Hi. My name is Shelli Johnson, and I love my iPhone and Facebooktoo much.
Sometimes I long for a “bag phone.” Do you remember those? I think they came out in 1993, and they worked terribly. They were not compact and did not have a beautiful design. They were so big and bulky that they took up almost the entire front passenger seat of the car, and were not very reliable. On a good day, you might be able to successfully make a phone call. Having one made you feel like you had a method of communication in case of an emergency, but that was the extent of a bag phone’s value.
I just returned from a Byron Katie workshop and Silent Retreat. For 5 days in Ojai, CA, I didn’t say a single word, despite being amidst 115 other people and living in a community. As part of the Silence, I had no use of my iPhone or social media, and had no contact with family or friends. (I also semi-fasted, and was in a “hungry” state.)
While I was very eager to see Byron Katie in action, and to learn from her, and from my experience in Silence, it was the “no connectivity to devices” that I was most yearning for.
Unlike the bag phones of yesterday, today’s “smartphones” are beautifully-designed devices that not only work in emergencies, but provide all of my social networking, camera, audio books, music, shopping, level of physical activity, navigation, movies, not to mention a number of ways to communicate with people all over the world, with ease and immediacy.
Before I get to the shortcomings, which, by the way, are my shortcomings, not the iPhone’s or Facebook’s, I want to emphasize all there is to love about my iPhone and Facebook. (Please bear with me and continue reading; I promise I’ve tried to make it worth your while, and you’ll even get to read about a “covered wagon holdup.”)
Thanks to Facebook, I can keep in touch with my sisters, brother, parents, my Grandma, aunts, in-laws, uncles and cousins. I have some amazing friends that I would not have come to meet without Facebook. And, I have enriched many of my existing friendships. You’re a good friend on Facebook the same way you’re a good friend in real life. You do not only talk (post). You are interested in your friends’ lives so you listen and take interest in what they share, too. Being a good friend takes time and effort, and friendships are among my life’s greatest of blessings. Most of my relatives, friends, and clients are not local, yet I can keep in touch with all of them regardless of where they live. I can share in their celebrations and see photos from their lives. I can learn about the things that interest or matter to them, and find out if they’re suffering or in need of help or support.
Word of mouth has always been the most valuable form of marketing, and social media is word of mouth on steroids.I have “met” many coaching, Epic Adventure, and keynote presenting clients thanks to Facebook. Many – most – of my Epic Women, and other adventure clients have discovered me by way of Facebook. I am blessed by these meaningful relationships, and the times we’ve shared on the trail. I wouldn’t have these relationships without Facebook.
I love that Facebook tells me when my friends are having birthdays. I love being introduced to books, movies, blog posts, podcasts, articles, music, poetry, comedians, bacon recipes, travel destinations and other things that inspire me that I would not have been made aware of had it not been for my friends on Facebook.
I love sharing. This is just part of who I am. From 1994-2008, when I was operating Yellowstone Journal and YellowstonePark.com, I used to write 100,000 words of original content every year, including stories about wolves, grizzly bears, geysers in Yellowstone, and about various adventures throughout the greater Yellowstone region. And while I loved reporting on and writing the stories, I loved sharing them even more. I’ve written and published 300 posts on my adventure blog because I love writing, and I love sharing. I’m a voracious reader, so I love sharing about books or anything that inspires me. Facebook, with just a click of a button, allows me a way to share all of these things, and more, with my friends, and their friends, and with the world.
My iPhone has a great camera and makes it easy for me to capture a great photo of a special moment, and with just a click, I can upload it to Facebook for sharing and “keeping.” Speaking of keeping, I have used Facebook as our family’s “life streaming” record and timeline since 2009. I value photos and memory-making moments. I love that a photo stops time and captures a moment. I can look back at a photo, and be transported back to that very moment and remember things about it that I otherwise wouldn’t remember if not for the photo. For me, these photos and videos are priceless. All of the major events and celebrations in my family’s life have been posted, and the result is we have these memories and milestones on record in a rich and chronological format that I wouldn’t have without Facebook.
I love my iPhone because I can be reliably reached by my family and friends, or in case of an emergency. I love the connection it enables with family and friends. Texting during travel to notify someone you’ve safely arrived to your destination, to line up a cab, check flights, etc. makes our iPhone invaluable. I experience great joy when I get texts and meaningful notes and “pings” from people who mean a lot to me. These short, unexpected messages can make my day. I love that my iPhone is a camera and a way for me to listen to music, audiobooks and podcasts. I love that my iPhone lets me share most of my stuff with family, friends, and Facebook.
It is also a fact that without the wonders of technology, I would not have the blessed life that I live today. It is not a stretch to say this. We started our first company, Yellowstone Journal Corporation, in 1994. We were operating out on the Frontier of Wyoming and with limited financial resources. It was a struggle to say the least. But then the internet arrived and we developed our first website, YellowstonePark.com, in 1995, and we could suddenly market Yellowstone’s wonders to, literally, the world. For the next 14 years we embraced the technology, innovating and expanding the company, before selling it in 2008 to Active Interest Media. Without technology, that story would have been a shorter and less successful one, and almost certainly would not have had that great ending, which enabled me to reinvent myself and create Epic Life in 2011. Without technology, I would not be able to do the work I do while living where I do. So technology is not the bad guy. Hardly.
The issue is I love Facebook and my iPhone too much. I already have quite a few boundaries in place. (I don’t have my cell phone when in the kitchen or at the table for dinner, anytime I’m with my family (unless taking photos of them, which can be excessive and I’m working on this), in the bedroom, during lunch or coffee dates, before kids are off to school, etc.) Still, I feel too tethered. For better or worse, I am self aware, and I know that I’m too tethered. It is a reality that I’m looking down, at my iPhone, too often, and that, as a result, I’m often missing out on what’s happening in the present moment. David Brooks, in a conversation with Krista Tippett and E. J. Dionne, mentioned the idea of “disordered loves.” That describes my relationship with my iPhone and Facebook – it’s a love, but it feels out of order…
The current (March 2017) edition of Prevention magazine includes a feature article about me, and it is about a depressive slump I experienced from 2006-2009, and how, among other things, I used hiking to get myself out of it. Part of that slump was the result of being too tethered to my devices when my sons were younger. Back then, my tethered-ness was mostly due to work demands. The point is, I know firsthand that tethered-ness to technology is a slippery slope for me, and I’m sensing trouble.
Management guru Peter Drucker once said something that I’m going to paraphrase: Tell me what your values are, and I might believe you. But show me your calendar (and use of time) and I’ll tell you what you really value. This resonates. I say I value experience and time with family and loved ones, first and foremost, more than my technology, but the truth is I feel my actions are often not measuring up, and it can be confusing since it’s often family and friends the devices are connecting me to.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one with a problem. Just last year (2016), the business consultancy, Deloitte, found that Americans are looking at their phones more than 8 billion times a day. I think this works out to be a staggering, 150 times/day, on average. And, it’s not to answer a call or talk on the phone because research indicates that we only use our cell phones as phones about 10% of the time. The majority of our time on the phone is using social media, texting, watching videos, playing games, looking stuff up, Netflix binging, etc. Some 67% of Americans admit to checking their status updates in the middle of the night, during sex, and before attending to basic biological needs, like going to the bathroom, sleeping, or eating breakfast. (For the record, as tethered as I am, I am, thankfully, not in this 67%.)
