When I turned 31, I climbed the mountain that overlooks my hometown. It stands at just under 13,000 feet in elevation. I hit the trail at 6 AM, and the unobstructed sunrise was pure magic. The hike is predominantly uphill, and I crossed through many different landscapes over the four hours it took to summit. Dirt paths, small creeks, wide open meadows, and massive boulders above tree-line, make the physical experience dynamic.
Reaching the top is a unique kind of high— literally and spiritually. The 360° views are unmatched, and the accomplishment tasted sweet. My smile stretched from ear to ear for the full 20 minutes that I stood on top of that mountain. Interestingly, that was the extent of time I wanted there. Just a brief moment of taking it all in after 4 hours of tackling the inclines, and I was ready to head down.
Pain That Grows You
From the research I had done prior to my hike, I was prepared for the trek off the summit to have its own challenges — ones that would likely rival those faced on the way up. I remember how my quads burned and my shins screamed at me more intensely with every step I took toward the trailhead. It was the kind of pain that refused to be ignored and it was saying, “This is a good pain. It’s worth it. This pain is growing you for the better”.
Having successfully covered a great deal of ground, I found myself in the familiar meadow I passed through in the early morning light. The wildflowers were breathtaking and I involuntarily stopped in my tracks, just to take in their beauty. It was captivating. And as if the message had been waiting impatiently all day to bestow itself upon me, an eager voice presented in my ear: “you must live among the wildflowers; for it is lonely at the summit”.
Instantly, I thought of all the memos we receive as Americans from a very young age. Material wealth equals success. Good things come to those who hustle. The early bird gets the worm. So on and so forth.
I have been surrounded by striving for the best throughout my life, outside myself and even more intensely inside my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the examples of hard work and ambition that have been set for me. I am also grateful that my personality pushes me to exceed “subpar” and “mediocre”.
By the same token, the older I get, the more I understand how sacred it is to have the security to stand on my own two feet, in complete acceptance of my flaws, edges, softened curves, and humble knowing. To be unapologetically myself without demanding anything more, or less.
Greater Strength, Deeper Wisdom
Being up at the peak was thrilling. Also, I knew it wasn’t sustainable and didn’t have much more than the view and the story to offer. It was remarkable in its own right, and a feat indeed to have made it there. Similarly, material wealth, capital gain, high social status, and bookcases filled with prestigious awards are feats, too, and remarkable to achieve. I don’t wish to take away from those accomplishments. But what is sacrificed to make it to the proverbial top? And when the curtain closes, what remains? It’s lonely at the summit.
On my way down the mountain, the pain in my legs was like the hurt I feel when life forces me to grow in new ways. Tragic losses, daily challenges, removed relationships, and other struggles, urge me to build greater strength and gain deeper wisdom. Facing the un-evolved parts of myself can be an uncomfortable experience, but I’ve discovered the only way out, is through.
Surrounded By Acceptance, Growth, and Unique Beauty
Standing there, amongst the wildflowers, I felt warmth from the inside out. It felt like love, like being surrounded by acceptance, growth, and unique beauty. Each element offered the best of what it had, and presented a cohesive harmony, welcoming me, just as I am, to stay as long as I’d like. It was a stark contrast to the top of the mountain.
I was raised to treat others the way I want to be treated and spend time around people who make me feel good about myself. I was taught to leave the places I go and people I encounter better than I found them, and aim for balance by keeping everything in moderation. The peace I felt while standing in that high country meadow embodied those lessons for me. “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms”. So, as appealing as the top might seem, I want to live among the wildflowers.