The Experience that was Meant to Be – DNF at the UROC 100k

“Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now. As you become more deeply aware of this one step, you realize that it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination. This one step then becomes transformed into an expression of perfection, an act of great beauty and quality. It will have taken you into Being, and the light of Being will shine through it. This is both the purpose and fulfillment of your inner journey, the journey into yourself.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now


“YOU SHOULD ALWAYS GO FUTHER THAN YOU SHOULD GO” – painting on the wall at Cafe Mobius in Silverton

I walked slowly and gingerly through the mud and melted snow which made up the Grand Traverse trail along the top of Vail Mountain, pain and stiffness torturing me with my every movement. The late afternoon light was exquisite–warm, yellow, comforting. The wind blew gently from the snow covered Mount of the Holy Cross on the horizon to my left, over my head, and on to the similarly adorned and equally as beautiful Gore Range across the valley to my right. I was somewhere around 45 miles and 8 hours into the UROC 100k trail race and I had just decided to give it up, I was walking to the next aid station where I would drop from the race. Surprisingly I felt totally at peace with the decision and knew that this was exactly what was meant to be on this day. I happily plodded along in the sun, watching the hawks soar overhead, and trying to understand all the lessons that this experience was supposed to teach me…

I had entered the Ultra Race of Champions about seven weeks prior after a lengthy discussion with a newly made friend, Edward Sandor, at a table in Cafe Mobius in Silverton, on a dreadful day where it was pouring rain outside. We had started up a conversation after noticing that we were each runners, something which was pretty obvious as we were both wearing running clothes. He hails from Minnesota and is a seasoned ultra-runner, touring the mountain west with his wife Alicia and their dog, running crazy long mountain trail races along the way. I took the opportunity to try to glean any nuggets of wisdom I possibly could from someone who runs much further than I typically do. The most prescient of these nuggets was that if you wait until you feel you are ready to run crazy long ultra races, you will never do it, cause really you are never ready. You just have to pull the trigger and jump into the deep end, and as far as he was concerned, a person couldn’t possibly do so soon enough. The conversation eventually ended with him telling me, “I will be extremely disappointed if I hear you didn’t end up running UROC!” So, buoyed by his belief in me and suckered by his “wisdom,” I registered a few days later.

ready?

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Solo in the Weminuche

“Mountain peaks are special places that can build energy in whomever sits on them.” – James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy
“The eternal present is the space within which your whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant. Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Power

Living your life completely in the present moment is a lot easier said than done. To dwell constantly on the details or events of the past, or to look forward relentlessly towards the future seems to be the pretty common human condition. It seems that either the present moment is not how we wish it was because something happened in the past that made it the way it is, or that the past was so much brighter than this moment, we just wish we could have those times back. Or on the flip-side, we can’t wait for what will happen to us, we just wish it was the future already, christmas can’t come soon enough, and this moment is just one to be endured on the way towards that rosy future. Then again, perhaps we are anxiously worrying about the future because we don’t know what will happen and don’t feel like we have enough control, and so can’t be happy right now because of our self-induced stress and tension. But to be present in the now is the teaching of virtually all the spiritual traditions, and it makes perfect sense, because it is indeed true that nothing ever happens any other time but right now, so why not embrace the only time which actually is?

For the past few weeks I have been trying to find a place to live in Silverton while camping out of my car in a nearby valley. With the constant logistical challenges of daily afternoon and evening rain, trying to store food in a cooler, cook stoves breaking, varmint invasions, and not enough money for the amount of eating out and drinking I found myself doing just for the luxury of being indoors, I slowly began to lose my acceptance of the present moment, which I found more and more uncomfortable by the day. I found myself yearning for a future in which I had a roof over my head and a kitchen in which I could cook food, or sometimes spent time dreaming about the past, when I actually had a home and all the material possessions which make our little human nests so comfortable and convenient. The blissful joy of not having a true care in the world, no matter what was actually happening to me, which I carried within myself upon coming back from Asia slowly evaporated, but I was not present enough to watch it happen, rather, it just happened, and I was left frustrated.