I recently read a fantastic book, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALS, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing The Way We Live and Work. The book is not about overusing Facebook. It’s about a revolution. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising short cut. They’re harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition. What does this have to do with loving the iPhone and Facebook too much, you ask? That is a great question and the answer is, Nothing. 🙂
However, there is an excerpt in it that is very relevant to this post. The book’s authors, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, of the Flow Genome Project, report that the reason online distractions, particularly social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), are so sticky is because effectively they prime our brains for reward, mainly the feel-good neurochemical, dopamine. Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky calls this priming “the magic of Maybe.” According to Kotler and Wheal: When we check our email or Facebook or Twitter and sometimes we find a response, and sometimes we don’t, the next time a friend connects, Sapolsky discovered that we enjoy a 400% spike in dopamine. Excuse my language, but holy crap. When we get a contact or like or love from a friend we enjoy a 400% spike/”reward” that is a rush of happiness and contentment. Perhaps it’s no wonder that social media and related distractions lead to tethered-ness that can eventually become an addiction. This research also raises the question: What is the emotional experience/cost when you get no response(s)?
And here we are back to my main reason for this long-form blog post: I am concerned that my tethered-ness, if I don’t make some changes, could turn into an addiction. Whew. I said it.
I arrived to Ojai, CA, checked into the Silent Retreat, and then eagerly addressed the powering off of my iPhone. (Note: Before powering off the iPhone, I did two significant things: First, I deleted my Facebook app, which was huge, since that’s one of the reasons my iPhone is so valuable to me and why I’m so tethered – the ease with which I can check in with my network of friends, and post and share stuff with them – and second, I turned off “Notifications” for my numerous apps. That way when I did “re-enter” and power on the device, I wouldn’t be immediately alerted, and sucked into the red circle with the probably-huge number of pending notifications on particular apps on my home screen.) Then, I powered off my iPhone, and tucked it deep into my suitcase, where I would not see it for 5 days.
As I did this, it felt like “help is on the way.” The last time I felt such important relief was when I went to a doctor in 2006, and said for the first time, out loud, that I was feeling depressed, and sinking deeper and deeper, and that I needed help. I left with a antidepressant prescription in my pocket and the feeling that help was on the way. I felt this relief not from the antidepressant prescription but rather from the fact that I had come clean – I had been honest with someone about my state. That’s sort of how I feel about my tethered-ness to my iPhone. To be clear, no one in my life is complaining about my iPhone and Facebook use. But I feel as if it’s becoming a problem. During the aforementioned depressive slump that lasted from 2006-2009, I was drinking wine on too many weeknights. It wasn’t a problem, but it could sure have become one. That’s how I am with my tethered-ness to my iPhone right now. I want to make some changes.
The 5-day “detox” would be a good start.
For the record, this wasn’t the first time I went technology-free. Two years ago, our family did an experiment where, for 7 days, we didn’t use any technology (no phones, television, computer –- no screens of any kind). Also, when I lead Epic Life adventures in the wilderness, or when I’m on a personal wilderness trip, they are “unplugged” experiences, and I’m disconnected from my devices. So I knew what it was like to be disconnected, and last week, in Ojai, CA, I was yearning for it.
Here’s what I noticed, gained and/or missed with no connectivity to my iPhone or Facebook:
There was a full moon on the first day of my no technology. I went to Meditation Mount, above Ojai, to meditate and take in both the sunset, and the full moon, which was rising over the mountains right as the sun was setting behind different mountains. I found comfort in knowing that I was looking at the same moon as my family and friends, and felt “connected” to them in a particularly meaningful way.
Full moon rising, at Meditation Mount, in Ojai, CA.
I love to capture photos of things that I see that are pretty, inspiring, peculiar or funny. Not having my iPhone –and being limited to my “regular” camera that has no connectivity or “sharing” ability – freed me up from quite a bit of capturing (and often sharing to Facebook or Instagram) that I would normally have done. I did take some photos of things I couldn’t resist capturing, but not very many, and as a result of my limited camera use, I think I actually saw more.
This sunrise moved me to tears. It marked the start of my Silence.
I thought about my family and friends even more than I normally would. Sure, it probably didn’t hurt that I was in Silence, and meditating and in contemplation often, but I found that without my tethered-ness to my iPhone and the resulting lack of “connection” to my loved ones, I thought about them more frequently than when I have in my pocket quick and easy potential connectivity to them.
I slept better. This could have had to do with the absence of Jerry’s snoring (haha), but I think it had more to do with my state of mind. My life was much simpler. Looking at our devices’ screens, and the blue light they emit, affects the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This is bad news because melatonin is what signals to the body that we’re ready for sleep. Without use of technology, I fell to sleep more easily, and reached deeper sleep. I know I slept well because each night I very obviously reached the dream sleep stage. I had vivid dreams, including one where I was driving a covered wagon and got “held up” in front of the Farmer and the Cook shop and restaurant by a cowboy (someone I’d see in my home state of Wyoming), who wanted to take one of my wagon wheels. I was stressed out not being able to talk to him (due to the vow of Silence) so I was motioning with my finger, zipping it across my lips, etc., and he was so confused. The saga went on seemingly forever, before he just took one of my wheels and all I could do was use hand signals and frantically wave my arms to passersby trying to communicate the hold up/crime that had just occurred. Stressful during it, but hilarious upon waking up from it.
Saw these hearts embedded in the trail on one of my morning hikes.
Another night I dreamt I wore my flannel pajamas to the workshop and couldn’t apologize for them and no one could say anything to me or tease me because of the Silence. A third dream I had was that I ran into a family from my hometown of Lander, WY, at the local market, and couldn’t talk to them and they were so confused that I wouldn’t respond to their questions, act exuberant, etc. The dream was not stressful, but humorous!
During the five days, the whites of my eyes were more white than I can ever remember them. Just that I’m noting the white of my eyes is noteworthy. It’s not like I’m always checking out how white the whites of my eyes are. I don’t even notice them normally. But they were noticeably white, clear of any bloodshot. I think this was because I didn’t look at any screens at all. I did not read any books – normally I read several times a day. Perhaps with the reduced eye strain from not reading and looking at screens made my eyes less red. Also, I had my eyes closed a lot as I spent a lot of time sitting in Silence, at the retreat, and during the day, and on my own time during the evenings and early mornings. So maybe the increased “resting time” of my eyes also helped.
I felt more vulnerable during my hikes. On 4 days, I got up and left to go hiking when it was still dark. I do this so that I can be on the trail when the sun rises. Normally I have a cell phone or my InReach just in case of an emergency. Jerry, or someone, always knows my whereabouts and my estimated schedule. Without my iPhone or InReach, I was hiking in an unfamiliar place, before first light and no one knew where I was or what I was doing. What this meant is I was more aware of people and my surroundings than normal. I was more vigilant.
I wanted to look up information (terms or words or people that were referenced in the workshop), and couldn’t use my iPhone to search Google or ask Siri for the quick answer or definition. (So, I wrote a list of things to look up later when I could. #oldschool)
I wanted to check the weather, and couldn’t. (I know, Woe is me… I realize as I write this these are such First World problems.)
I wondered about the news, but then quickly felt relief at my not having any of it.
Without my iPhone or the internet available, I felt more free to focus on one thing at a time, and, without my usual devices, it wasn’t nearly as difficult for me to do so. One of my three words for 2017 is One. I want to do one thing at a time. If I’m eating, I’m eating (not reading and eating). If I’m talking to Jerry or the boys, I’m only doing that; I’m not also on my laptop. If I’m folding laundry, I’m only folding laundry. The reason this is important to me is I want to do more deep and focused work, such as writing. I was incredibly focused during these five days with no technology or connectivity to my networks.
I thought of each of my coaching clients. Normally I check in on a pretty regular basis, usually via text, Facebook message or email. I was unable to do that and missed being able to offer my support, although I had informed them in advance of my temporary unavailability.
