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.
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.”
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.