But then I did find a home, a large and comfortable home which is exceedingly cheap to rent, does not have a leaky roof, and has a plentiful kitchen and even a refrigerator. The inconveniences of weeks past were now solved, but the undiscriminating joy and bliss had not returned, because I did not realize that they had even left. Granted, I was not unhappy, had not reverted to my old mr. grumpy pants ways, it’s just that something minor had been misplaced without knowing it. Luckily I have learned to listen well enough to the voice in my head which often seems, and very likely is not, my own voice, which was pretty emphatically saying, “Go backpacking!” So into the wild I went…

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The Silverton Alpine Marathon

“Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.” Don Juan, The Teachings of Don Juan

 

“Set a goal to achieve something that is so big, so exhilarating that it excites you and scares you at the same time. It must be a goal that is so appealing, so much in line with your spiritual core, that you can’t get it out of your mind. If you do not get chills when you set a goal, you are not setting big enough goals.” Bob Proctor 

The beautiful San Juans

For a while now, I have been living my life in a mode where only one thing matters above all else: personal growth and self-betterment. After sampling spiritual practices from all over the world and trying to integrate what I like into my own practice, while also realizing that any true path to self-betterment will include a spiritual aspect, I have come to the conclusion that the path which will lead me to the most personal growth is one of committing myself to being the very best that I can possibly be. Nothing less than actually knowing that I have realized every ounce of my potential is good enough. I don’t think it matters what activity or discipline I choose to pursue, it is the intent that matters. Whether or not there is money to be gained from this path is also irrelevant, as the true wealth I gain will be experienced in the opportunities, friendships, and realizations made, the higher vibrations attained, while running this disciplined and committed path. Only once in my life do I ever remember committing all my energy for an extended period of time towards something that I knew I could eventually accomplish, yet was never-the-less very difficult to stay committed to, and I often look back at it as one of my most rewarding lessons. This time I plan to go way beyond that, because this time I have no idea what I might be able to accomplish…

I want to know just how far I can go, how high I can fly, how much inspiration I can disseminate into this world, what it feels like to actually know that I could not have possibly tried harder! I am going to follow this path as long as it takes! I don’t have to eventually be the very best, I just have to eventually be MY very best. It seems to me that in order to accomplish the most that you actually can, then you may need to set goals for yourself that may frankly seem totally ludicrous. I have set such goals for myself, and indeed they are so ludicrous that I do not even feel comfortable sharing them yet. I still laugh at myself when I think of these goals, “what a crazy nut!” These goals are so big that they simultaneously “excite and scare” me. It may in fact be possible to accomplish these goals, we shall have to wait and see how this mystery develops, but if in fact they prove to be impossible for me, at least they are big enough that I will end up at my limit trying to reach them! “Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars!”

If you know anything at all about me, and I am guessing you do, then you may be able to guess that my path of choice is mountain running. That’s the path with heart for me, and so I happily and blindly follow it! I can surrender everything to the mountains, and trust in them absolutely to teach me everything that I will need to know, and so I will…

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The Mobius Strip

“The Möbius strip … can easily be created by taking a paper strip and giving it a half-twist, and then joining the ends of the strip together to form a loop. The Möbius strip has several curious properties. A line drawn starting from the seam down the middle will meet back at the seam but at the “other side”. If continued the line will meet the starting point and will be double the length of the original strip.” Wikipedia

Arrow Peak reflected in the surface of a pond along the Colorado Trail.

Meditations, visions, yearnings, intuitions – all conspired to draw me here to Silverton, Colorado. Forces pulled me here from the other side of the world in a series of events that made no logical sense and ended up costing me almost all of the money I had saved for traveling. And yet, in my moments of greatest clarity I realized that logic has nothing to do with making the decisions that really matter, or it shouldn’t anyway. Lists of pros and cons, factors weighed against each other in some mathematical formula which will somehow lead to the “correct” decision should be discarded completely. This is the old way of thinking about what we are doing, where we are going, or what we should do – the new way needs none of these things, and is not bound or contained by any meticulousness or “reason.” The new way knows what needs to happen, where needs to happen, who needs to be met, and the only true action that needs to be taken is to be sure to stay in the current, not to get dragged off into a swirling, stagnating eddy. Bumping down the river, rock to rock, being mindful to pay attention to where the current bends and twists so as to keep moving forward, progressing, learning. An open heart is the guide…This is the new way, my new way…

Vestal Peak and the Wham Ridge bathed in sunlight.

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Soul Rebel – Trekking the Khumbu

“If you’re not living good, I beg you to travel wide, travel wide.” – Bob Marley, Soul Rebel

“Feel them Spirit…I rule my Destiny.” – Bob Marley, Put It On 

As Paulo and I walked out of Namche Bazaar on a stunningly clear morning towards the west and our eventual destination for the day of Thame, we looked up at the mountains surrounding us, very short by Khumbu standards, but wonderfully adorned with a fresh snow from the previous evening’s storm. I asked Paulo, “what do you think the frame is for this trek, what is the general theme?” We had been in Nepal adventuring about for over two months at that point, and to us it had felt like each thing we had done and place we had visited had been imbued with a special purpose as it related to our own journey. By the time we had walked out from Annapurna Base Camp we understood the meaning of our pilgrimage there, and had left the past up there in the snow, in the past, where it belonged. As we followed the long circuit around the Annapurna Massif we spun the wheel of our lives back into action from the stagnant, stalled state which they had degenerated into. Upon our return to Pokhara we felt like we had a purpose again, there was a path in front of us that we understood and could follow, life had motion. A week of intensive practice at Sadhana Yoga Center had taught us some methods by which to implement our quest for self-betterment, and had more importantly intoxicated us with a fresh breathe of progress. So in a way, as we embarked on another 20 days of wandering around the mountains, something we were getting fairly proficient at, I wondered if perhaps this mission would merely entail sightseeing, if perhaps the mountains had given us all that they could for this go-around, and hoped that as we walked we wouldn’t fall into some form of spiritual holding pattern, a bardo.