Despite that the average American adult reaches for his/her phone 150 times a day, and certainly I’m probably up there with the best of these users, I didn’t catch myself reaching, or looking for my iPhone. Normally I’m always checking my purse or my pocket for it when getting out of the car or leaving the house, etc. But I did this not once during the last five days. (This is encouraging for me because it suggests that if it’s out of sight, I won’t necessarily be looking for it to check it.)
Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out in her important book, Reclaiming Conversation, that if we have our cell phone on the table, or anywhere in sight, even if it’s powered off, the phone’s presence has a negative effect on the quality and depth of the conversation that will occur with the people who are together. So, you may want to keep your phone tucked away in your purse or briefcase, or leave it in the car when you go to a dinner party, or a business luncheon, at a round table, etc. – unless you want to limit the quality and depth of conversation to small talk and surface chatter.
Turkle’s books, including Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together, ought to serve as cautionary tales. Turkle writes, “When children grow up with time alone with their thoughts, they feel a certain ground under their feet. Their imaginations bring them comfort. If children always have something outside of themselves to respond to, they don’t build up this resource. So it is not surprising that today’s young people become anxious if they are alone without a device. They are likely to say they are bored. From the youngest ages they have been diverted by structured play and the shiny objects of digital culture.”
Without my iPhone and connectivity, I wasn’t looking for that occasional and regular hit of dopamine/good vibes I get when I post something on Facebook and get likes and loves, and/or positive comments. As social animals, our human nature is to look to others for approval. I’ve worked hard to get to a place in my life where I don’t expend a lot of energy worrying about what others think. However, I am human, and networks like Facebook, with its acknowledgement mechanisms (likes and loves, etc.) makes it easy to get caught up in the social approval psychology – even if offline you do pretty well to not be concerned with it.
Joe Hollier is coming out with a product called the Light Phone, “your phone away from phone.” I will be glad to have one. The phone is a way to give people temporary breaks from their smart phones yet still enable particular people to reach you via phone call. It is brilliant. And ironic that some of us need technology’s help to disconnect from it. I remember Arianna Huffington suggesting this would be the case back in 2007 when we were at the Webby Awards to win an honor for YellowstonePark.com, and during her keynote she said as much. That was almost 10 years ago, and I remember not really believing what she predicted. But she was right. In addition to the Light Phone, there are numerous apps that lock you out of connectivity (Freedom app) for periods of time, apps (Moment) to measure how many times you reach for your phone, and how much time you’re spending looking at its screen, etc.
As Light Phone’s manifesto so aptly suggests, “Our phones have become our nervous habit, our invisible crutch. We love their illusion of productivity and stimulation that is socially acceptable to abuse. Multitasking is a myth, it is addictive and exhausting. It is glorified procrastination. When we consume so fast, there is no way for us to appreciate anything, and appreciation gives our lives meaning and purpose.” It goes further to suggest that we are so tethered to our iPhones that in today’s times, if you’re in a public place and you’re not staring down at your screen, but rather looking around – and God forbid – at people, some may think you’re a weirdo.
There were many times like this during my 5 days of Silence – while standing in line at a busy restaurant, or at a grocery store – and it was very noticeable that I didn’t have my iPhone to bail me out of the “just waiting” in line without something to occupy my attention. I didn’t mind so much as I love to connect with people and love opportunities for serendipity to happen, which are more likely to happen if not looking down at your phone screen, but most people who are tethered to their devices go a little crazy without them in these social situations when so many others are looking down at their phones.
I remember what artist Amanda Palmer shared in a conversation with Tim Ferriss about eye contact, and how powerful it is to look at someone, and for the other person to be seen. “I think eye contact is very hard for a lot of us because it’s so threatening. And the more disconnected we are and the more time we spend looking into our devices and barely looking into each other, the more threatening it is to keep and hold somebody’s gaze. But God, is it powerful. Looking someone in the eye … I often feel it’s the antidote for what is ailing us.” She added, “We do not connect with each other at nearly the level we could, and though we live in close proximity, and though we sit on the subway with each other, and though we have a wide variety of things connecting us, a lot of us are really alone.” I couldn’t say it better, and it is tethered-ness to our devices that is mostly to blame for this lost opportunity for meaningful human connection.
I wrote a lot. Thanks to an earlier challenge, I have been writing daily since Jan. 18. With no devices and contact with others, I “found” a lot more time, and was even more inspired to write. Josh Waitzkin, an American chess player, martial arts competitor, and author of a book I highly recommend, called The Art of Learning, is a proponent of distraction-free time – something he calls empty space. One way he limits distractions is by not using social media and seldom using email. “I cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process,” he explains. With no tethered-ness to devices, I had a bounty of empty space, and I felt inspired and imaginative. I filled more than one journal, and something about the content being hand-written makes it feel more authentic. Unlike our online posts, it is “un-edited,” and the writing is a “first take.”
I did feel like I had more time. Take away the iPhone, music, books and entertainment, not to mention talking or engaging in any interactions with others, and you have a lot more time, and energy, available. For many, I’m sure a digital detox like mine would result in significantly increased productivity. While I have no problems with being productive, I do want longer periods of uninterrupted time for purposes of doing deep, more focused work. Being completely disconnected from my devices and all forms of communication and entertainment provided more time.
As adults we often say, “Where did the time go?” We always wish for the time to slow down. I’ve found the way to do it: Reduce distractions. Hours stretched during my five days. While young people may not find this attractive, for me, and most adults I know, we’re willing to try anything if it promises time will (at least seemingly) slow down.
I missed my husband’s texts wishing me a great day, which he sends me every morning on weekdays.
I missed contact with Jerry and the boys each evening, and hearing how their days went. I missed being able to wish Hayden good luck at his basketball game that was Saturday, and Wolf good luck at his ski meet, which was Friday and Saturday. (Note: I was surprised and so touched when I returned to my AirBnB – an enchanting guesthouse on an organic farm – to find a bouquet of flowers and a card from Jerry and the boys.)
I also missed the random texts I get from Wolf or Hayden when they text to ask me what’s for dinner, or to ask for a ride home from school or practice. I was lucky to find that the boys and Jerry had each written me notes on the pages at the back of my journal, so I read those every day, and that was a meaningful gesture! I do love hand-written notes and letters, and technology has led to a reduction in this (lost) art.
A note from my youngest son in the back of my journal. (He always calls me “Little Mommy,” and I always call him “Big Fin.”)
I missed random texting to/from friends, and to/from my parents and siblings.
I missed having navigation – and this also made me realize how lazy we have become as a result of it. Without Google Maps’ voice guiding me or telling me where to turn, how far to go before reaching my destination, etc., I had to pay attention to street signs and landmarks to find and remember my way. And, as if that wasn’t challenging enough for me, I had to use a (gasp) paper map handout to find my way to local trailheads. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that!
I missed listening to music. Not often, but on a few occasions, when I was writing, or driving to/from from my AirBnB to the workshop each day. I missed it for the energy it provides and the contemplations that particular music inspires in me. But I also came to realize that often I listen to music to perhaps “hide” from some of my thoughts, or to escape from some of the thoughts I’m having that I am not ready to confront, or that are uncomfortable. It was interesting to realize that listening to music can be a crutch for me sometimes. I will be more intentional when I listen to it now.
Interestingly, I wrote many of these insights during the last night of my technology ban. Just thinking about re-connecting to my iPhone and Facebook caused me some anxiety. I could actually feel tension in my shoulders and neck as I thought about it. I really wanted to be intentional about how I “re-entered” with my connectivity. I didn’t want to go from nothing to blowing it wide open again so suddenly. I was certain about not wanting to be as tethered to it as I was before the Silent retreat experience.
