Blog & Resources

The Courage to Look Within

Posted June 24, 2011


The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough, or sane enough, to deal with.

To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.

~  Pema Chodron


I was ready to kill him.

The hike was 4 miles in, 4 miles out.  Up to a supposedly breathtaking panoramic view of the Methow Valley.  Out beyond those acres and acres of scorched trees lay our destination.  Somewhere.

The hike began on paths winding through arched fields of sunflowers and towering pines, the sky a cerulean blue.  We felt giddy with the beauty of it all.   Then came a steep and exhausting switchback.  Hot and dusty, I kept thinking, It’s just around the corner.  Keep going, the ridge will be just around the corner.

Not even close.

Instead we entered a forest of blackened ponderosa pine.  A graveyard of standing trees.   Beautiful in an exotic and other-worldly way, we fell into a quite reverie walking among the tall, ghostly spears.   On and on we hiked.  No end in sight.  After an hour of what-felt-like walking in circles, the same path over and over again, over streams and fallen trees, blisters forming, I became impatient.  I fumed.  In my mind I blamed Paul.  He had chosen this trail.  He was the one determined to reach the ridge.  He was even chipper about the whole thing!  With each step, I felt more and more glum.

We met two hikers coming down.  The woman looked at me leaning on my walking stick and said, “The last stretch, it’s brutal.”


Our two friends had stayed back, after the difficult switchback, wishing us well, telling us they’d meet us back at the trailhead.  The love-of-my-life was determined to get to the top.  At any cost.  I asked to turn back; he wanted to forge ahead.

Who was this man I had married?!

My head down, I put one foot in front of the other and plowed ahead.  But mentally I left that landscape.  With each step, I entered an old familiar internal world.  A sour place, a critical place.  The thoughts, the mental pathways, the peaks and troughs, well-worn, and oh so familiar.  So very easy to slip into.

Step by step, brick by brick, I built my case against him; itemizing all of the things he had done wrong in the past, that only substantiated how wrong he was now.  How he, of course, was completely responsible for how lousy I was feeling.

The last stretch of the trail was brutal:  steep, rocky, exposed.  We both felt it.  But we were too close now to turn back.  The top?  Anti-climatic.  Compared to mountain ridges just an hour from our front door, this view was not that spectacular.

So who turned to whom first?  I really can’t remember.  Perhaps Paul asked me to tell him what was up  (that would be so like him).  I know at some point he apologized for insisting we go the whole distance.  When he did, I visibly softened.  He asked, I answered.  Bringing my thoughts and feelings to the surface, to the ‘light’, exposed them for what they were:  my stuff.

Not his.  Mine.

He tenderly stuck someone’s business card into the heel of my shoe to slow the blister and we headed down the mountain.  We talked the whole way down the long trail, through the scorched landscape and the fields of sunflowers, back to the car (where our friends had waited three hours for us).  The last stretch I leaned heavily against him.

As uncomfortable and as challenging as that long day had been, there is no one I would rather have had at my side, to walk through my inner muck and to traverse that steep, dusty trail.





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