The path we walked in the early morning sunshine traversed along a south-facing slope through pine and rhododendron forests. The rhododendrons were in full bloom at this particular altitude, which was incredible because it seems that everywhere we have walked in this mountainous country, for three months, the rhododendrons have been blooming. Instead of the ubiquitous pink and sometimes dark, rose-like red, this day we experienced a pale off-white interspersed with yellow, a color grouping we had not yet seen. Trampling the carpet of fallen blossoms below his feet and strolling beneath the canopy of still hanging blossoms above him, Paulo replied something like, “I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been waiting for it to hit me, what this trek is supposed to be all about, what we are supposed to learn. But we didn’t know at the beginning of the other trips either.” Patience: ponder it and walk on, through meadows, under rocky peaks, across clear brooks, past monasteries, and through our minds…

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Surrender

“I see whatever exists as good, death is to me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness, everything has to be as it is, everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever harm me. ” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

At the end of the second hour long mediation session of the day at Sadhana Yoga Retreat, I lay back on my yoga mat, eyes closed, and had the sudden Inspiration to write a blog about “Surrender.” The meditation session had gone very well. Besides feeling like I spent the entire time in the present moment, which can be quite a challenge while meditating, I had managed to spend the entire session with my legs crossed in the Sukhasana position, without having my feet go to sleep or having to spend most of the session trying to detach from the incredible pain. The Sukhasana position involves bending the right leg so that the foot sits on the floor right up next to the crotch and then bending the left leg so that the left foot lays on top of the right foot. Four days into our retreat, I was making progress!

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Spinning the Wheel

“…More than just going with the flow, joe; conscious living means remembering the flow goes always through you, and your healthy needs and wishes, creativity, imagination, aspiration and dreams are also a part of it.” – Lama Surya Das

A long rock wall, stacked by hand and held together only by belief, adorned and sheltered from the weather by a slate stone roof split the trail leading out of town. Prayer flags – yellow, white, red, green, blue – attached together by a long string dangle from wooden pole parapets. Some ends are tied to nearby trees or rocks, other ends of flags blow loosely in the wind, frayed, discolored, old. Inset into the wall at head height for an average Tibetan, or perhaps low chest level for an american male, is a seemingly endless bank of prayer wheels – hollow circular copper drums about 1 foot tall, stuffed with prayer flags, attached with a spindle on the center above and below so they spin, and stenciled on the outside with the ubiquitous prayer: Om Mane Padme Hum. According to Buddhist tradition you pass these prayer wheels on the left, so that with your right hand you spin each wheel as you walk by in the clockwise direction. It is said that spinning the wheel one revolution releases the prayers inscribed upon it and contained within to the wind, liberating them for the good of yourself and all the world. So I walk down the row, spinning each wheel as I walk by, leaving them clattering and praying behind me. Paulo follows, liberating more divine prayers for our benefit. We stroll out of town along the worn path in front of us, continuing our circular walk around the giant powerful mountain, rarely and fittingly even visible to us, like the meaning of life. We set each small wheel spinning as our footsteps around this mountain set our internal wheels spinning as well. Spinning, changing, growing…

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Annapurna!

Whatever this man is–wanderer or evil monk, or saint or sorcerer–he seems touched by what Tibetans call the “crazy wisdom”: he is free. – Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard


Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere – in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that…leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight. – Lama Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds, taken from The Snow Leopard

On day four of our trek up to Annapurna Base Camp, I pondered the point of a pilgrimage. I knew that Paulo, my brother, and I were on a pilgrimage to see this magnificent place referred to by all on the trail as “ABC,” but I did not know what we would find when we got there. It sort of bothered me; after all, why go on a pilgrimage if you do not understand the point of your journey. I looked into the eyes of the weary travelers coming towards us on the trail, the ones who had already made the journey to the high altitudes and snows of ABC, and wondered what they were thinking. In most of their eyes I saw nothing but weariness, exhaustion, and perhaps exasperation: exasperation with the distance they now had to travel back to civilization. It seemed to me that on many of their faces was painted the knowledge of how far they had yet to travel, and the intense desire that they were already there, and did not have to make the effort to walk these long and hot miles back to the nearest road. To me these people seemed unaffected by what they had seen, and I wondered if they were on a pilgrimage like I was, or if they were merely fulfilling the itinerary set out for them when they planned a trip to Nepal: when in Nepal you go trekking, and the most popular trek is to ABC.