Upon re-entry, when I did log in to Facebook on my laptop, there were 82 notifications awaiting my attention.
It’s been almost two weeks since I re-connected with my iPhone and Facebook. I’m happy to report that I’m doing better. Not having the Facebook app on my iPhone has helped me limit the amount of time I’m on Facebook, and has made me more intentional (and “miserly”) about what I capture to eventually share. I am trying out a new strategy that involves batching and boundaries, and I feel hopeful!
Two things I want to close with that are related, and I am inspired to share with you…
When at LAX, waiting for my flight, and return to the Frontier of Wyoming, I had an hour to kill so I walked about 6,000 steps (thanks FitBit app) around the terminal. As I walked, I paid close attention to all of the people. I would about 8 or 9 out of 10 people, had cell phones and were looking down at their screens. (I did have a brainstorm during this observation: Think about how much fun it might be for you and your travel companion(s) to disperse in the airport and not be able to use your phone, and then try to find each other. Sort of like looking for Easter eggs only looking for travel partners in an airport without the use of cell phones)
Another idea: If you want to be different – to be a nonconformist – dare to not carry your phone around. You will definitely stand out!
The last thing I want to share is something wonderful and magical – and why it will be hard to convince myself ever to completely quit Facebook and social media.
Last Tuesday, on my drive from Ojai to Los Angeles, I stopped on the Pacific Crest Highway, to do a quick hike up to the top of Mugu Peak. At about 10:45am, right after starting, I asked a woman, who was coming down the trail, which trail I was on, and how to get to Mugu Peak. She was friendly and helpful, and told me about the two trails I could choose from, and she gave me approximate distances for each. That was it, no other information was exchanged, and no discussion ensued, and we were off in our opposite directions.
Then, I posted a photo the following Friday on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) of the U.S. flag waving on the summit of Mugu Peak. Soon after, I received a comment on the photo from someone who indicated she was there about the same time that day because she recognized the misty, dramatic clouds that were obscuring the mountain in the background of the flag. I then responded and showed her another photo I had posted from the same hike of the orange poppies. She responded, asking where those were, saying she didn’t see those. I told her I captured the poppies photo on the alternative trail I took on the way down from the peak.
I then took a long shot and asked her if she was by chance the woman I stopped to ask about the trails leading to the mountain at about 10:45, and lo and behold, it was. Now, that’s crazy –and it is social media at its best and most magical. And it’s one of the reasons I’m in love with it.
I will be getting more clear on my next steps in confronting my tethered-ness and how to best continue my relationship with social media and my iPhone while not being as attached and tethered to them.
I have come to the conclusion that the iPhone and Facebook are not only not bad for me, they bring me great enrichment and joy for all of the reasons stated near the top of this blog post. Rather, my attachment and tethered-ness to them are.
As you can hopefully appreciate, this here is a tall mountain for me to climb. So tall that I cannot see the top. Articulating it here is a good first step, and at least, my journey is under way.
Thank you for reading, and for your support. I hope you’ll check back here often, or subscribe to this blog.
I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.
“Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me, and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom,” wrote the late Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author of Thoughts in Solitude, upon entering the Monastic life.
I love the phrase, “the four walls of my new freedom” because it seems counterintuitive and yet rings true for me. When I limit myself or am disciplined, I feel more free.
Speaking of limits and discipline, I recently returned from a Silent retreat. What a fascinating, challenging and transformative experience!
I’m no stranger to Silence. In fact, it’s one of my closest companions. After all, I live in Wyoming where there are not many people. It’s not hard to find Silence on an hourly, if not daily, basis. Add to that I work alone, and I enjoy a lot of Solitude.
Socrates said, “Know Thyself.” In my humble experience, Solitude is the medium for self realization. I think self awareness is the first, and most important, step to living a happy and fulfilled life, and that the best way to discover, and come to know yourself is to spend time alone.
I’m also no stranger to meditation and mindfulness. I’ve meditated off and on for the last 24 years, and I’ve kept up a mindfulness practice every single weekday morning since Feb. 2013. It has been a game changer for me. (Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and author of one of the most influential books I’ve read, Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” Before I practiced mindfulness on a regular basis, during times of stress and overwhelm, I didn’t have that space, that pause. Mindfulness practice has taught me how to create that pause, and it has made a huge difference in my life. Now, more times than not, I respond instead of react, and what a difference there is between the two. In short, responding is thoughtful and reacting is not.
And while what I signed up for, and traveled to Ojai, CA for, would include a lot of Silence and Mindfulness, it was more than that. It would be a Silent retreat, with no speaking, but also no technology (no iPhone or Facebook, etc.), which also meant no contact with family and friends. In addition, there would be no music, books or other “entertainment.” And, it would all be part of a workshop with Byron Katie. All of this would be among 115 other people, and while living in a community. This would be a difficult challenge for me, and I was eager for it.
Katie, author of several books, including Loving What Is, is famous for what she calls “The Work,” a method of self inquiry that she encourages people to do in Stillness/Meditation. The Work has helped millions of people change their lives for the better. So to be in the presence of Katie, and to witness her doing The Work with people in attendance who would be brave enough to share about their suffering would be a meaningful experience in and of itself. But no question, the main reason I signed up was to be Silent amidst people, something I had never experienced before for any length of time.
And boy, did I learn a lot from the experience.
Here are some things I learned from being in Silence:
–At the outset of the retreat, we were instructed to not give each other eye contact. It was suggested as a way to make it a little easier for people who would have a hard time not engaging with others. That for sure made the experience more challenging. I value connection, and eye contact, for me, helps make it possible, so this would make the Silence even more awkward and challenging. One of the “tricks” I told myself about this instruction was that keeping one’s eyes downcast can demonstrate humility. Humility is one of the attributes I value most in people, and, in my opinion, is what often makes a person kind, and a leader inspiring and approachable.
–As if no talking and no eye contact wasn’t challenging enough, we had no name tags. So we were Silent, not giving eye contact, and “nameless.” This is one of the things I came for. To be more anonymous and to get practice at that. (I wrote recently in a blog post, “Hungry,” that, among other things, I want to be more anonymous.)
–I like to help put people at ease, and I’m well-practiced at trying to do so. As I sat in Silence with people all around me, feeling the difficulty of not even offering simple pleasantries with one another really highlighted my want, and ability to help put others (read: myself) at ease. It was difficult and fascinating at the same time to resist the urge of trying to reduce social discomfort.
–As people, we are social animals. Most of us, unfortunately, find such Silence in large groups awkward. As a society, we want to fill the space. Notice the next time you’re in a conversation on the phone, in person, or in a group, or with a close friend… If the conversation fades and silence enters, it’s quickly “filled.” That’s what most of us do — we quickly try to fill empty space because it feels awkward and unnatural for it to just hang there, with no words in the air.
This reminds me of something writer Cal Fussman shared in a conversation with Tim Ferriss. A great writer and master interviewer, Fussman challenges us to “let the Silence do the work.” In other words, next time you ask someone a question, or you’re in a conversation and it goes quiet, dare to just let it be. Don’t jump in and try to fill the space out of discomfort. Certainly the Silent retreat felt that way for hours at a stretch. There was a lot of Silence hanging in the air, and it felt both unfamiliar and liberating. The Silence felt like possibility. I will be working to let the Silence do the work…
–When we spend time alone, available only to our own thoughts, as a listener to and noticer of our thoughts, including the good, the bad and the ugly, we discover and come to know ourselves. I personally enjoy a lot of Solitude. For example, I hike 1,000 miles a year. Half of those are hiked alone, and it’s not because I can’t find anyone to hike with. I think that more than any other habit in my life, Solitude is the one that is most responsible for my blessed life. I have a clarity about who I am and who and how I want to be that is invaluable. This self awareness informs me about what to say Yes to and what to say No to in my life. It is my guide for how to be my best. I feel so strongly that self awareness is the key to living our best life that I cover its importance in the keynote presentation I’m hired to deliver to corporations and conferences, “Epic Leadership Lessons Learned in the Field,” and I promote getting regular intervals of it to my coaching clients. The experience of Solitude I enjoyed every morning and evening, on my own exploring trails or at my AirBnb refuge confirmed for me its importance.
