If you’re feeling down, you won’t find the answers there. Look up and all around you.
My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far beyond the road I have begun,
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has an inner light, even from a distance-
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
“So how is that perfect?” she asked me.
I wanted to reach through the phone and bop my coach on the head with my journal. Everything in my life was on fire, and I was about to be taken out from the toxic smoke fumes. And she was asking me how all that was perfect in a chirpy tone.
“Um, well, hmmmm. I can’t see how it is,” I replied. I started to sketch a hand shooting a bird in the margin of my journal page. All I wanted to do was get off the phone and away from her. Luckily, our time was up, and I could bolt for the exit.
I laced up my hiking boots and drove to the Whiteside Mountain trailhead. I tucked my journal into my jacket pocket with a pen and started up the mountain. Step by step, my annoyance and frustration grew and started gathering briars and shards of glass from other shitty thoughts that had been hanging out on the sidelines of my brain, just itching to get in the game.
Step, step. Grumble. Grumble. I started holding court for the wet, mossy rocks along the trail bank, airing my grievances out loud.
“How is that perfect?!!! Gimme a break! I’m drowning, and she’s lobbing asinine questions from the safety of the ship’s bow instead of throwing me a $#@! life preserver!”
Feeling Down in Blinding Peril
I was feeling down but kept climbing. I made the last turn before the summit, and then the expansive view of layer upon layer of mountains—green, blue, and the faintest purple—lay before me like the understanding, nurturing lap of a grandmother.
I let my shoulders drop back into position and exhaled. I walked over to my favorite rock and sat down, feeling down, with my feet tucked under my crossed legs. I scanned around me to see if anyone else was near.
“Good. Just the mountains and me.”
I wanted to cry, to let it all go. But I was like a toddler who had waited too long to take a much needed nap. I was too wired and amped in anger to cry. I fixed my gaze outward to the mountains and fell into a trance.
A peregrine falcon took loops in the thermals just below the horizon. Circling upward, upward, and then coasting. Circling upward, upward, and then coasting.
“Smart bird. Let the warm air push you up, saving wing time and exertion.”
I pulled out my journal and pen.
In large, block letters I wrote HOW IS THIS PERFECT? at the top of the page with my black, Flair tip pen. Underneath, I started filling line and after line with more whining, complaining, fretting, and fuming. I raged on and on, page after page.
I closed my journal, placed it in my lap and started to cry in jerky sobs. The clog of anger had finally given way, and the torrent of water could now flow.
I heard voices behind me and was startled awake into self-consciousness. I ducked my forehead into my sweatshirt and wiped my face. The hikers moved over to the view side facing east, away from me.
The Perspective of Possibility
“Look at those falcons!” one of the hikers yelled.
I turned to see, too. Watching two, three, then four falcons in formation riding the thermals. Gentle, easy. Playing in the air without effort. Letting themselves be pulled up, up, up before gliding on the invisible currents.
I opened my journal again. Underneath the furious scrawl, I wrote: How is this perfect? I can absolutely go for whatever I can imagine because I have nothing to lose.
I realized that ever since the nightmare began, all I had been doing was feeling down, looking DOWN. Worrying, wondering, is this bottom? This? Maybe this? I had relinquished all of my creating energy to looking toward what I didn’t want. What I didn’t want to have happen.
Now, in this moment, I was finally looking UP. I could look toward what I wanted to have happen. What I wanted to create. What I wanted to clutch out of the burning embers, and what I wanted to leave behind to burn and turn to ash.
“This is a magical place, isn’t it?” one of the hikers asked me as they headed toward the ridge.
“It is my spiritual home,” I said, nodding. And then, under my breath, I said, “it’s Rilke’s sunny hill.”
I slid off my rock perch and headed down the mountain.
Stepping through the small streams made from the rain from overnight, I knew I could choose to let the dream of what was next gently pull me toward it. I could look up and fix my gaze upon Rilke’s sunny hill toward Possibility, instead of down at Peril.
I could choose Rilke’s sunny hill as my guidepost along the way. I could ask myself if this thought, this action, this mindset is taking me closer to my sunny hill or pushing me further away? Like orienteering with a fixed point and a compass, I could continue to course correct in the moment.
I could take a playful approach to catching the thermals that were all around me, but invisible when looking down and glide, glide, glide.