But perhaps I am just being judgmental. Perhaps these people were just really tired. But there was a distinct counter-point to these blank and tired faces – there were those souls walking towards us who glowed with radiance, who were powered by an inner energy, despite the days of hard walking and fatigue. These people were affected, they had found what they were seeking and more in the hall of the mountain kings that we walked towards, but what was it they had found?

As I slowly plodded upwards to my own mantra-chanting rhythm, step by step up yet another interminable himalayan stone staircase, I wondered what my pilgrimage was all about. What was the point of this journey? I had flown half way around the world over the course of five days to land in Nepal. I had then traveled eight hours on a mini-bus to reach a village near the start of this walk, and had packed a backpack, written emails, withdrawn money, and scoured maps in preparation for this five day march to a place which is defined as being merely the base camp for expeditions wishing to tackle the real challenge – the famous and menacing mountain Annapurna which rises above. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily do all these things and much more just to enjoy a fine walk in the mountains, but this one was about much more than just seeing the sights. I could feel the hidden significance within myself, but it bothered me that I couldn’t put my finger on that internal meaning, the reason for sharing this march with all these countless fellow souls from every country in the world where people have enough income to travel to Nepal, as well as with my brother. And so I marched onwards, wondering…

what is Paulo looking for?

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Imagine

Chisapani sunrise… Everything they said it would be!

“Imagine all the people living for today… Imagine all the people living life in peace” – John Lennon, Imagine

Everyone knows the experience of having a song, melody, or beautifully sung lyrics inextricably linked to a moment in time within their brain, such that whenever they hear that song sweet memories of the past, pictures playing to a soundtrack in the consciousness, a warm-fuzzy feeling, well up from within to infuse the present. After a two-day trek and overnight stay in the small ridge-top village of Chisapani (“cool water” in Nepali) with my brother Paulo and our five new Nepali companions, the song Imagine, by John Lennon will be added to my memory’s soundtrack forever.

The boys, ranging in age from 18 to 23, had been showing us around their home of Kathmandu for the past two days, and inspired by the Nepali custom that they, “treat their visitors like gods,” were eager to please and protect us as they introduced us to their country and culture the best way that they could. They continually asked us what we wanted to do, and knowing nothing about our surroundings, we continually deferred, not wanting to try to control the experience. They knew that we were here to wander in the mountains, and so they planned for us this trek through the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park to the idyllic little hamlet where they said we would be able to watch the sunrise over the himalayas and drink Nepali rice wine, or chyang. Some of the boys had been there before, but the other ones conceded that this eight mile journey was the farthest they had ever walked in their entire lives. It made for a fantastic combination of giddy “leaders” excited to show us their favorite place and local “tourists,” as out of their element as we were, although in an entirely different way.

L -> R: Aakash, Binnay, Mukash, Sujan, Sajal.

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Serendipity

Serendipity, besides being one of the sweetest-sounding words in the English language, is a sign of well-being, an endorsement of the path of choice. – Alberto Villoldo, “The Four Winds”


If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living… You begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and… doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. – Joseph Campbell

My brother Paulo and I have absolutely no doubt that we are on the Path.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that I was on the Path, or rather decided to get on the Path, but it probably happened a couple of weeks ago now. I guess that I would say that the moment came about somewhat organically, but has only gained momentum as things continue to conspire to show me that I am correctly following the signs. Its genesis was the melting within my brain of all sorts of “crazy” ideas gleaned from an equally eclectic group of sources. But I know that I am on the path because the serendipity and synchronicity of things tells me that it is so.

To sum it up, the path is letting go and willingly conspiring with the one love consciousness to manifest your own ideal destiny. It is not limiting yourself by any sort of beliefs, especially not negative. In fact, it involves never having a negative thought of any kind. It involves spinning anything around on its head to see only the potential positive, to empower yourself and your actions. It is realizing that you are not in any way in control, and being totally ok with that fact, accepting of it. It is being aware of the subtle nudges one way or another, and not judging them based upon pre-conceived notions or expectations. Somebody on the path will never close a door on an opportunity, lest that opportunity be lost forever just by saying no. It is holding in your mind your intentions of what you want and where you want to end up, or even just your intention of how you want to be and live, and then having faith that with simple belief you will dream it into being. It is choosing to see what the best possible outcome in any situation is, and then refusing to believe that anything else is what will actually transpire. It is knowing that you create your own reality. Your world is literally created by the way that you perceive the people, places, things, and events which take place around you. You have the ability to write your own story, and when you are on the path, you are writing that story, and the universe will help you along the way.

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