–Silence isn’t empty. It’s full. I recall the words of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton: “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest.” Indeed, Silence is not empty. In fact, the chatter that goes on inside each of our heads is quite voluminous. Often, it’s anything but empty or “silent.” Sometimes in Silence there was so much going on in my head that I wished Silence were empty!
– Without talking, or any music or other audio distractions, we are better listeners. We are better at noticing things. I noticed the sound of my rental car’s blinker, even. Take away talking and you hear everything, and small details or things we normally wouldn’t notice can become fascinating. I was reminded of an excerpt from Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness: Adventures of Going Nowhere: “Sitting still is a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”
–Speaking of noticing, the definition of mindfulness that I love best is that of Ellen Langer’s. Langer is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of mindfulness.” (Check out this fantastic conversation with her.) She says mindfulness is simply noticing things. That is all you have to do: Pay attention. Take notice. I noticed a lot. I remember going on a caving expedition one time and, for a few minutes, we turned our headlamps off so we could experience total darkness. It was total darkness. Nothing but black. During that experience, I remember thinking all of my other senses were heightened, as if you when remove one sense your other senses, in compensating, or in being more freed up, become even more attuned. This is how I felt for the five days when I did not say a single word. All of my other senses were heightened. I heard more. I saw more. I felt more. I smelled more.
–I am a very curious person and, not to brag, but I’m a pretty good listener. I work hard at it. I love meaningful connections and conversations. I love to ask people questions, and to hear their responses and to learn about them. It was so challenging for me to not be able to do this, and to not think of it as so many lost opportunities. And, as is usually the case, the challenge of it taught me new skills and insights.
–Speaking of new skills, I honed an important skill – resisting. Saying No to my normal behaviors and trying something different than what I am used to. I learned some skills that I know will serve me in certain situations when I have a strong desire to say something, but prefer not to.
–I love to share and contribute, especially if I think that what I share will be of some value. I share a lot publicly, in my work, in my blogging, and in my relationships. Sharing is part of who I am. However, I decided in advance of the workshop that while I’d do the assigned work, I’d mostly be an observer and see what I could learn and how I could personally grow from the experience. However, I quickly realized that “observing” felt like watching, and I didn’t want to be a spectator but to be immersed and participating and getting the most out of this unique experience. I resolved to pay very good attention and try to notice as many things as I could. I also decided to challenge myself to not raise my hand and offer to contribute anything or do anything that would call attention to myself. I’m happy to report that I pulled this off. It was an uncommon experience for me, and frankly, I’m surprised I succeeded! (I did find that writing all of the things I had felt called to ask or share later in a journal felt almost the same as expressing it to the group, which was an interesting learning, and could be helpful to me in the future as I try to navigate how I will limit my time online, which may result in limiting my public sharing.)
–There’s a saying that goes something like this: “If there are 5 of us, I’ll have 4 teachers.” Everyone I sat with in Silence during the workshop – people I didn’t get to “meet,” given our Silence – I felt a closeness to, and in a way I can’t explain, they were all my teachers during the five days. I still think of them now and can picture their faces. I can still hear the stories some of them shared while doing The Work with Katie. I am pulling for all of them…
–For 2017, I have resolved to “talk less” and say more. What this means, to me, is being more intentional about what I say, share or write about. Being in Silence, amidst 115 people for 5 days and not being able to talk was about the best practice there could be for talking less. I honed the skill, and now let’s see if I can use it. 🙂 Katie has an eloquent presence about her. You can see her carefully choosing/”searching” for the right words before she says them. It doesn’t feel like she’s editing, as much as she wants for her words to count. I really appreciate that, and was inspired by watching her be this way in her communication. She talked less, and in doing so, said more.
–Words matter. During a time when I said not a single word, I learned more than ever how much words matter. This truth has deeper meaning after witnessing so many people doing The Work around suffering. So much of it was/is tied to something a parent said or a partner said that has had lasting, negative impacts on the person and his/her life. As a wife and a parent, in particular, but also as a coach that people trust, it was an important reminder that our words matter, and that we should not be careless or reckless with them.
-Some struggle more than others when required to be in Silence. I wonder if people who consider themselves shy might find this not as awkward as people who consider themselves outgoing? And yet maybe even shy people find this Silent setting hard because no one is speaking up. There are no extroverts taking the lead to start or carry the conversation.
–Some people are better at Stillness than others. For example, the woman who sat next to me on the first two days, was very good at sitting still and quietly. She hardly fidgeted. I have a lot of energy and can be still, but not as easily. I fidget a lot. At home I never sit for long, walking during my phone calls, and only sitting for stretches of 60-90 minutes at most, and not all day long. So it wasn’t that I was bored as much it was hard to sit so still for such long periods.
–While I love people and can be with a lot of people, as I get older, I’m becoming more of an introvert. (Technically, I’m what Dan Pink would call an ambivert. You can take his quiz here). This experience was sort of like a combination of being alone and in a crowd all at once. I found myself in a large crowd for several hours each day, but “off the hook” as far as having to socialize. It was difficult and awesome at the same time!
—If the lights were dimmed or off, I think the Silence would not be as difficult or awkward because we could more easily “hide,” which would make the awkwardness of Silence amidst so many people not as challenging. The lights were on and we couldn’t hide in the darkness. This was valuable. There were no shortcuts or ways to make the experience easier. Not to diminish my point, but I know it’s the same when I have sunglasses on. I feel a little bit hidden when people cannot look into my eyes. When I wear earbuds on an airplane, even if I have nothing playing into them, it sends the signal that I’m unavailable and, in this small way, helps me to hide.
–During the experience, I wondered about people who don’t feel they have a voice, and how it must feel to be Silenced against your will. I felt compassion for people who don’t get to have a voice.
–In Silence, time slows down. The 60 minutes of Stillness twice a day while waiting for the main workshops to begin, were very long. Because I love and value time, I appreciated that the 60 minutes were so long. Remember, no music, no reading, no eye contact, no darkness, no visiting, just sitting. Removing all of the normal distractions stretches the time. Who doesn’t want time to seem more abundant?
–To use a word from OnBeing‘s Krista Tippett, I was more “porous.” More was allowed into me as a result of the Silence. I felt my feelings more.
–Sherry Turkle wrote a book called Alone Together. The title refers to today’s times where you can be in a group of people, or with your family in the same room, but you’re not really together, rather you’re what Turkle calls alone together. You are physically close together, but you’re each far away, alone in your own worlds, thanks to your devices and their capability to connect you to friends and things that are “not here.” During the retreat, many of us waited, in Silence, for the doors to open for the workshop seasons, and we were all alone in our own worlds, looking down and away from each other. Alone together took on a new meaning for me. It felt like we were alone, but together in our Stillness.
-Speaking of alone and Silence, if you’re human and you’re normal, you are hardly alone when in you’re in Silence, what with all of the endless chatter and inner dialogues going on your head. In fact, it could probably be argued that there’s a lot more going on when you’re alone with your thoughts than if you’re in a conversation with others.
