappeared into the green. I could see everything.

I sat down as others made their way up the final steps and took in the view. My mind was running wild with thoughts. I thought about the past week and how I had debated leaving and how now I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I thought about the past two years and how hard I had worked to get where I am. I thought about my older brother and his encouraging words. I thought about the steps. All the steps and how all 1,237 of them brought me to where I was at that moment.

As far as I can remember, my thoughts stopped there. They didn’t go any deeper and I didn’t push for them to, I just brought myself back to the moment and found peace in the present. But as I reflect on my life now and I look back at my journey then, I realize the importance of everything I went through. I didn’t know it then, but I learned that sometimes in life, whether you can see your progress or not, whether you’re tired or not, whether you think you can make it or not, you just have to keep climbing.

Your mind is stronger than your body, and this mountain you’re climbing has nothing on your mind. Let its steep steps and willingness not to be climbed strengthen you. Let the ache in your body drive you. Let the doubts in your mind feul you. When the time comes, you will be humbled by the view from above. 

Getting Past the Fear

I have never had a fear that I haven’t done my best to face. When I was afraid of heights, I jumped from a cliff into waters that engulfed me and washed me from the tremble I felt before the leap. I climbed a mountain and veered over the edge, looking from a thousand feet at the ground below. I soared in planes above the clouds and watched out the window for hours until the sun set and there was noting left to see.

When I was afraid of speaking in public, I voluntarily took part in speech competitions and public speaking classes. I went out of my way to present first in classrooms and introduce myself to new crowds of people, forgetting to the best of my ability the lump in my throat that urged me not to speak.

When I was afraid to love, I loved deeper and harder than I had thought possible. I opened my heart and let the love pour out because I knew no good would come from holding it back and a life without experiencing love was not one I wanted to live, despite my fear.

And while I understood the sense of fear that came with each fall, stutter, and heartache, I also experienced the liberation that came with facing the very things I had never before thought to endure. There was freedom with each word I spoke. Freedom with each jump I made. Freedom with each beat of my heart.

I wonder, then, what I am so scared of now. If I am a repeated champion of facing what I fear most, what is there left to fear? If I know that in the moment my legs may shake and my heart may beat a little faster but I will ultimately stand tall and firm, what is there to worry about?

I believe life revolves around the conquering of the very things that try to hold us back. We must live with a trust that there is something just beyond our fears; our worries; our doubts. We trust that the water will break our fall and that the view will be worth the climb. Our attitude in day-to-day life should be the same. Even when the rain is pouring down and you can’t see a break in the clouds lasting long enough for your bones to dry, you trust that the storm will end eventually and the warmth from the sun is only so far away.

I’m starting to learn how the only way to combat fear of even the most natural of things like uncertainty is to simply trust.

Facing fear isn’t about bravery or strength, it’s about trust.

There is freedom and peace in the fall, but first you must get past the fear of the jump and trust in the landing.

To The One Who Broke My Heart…

To the one who broke my heart, thank you.

Thank you for leaving me shattered and alone as I was left to pick up the pieces you left behind. Because of this, I have been able to see how every part of me comes together to create the beautiful and strong woman I am.

Thank you for not being able to love me the way I wanted to be loved. I can see now the kind of love I deserve. I can see now that the love I want needs to come from myself and the love I need will show itself in a call from an old friend or a sunrise after a night full of tears. It will not come from someone who’s not ready to give it to me.

Thank you for not making me the only one you wanted. You showed me how little I wanted myself and how much I relied on others to feel wanted. I will not make that mistake again. I will learn to want myself.

Thank you for not fighting for me. You not choosing to fight for me to stay in your life gave me every reason to fight for myself. My mom has always said you need to pick and choose your battles, and though understanding why I wasn’t someone worth fighting for has been a tough thing to come to terms with, I know I am coming out a stronger fighter because of this particular battle I now face.

But most importantly, thank you for teaching me how to love. Opening up my heart to you was one of the greatest and scariest things I had ever done, and despite the way things turned out, I do not regret a thing. The brokenness I feel is only a sign of the healing I needed and the wholeness that is coming.

To the one who broke my heart, thank you. You have made all the difference in making me who I am.

Grace

My mom and I have this thing where we say to each other a line from the song Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol – “I need your grace to remind me to find my own,” it says. Almost every time I’m home or if one of us is going through a rough time, we lay on the cold kitchen floor and play this song as loud as it can go – one or both of us crying but feeling peace as this line flows from the speakers. In times where I’m feeling particularly down, this phrase is almost always guranteed to cross the depths of my mind and make its way to my heart. In each low point of my life, before I even know it, I’m longing for grace.

When I was younger, my mom used to joke around saying she should have named me Grace because of how clumsy or, better yet, ungraceful, I could be. It’s funny how that word has taken on a new meaning to us now.

Grace can mean a lot of things. It can mean elegance, goodwill, blessing, prayer, etc. With all the different meanings it possesses, I could ask for grace a thousand different times over and still ask for something new each time. The one thing that stays the same, though, no matter who I’m asking, be it my mom, God, or anyone else, the point is that I’m asking for something that I lack – I’m asking for a reminder or a renewal of something I am in need of.

I’m at this point in my life where I need grace from everyone around me, everything within me, and my God above me. I need grace because I know I have fallen short a thousand and one times, but I will always try to do right by that. I need grace because I am far from perfect, but I am looking for perfection in everything I find. I need grace not because I deserve it, but because I don’t deserve it. I need grace so I can better learn to give it.

I need grace to be reminded of the grace I already have.

Moving Forward

I’ve never been good at letting things go, be it a physical object, a person, or a situation. I’m a border-line hoarder (I still have my corsage from my senior homecoming pinned to my wall ???); I’ll stalk people who aren’t in my life anymore on social media because I’m curious about what they’re up to and I’ll still make jokes and comments about situations that happened years ago. It’s not that I dwell on anything from my past, I just have an easier time moving forward rather than moving on.

To me, moving on implies forgetting or letting go completely and that’s simply not something that I can do a lot of times. I always hold out hope for something more – for a possibility to come. I’ll think, “maybe I’ll need this item someday,” or “maybe things will work out with this person” and I’ll keep going with this “what if” hopefull mindest.

But it’s not even just that. By moving forward I’m allowing myself to hold on to the memories and lessons that came with something, which I couldn’t do if I were to simply move on and forget. Moving forward means taking things day by day, going through the motions as needed, but never losing sight of the things or people that got you to where you are and molded you along the way.

I don’t see this is as necessarily a good or bad thing, I see it more as an accurate representation of my optimistic mindset and the way I romanticize things, which is a part of me that will probably never change. With the new year coming close, people tend to have this idea that they need to move on from whatever happened to them in the year prior in order to make the next year better. But why? Why is it so important to move on? To act like nothing happened? To continue about your life with a negligent attitude to the past?

I’ll be the first to say that this year was not the best. I think I’ve lost myself a lot along the way and it hasn’t been easy, but I don’t plan on moving on from it all and forgetting.

I know that things will work themselves out one way or another in this new year, whether it’s because of things I actively do or things that happen simply because they were meant to happen. But I’m going to take all of the heartache, lessons, and memories from this year and use them to drive me forward in to the next year.

Just like the corsage on my wall reminds me of something great, I’ll let this past year remind me of something too. I won’t move on; I’ll just keep moving forward.