–Everyone has a story. I know this, of course. Especially in my work as a life coach, I know firsthand of the suffering so many experience. Still, when you can’t talk and project yourself, or exchange information about yourself –– you can’t edit and share the story you want to share – we make up our own imagined stories about others. When we do this we know we’re not basing them on anything but our imagination and/or past stereotypes and/or experiences, but still it is a little unfair. I caught myself imagining the stories of many of the people around me at the workshop each day. It was fascinating, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t nail any of the stories.
–Hiding. I figured out before traveling to California for the Silent retreat and workshop that I do a fair amount of “hiding.” And thanks to David Whyte, and his Hiding essay in the wonderful Consolations, I am positive that hiding can be a good thing. He writes, Hiding is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care. Boy, do I appreciate those words, but to be honest, too often they give me an out. I hide a little too much. I had noticed that when I am in Solitude, which is about half of my life, I’m effectively hiding from others – not always intentionally, but sometimes. When I’m in social situations, just being my best self and asking people questions and then listening to them, I’m effectively hiding myself from others – not always intentionally, but sometimes. Well, I’m here to report that when I found myself Silent amidst 115 people, I couldn’t hide from myself or others. That was uncomfortable, and a worthwhile experience to say the least! That is the Epic I signed up for right there, and boy did I get it!
–I don’t mean to brag, but I am an expert at self criticism. I think, over time, thanks to so much time in Solitude, and becoming so familiar with, and defending myself against what I’ve come to call the “Wrath of Shelli,” I’ve developed more understanding about myself, which has led, pleasantly, to more compassion for myself. But what I learned during the Silent retreat, especially along with witnessing so many people who were courageous enough to share their suffering with us and Katie in front of the room, is that if we’re brave enough to be honest with ourselves, we’re likely to respond to ourselves with compassion instead of criticism. This is a huge learning for me. I saw it happen before my eyes with 18 out of 18 people who did The Work. I could see the compassion for themselves start to appear as they acknowledged truths about themselves. And, I noticed it in myself throughout the five days as I reflected and did my own “Work” and worksheets on my own areas of suffering or negativity. The more honest I was willing to be, the more my self criticism gave way to compassion. Hallelujah to that. As Kelly McGonigal has suggested, self criticism is not motivating. Those of us who are self critical try to convince ourselves that when we are hard on ourselves it motivates us to work harder, but that is not what actually happens. It is unhealthy and not helpful. So for that reason alone – to try to become more self compassionate – I recommend periods of Silence and self inquiry. Create opportunities for stillness and then do an inventory around an issue that is weighing you down or holding you back. And, dare to be honest.
–I prayed a lot, and prayer came more naturally for me.
–I consider myself a grateful person. I hope I am appreciative because it is something I really appreciate in others, no pun intended. I found myself even more grateful than normal when given so much time with so few of the normal distractions in life. And anytime I’m grateful, I feel my best.
–Now, a major detour from the tone of the other things I learned… I returned to Wyoming with a tick from the trails of Ojai! Early on in the five days, while back at my AirBnB, I felt a nuisance and slight pain in the lower part of the back of my neck. I couldn’t reach it with my hand and I couldn’t see it in the mirror. When I got home, 6 days later, and asked Jerry to look at it, it was a tick! He removed it and I started freaking out about Lyme disease. Fortunately, my son, Hayden, informed me that only 1.2-1.7% of all ticks carry Lyme disease. That is helpful to know, for sure, and I feel fine as of today, but this was the only real “bummer” of the Silence. Maybe I would have asked someone to look at it, even a stranger, if not for the vow of Silence. Just something to think about for the next time I guess. 🙂
Thank you so much for reading. I value your time, so I appreciate your taking the time to read my thoughts.
I hope you’ll return soon. I will be publishing a blog post about what I learned with no iPhone or Facebook in my next blog post and it’s an important one for me as I’ve been struggling a lot as of late with my amount of tethered-ness to them. I will also be writing about what I earned from Byron Katie, uncertainty, daring to fail, deep work, and more.
I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.
WOMEN: Do you want to make some changes to your life, and go on an Epic Adventure with me? Right now I’m recruiting for my Epic Women Zion National Park Day Hiking/Life & Leadership Coaching program, as well as my Epic Women Wind River Range Backpacking/Life & Leadership Coaching program. Please email me at email@example.com if you’d like information about either of these, or to schedule a call.
Stillness. Sunrise is my favorite time of day, and I captured this over Worthen Reservoir en route to a hike in my backyard, Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
She waved me over. I didn’t recognize her. I don’t think I had ever seen her before. Which always sort of amazes me since our town is so small, and I was raised here, and have lived here for a combined 38 years. I know many people here, if not by name, by face.
I walked over to her. One of her boots had a hole in the toe, and her clothes were oversized, hanging on her. She gave me a gentle smile, as she held her hand out to me and passed something into my hand.
I looked inside my hand, and it was a $100 bill. Then our eyes met. You know how when you really look at someone and you can get a glimpse of what we think is their life or their backstory, how you can sense pain and heartbreak? We connected for a brief moment, and heartbreak of some kind was palpable.
“Please give it to someone who’s hungry,” she said, softly, in barely more than a whisper.
I thanked her, and asked her what her name was. She didn’t give it to me, instead just politely shaking her head, and turning and walking away.
It was Wednesday in November of 2013, and I was in Ace Hardware. I was “fasting to feed the hungry,” and I had stopped in to collect a donation from the business.
I had started fasting once a week in 2013. Originally, I did it for health reasons. I had read of the health and anti aging benefits of fasting at least once a week. Apparently, fasting, or reducing calorie intake to 500-600 calories a day, once a week, has enormous health benefits. I am oversimplifying, but in layman’s terms, fasting sends your cells into repair. I also am an experimenter, especially when it comes to anything health and diet-related, and I wanted to see if I could lose 5 pounds in the process of experimenting with intermittent fasting.
The first time I fasted, I thought I was going to die. I was starving! I had a headache and major hunger pains. I remember when it was 11:30am, the time I usually ate lunch, I could barely take it. I was home, and it would be so easy to sneak a handful of nuts, or a spoonful of peanut butter, or whatever. This was my idea and the rules were mine to break. No one was keeping watch over me.
But I was determined. So I went upstairs, out of sight of our kitchen, and laid down in bed. A nap was elusive, what with the chattiness in my head about how hungry I was, and the pains – and loud growling reminders coming from my empty stomach, and all.
It was while lying there that I thought of all of the people in the world, including in my small town, that feel like this regularly, and not by choice. Wow. That put things in perspective for me real fast. I turned my mind to those people. I wondered who I knew, or who I saw throughout my town, in lines at the Post Office or at the grocery store, or on Main Street, or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, etc., who felt like this often. Everything about my fasting changed for me in that moment.
I decided to make my fasting be for a cause other than my own self-absorbed fitness and weight loss-related goals. I started “fasting to feed the hungry.” Every week I would pick a local cause, and I would fast for 24 hours, and I would post about it on Facebook. Businesses, such as Ace Hardware referenced above, and individuals in my town, would donate $24 (1 dollar for every hour of my fast) or more to whatever cause I was fasting for.
For me, it meant not only going hungry once a week but also getting out and being visible in my community and on Facebook during the days I fasted. It meant “selling”and marketing what I was doing in an effort to generate awareness and money for the particular cause. Many weeks I fasted and raised about $300-$500 a week for causes that included the Lander Care & Share Food Bank, the Friday Backpack Program, the One Stop Shelter, and others.
The Backpack program especially tugs at my heart. This is a program that sends home a backpack of food to kids on Fridays who won’t otherwise see a meal all weekend long. They get breakfast and lunch at school, and often that’s all they get for food. It’s actually a little pathetic that all I have to do to help feed those kids is go hungry for a single day…
It felt good to be fasting to feed the hungry. My fasting felt purposeful. I felt purposeful.
And, I also discovered that when I’m in a fasted state, I’m more present. It is so clichéto say “present,” but it’s true.
When I’m fasting – and hungry – I am more attuned. My senses are heightened, including all of the most important ones. I’m more tender on these days when I’m hungry, and that is a good thing for me. I’m more sensitive and not as selfish as I normally am.
I think it was Annie Dillard who wrote, “How we do one thing is how we do most things.” I think about this a lot. It’s useful. I don’t want to live recklessly and as if everything is in abundance. I want to not eat the house, and I want to taste my food, and to appreciate it. I don’t want to be a pig. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to over-consume. In my eating or in my living. And most importantly, I want to remember people who are less fortunate than I am, who could use a break or a little help.
I am not proud of myself often. But when I fast, I feel better about myself because I’m a more compassionate human being.
Every week when I fasted I was more compassionate because I thought more closely about people who are in need, and I felt closer to my community. The result is I think about my community a lot more now even when I’m not fasting, which has been an unexpected benefit.
Which brings me to the woman at the start of this story.
I think of her often. Anonymous, humble and generous. I’ve never seen her again. She was an angel to give $100 to someone in need. I sometimes wonder if she actually was an angel. Did she, and that transaction, really happen or was she an angel sent to deliver a message to me?
I did like I always do. I greeted the passenger next to me, but had my earbuds in to ensure I wouldn’t have to engage with any more than a simple greeting and acknowledgement. (Often I don’t listen to anything; rather this is a way of making people think I am unavailable, tuned in to me and away from them.)
I was on a United flight to Detroit. I was a little annoyed that I was in a middle seat. I always request an aisle seat because I usually have to use the bathroom at least once, probably twice, on a three-hour flight, and I prefer to not have to climb over people whenever duty calls. I love sitting by the window if going to a new place, but usually opt out of that because then I have to climb over two people, not to mention I’m usually in the back of the plane and the window seat can feel claustrophobic to me.
Even though I fly quite a bit these days, it’s as if when I buy a ticket, the “system” sees I’m from Wyoming, and thinks “She is from Wyoming. She probably doesn’t get out much. Give her the back seat of the plane. She’ll be so excited to be going somewhere, she won’t mind.” This was what was going through my mind when I smiled, genuinely, at the woman next to me, seated by the window.
We were soon in the air and the flight went well. I effectively “hid” with my earbuds in, and my eyes closed behind my sunglasses. It was an uneventful flight, and I had been, thankfully, unbothered.
But following my usual protocol, as soon as we land and are taxiing to the terminal to disembark, I suddenly become more open and generous and willing to have a conversation.
Even if it’s a little selfish, I want and choose to have these conversations at the end of the flight. I like people, and am fascinated by their stories, and I value the connection that occurs between two people, and in these small but meaningful exchanges. There is something about going places, and arriving, that can make all of us more interesting – to ourselves, and to others.
As I strike up a conversation, I notice that the woman is wonderfully warm. She could be my grandma. Wait, she could be mother! When did I get so old that someone in their late 60s or early 70s causes me to think of grandmothers?
I ask her if Detroit is her final destination. She’s generous with information. She’s 72 years old and she is visiting her 49-year-old nephew who is paralyzed from the neck down. He was hit and run by a drunk driver at only age 21. He recently came down with pneumonia, and his body seems to be shutting down. As his “favorite aunt,” she was going to be with him, “and probably, to say goodbye,” she explained, with a little tremble in her voice. I told her what a wonderful person and aunt she was to be traveling to be with him. I told her I would keep her nephew, and her, in my heart and prayers and thoughts. And I would. I would think of her and her nephew several times off and on during the few days when I working and sightseeing in the Detroit area and her nephew, and picture them in a hospital together.
As we said farewell and exchanged well wishes to one another, I reflected on how glad I was for breaking my isolation/silence.
After collecting my suitcase at the baggage claim, I go outside to the curb and quickly catch a yellow cab. It’s 5 minutes, and I’m in a car, headed to Birmingham, an upscale suburb of Detroit, where my hotel and my work would be. The driver is most of the time talking to other cab drivers. It’s a pretty short trip and I manage to engage the minimal amount by looking at my phone and doing the usual – checking Facebook, emails and Instagram. Mostly, though, I use the time to look around at the sights of this area. Like I said, it’s my first time here, and I’m curious and eager and always excited to be somewhere for the first time.
I quickly dump my luggage into my hotel room, and then order a taxi in short order. This is my only free day, and I arrived early for purposes of exploring the area before my work starts the next day.
My driver is Phil. He is retired from General Motors, which is headquartered here in Detroit. When he opens my door, he is really polite. Not in a salesman, “I need to be really nice so I get 5 stars” kind of way, but in as older man, gentleman sort of way.
As a result of his genuine kindness, I made a quick decision to be generous and kind again. I am naturally this way, but when I travel, I isolate and like to be selfish and hide and enjoy my me-time – more than normal. I’m always a little disgusted with myself when I notice that I’m deciding if I’ll be open or genuine or not. Such “power” – to actively decide if I’ll be generous or not with people. I make a mental note of this – that it feels selfish. I don’t want to be selfish. I want to be generous and compassionate.
I told him it was my first time in Detroit, and “Wow, looks like a I picked a beautiful day for it.” I commented on the blue sky and warm temperatures. (It was 70 degrees and we had a cloudless sky). “I’m excited to see your area. It’s my first time,” I said.
I start asking questions. I am curious and if I’m going to be generous, I’m going to learn some stuff.
Turns out Phil had worked for General Motors, headquartered in Detroit. He worked there “for 37 years and about a month.”
He retired 5 years ago to care for his wife, Susan, during her second round of cancer. “She died 1.5 years ago,” he offered. “She was a wonderful woman. I know all husbands say that about their wife but truly she was an angel. I miss her badly.” He added, as a result, his two grown daughters, who live in Naples, Florida, talked him into driving for Uber. “It gets me out of my quiet and empty house and off my couch, and it’s an effort to meet and talk to people.” He then told me I’m the first Wyoming customer he’s had. Surprise surprise. 🙂
Phil delivered me to the General Motors Renaissance Center. I take a photo of the beautiful exterior of the building, and then go in, and take a quick tour on my own. It is fantastic, but my sights are set on something other than the Renaissance Center. I want to see the Detroit River, and specifically, the Detroit River Walk, which supposedly, is beautiful, especially on a perfect Fall day like this one. Plus, I think it will be weird to be looking south to see Canada…
I, kindly, interrupt a passerby in the lobby of the Center. He’s a man about my age and looks like my people, (whatever that means). I apologize for my forwardness, and ask him if he is a local, and if so, would he would be willing to answer a few questions for me?
He walks me around the winding and spectacular foyer to some back doors that lead us out to the River Walk. His name is Casey. He works for General Motors, in sales. He’s based in New York City, but used to work here at the Detroit Renaissance Center. I say I’m from Wyoming, and that this I my first time to Detroit, and that I only a few hours. “I want to see as much as can from here in three hours. I’ve got a lot of energy, and want to explore by foot,” I say.
He is generous and kind. He starts listing all kinds of insider tips, including how far to walk on the riverwalk before I should worrying about my safety – about 1.5 miles… “probably no more than that.” He highly recommends I stop in for a beer at a place called Atwater’s brewery. “Look for an old, big historic warehouse.” He also recommends a stop at the Motown Museum, and/or also the Detroit Institute of Arts. He adds, “and if you like books, and libraries (is it that obvious?!), be sure to check out Detroit Library.
Before parting ways, Casey shares that he used to live in Salt Lake City for a short time, and that he loves Jackson Hole, and that he runs marathons. He says he’d love to do more adventures and exploring in Wyoming. I give him my blog urls, and mention that I’m also an adventurer and that I have written about many great Wyoming adventures and to check out those blogs for some ideas about my backyard, the Wind River Range in Wyoming. We exchange business cards and say goodbye.
And then, I’m off. The River Walk is spectacular. Trees are adorned in golden leaves, the river is blue, and skyscrapers, are across the river, in Canada, and also behind me as I don’t waste any time putting distance between the Renaissance Center and downtown Detroit, and me.
I see the point where Casey said to leave the River Walk to find Atwater’s Brewery. It’s a big old building, all right, and as I walk around looking for the entrance, I see huge open doors and all of the brewing going on in the back. The curious, travel blogger in me can’t help myself. I walk in and grab what looks to be a pretty hip and cool guy to ask some questions. I introduce myself, and meet Kyle, a brewer. Kyle is generous and enthusiastic. Passionate about his place of employment and his craft. He lets me record a short video clip of him checking the brew and providing me with some education in the the process. He then walks me into the Brewery and insists that the person behind the bar gives me a Dirty Blonde to enjoy –Atwater’s most popular brew. I also sampled two other recommended favorites, Vanilla Java Porter and Blueberry Cobbler. I drank all that with no food. Oops. But boy, life is good! I have places to go still, though, so I head out to continue my tour.
Unfortunately, it is Monday, and it turns out that, except for the brewery, all of the attractions Casey recommended are closed on Mondays.
I continue exploring on foot nonetheless to see what might turn up. It’s all new to me so I’m eager. I walk for a very long distance before realizing I don’t feel very safe. You know that feeling you get where your hair sorta stands up on your neck? That. Things just don’t feel right. There are abandoned shops and empty lots everywhere, and nobody except for two people appear every now and again. I don’t know if it’s my wild imagination, or if it’s really cause for concern, but these two individuals, who are not together, seem to pop in and out of view sporadically. They’re not just walking down the street like I am. This feels a little too adventurous and not in a good way so I try Uber. There are no cars available for my vicinity. I try for a cab. Nothing. In fact, I can’t see any moving traffic, let alone cabs.
First, let me be clear that it’s likely I wasn’t in any danger. The two people who popped in and out of sight were probably not criminals and simply taking different, less direct routes than I was. But it didn’t matter because my intuition was not letting it go. I worried about my irresponsibility and remember the boys and my responsibilities. With not many options, and in a place that is unfamiliar to me, I text Casey. I apologize for bothering him but explain that I’m feeling a little lost and uncomfortable and hoping he might be able to offer me quick advice. He responds right away and asks for my location. I share my location, adding “there’s just a bunch of deserted buildings, and I can’t find an Uber car anywhere.” He told me, in so many words, to be careful and gave me a nearby address for a corner of two streets that is about 3 blocks from where I was at. He instructed me to walk there directly, and to text him as soon as I got there, and then try for an Uber, assuring me he would be on standby.
I call people like Casey “trail angels.” They are individuals who appear as if out of nowhere right when you need help and then show you the way. (I run into these angels frequently in my travels.) I did as Casey suggested, and located and requested an Uber ride. I texted Casey to assure him I had made it to the location, and that an Uber would be there in a minute or two. Relieved and feeling no longer lost, I thanked Casey with all of my heart. I wished him well and told him to look me up if he ever gets out to Wyoming, and that I will help him when he’s in my neck of the woods.
A minute later, just in time to prevent me from launching into the wrath of Shelli self criticism, the Uber driver arrives. He is Richard. I start in with my friendly nature and start asking questions.
I have learned that people love to be seen and heard. I think one of the greatest gifts we can offer people is to ask them questions and then to listen to them. Most of us are terrible listeners, and most of us are not interested enough to care to be curious and to ask questions.
I learn that he’s a pretty famous (not his words, he is modest) gospel singer in a group called Faithfully Four. (He has played for the Clarkston (?) Sisters, and some other well known gospel and blues bands. He’s not online, but he tells me to please be sure to watch for him in a year or so. He plans to get online.
He is very humble. Everything that he’s proud of I have to work to get. He talks enthusiastically about his 3 grown daughters. He used to work for Chrysler. He transported vehicles for them. He worked 12 hours a day and made $2,100 a week. He gave it all up so he could sing and have a positive impact on people and “spread the good word of the Lord” and also be home to help his wife get kids fed in the evenings and ready for the school in the mornings.
We are about a block away from my hotel when he mentions that he is a triplet, and his brothers are Tom and Harry, “so we’re Tom, Dick and Harry.” I ask, “Seriously?!” “Yes, that’s right. I swear to God. We’re Tom, Dick and Harry. So there you go,” he says with an ear-to-ear grin.
We arrive in front of my hotel in Birmingham. I thank him for the ride and the conversation, and promise that I’ll check out his music and be pulling for him. As he closed my door for me, he remarked, “young lady, you are my first-ever Wyoming customer.” I smile, and respond saying, “Wonderful. And would you believe that you’re not the first to tell me that today?” We both chuckle.
In just one day, despite traveling and exploring alone, I had made so many meaningful connections. Each of the people, and our encounters, had made my day richer, and worth remembering. I loved seeing the Renaissance Center, the views along the River Walk, drinking the delicious beer at the brewery, and seeing sights in Detroit. But mostly, I loved the experience of these encounters with the people I met along the way.
I listen to tons of podcasts and read several books in a given year. These are a tremendous source of knowledge and inspiration for me. I am grateful for, and better because of them. But I grow weary of the fact that I only get to hear interviews and conversations with people who have made millions or started and sold big-name companies, or who have written at least one book, usually a New York Times bestseller. As if you only have something of value or inspiration to warrant our time and attention if you’ve written a book or if you’ve started some major corporation.
In other words, if you haven’t done these things, you are basically a nobody.
This is a problem for me. These “nobodies,” including the ones referenced above that I met during my travels to Detroit, inspire me to no end.
Tim Ferriss, on his fantastic podcast (which is one of my favorites), often asks his guests, “When you think of success, who comes to mind?” I love that question, because most of us, if we were to consider our answer to this question, would find that very often it’s not someone who is, or was, well-known or famous.
As for me, I am more inspired by simple, ordinary, regular – “normal” – people who are daring enough to turn their ordinary life into a life that, for them, is extraordinary. These are people who could become famous by writing books or starting corporations, but who instead may choose to live in a community where he or she can get to know his/her neighbors, to help one another, to pick up their kids from school, and to live what, for them, is an extraordinary life.
These ordinary people are my people. And I want to hear their stories.
Prevention magazine is doing a feature article in their March edition about me and one of my transformational hiking experiences. The magazine’s writer interviewed me in several parts, and Prevention sent a photographer out to hike on a wintry cold day in early December with me, and some past Epic participants and friends.
I know this is great news, to be featured in a national magazine. But, as I wait for the article to be published, I’m also feeling terrified, and, well, exposed. The magazine comes out in mid-February, and I’m seriously strategizing about how I can run and hide for several months when it does… Not really, but maybe?
The article will touch on a time in my life when I was depressed and in quite a “rut.” Some people who have heard my keynote presentation know a little about this. My husband, of course, knows a lot about it, and my close friends know a little about it. But many who know me will learn about it for the first time.
After the first interview, I was left feeling exposed, thinking, “the secret’s out.” Make no mistake – I chose to be forthcoming and vulnerable for the article. After all, a story about a woman doing an epic hike in the Grand Canyon isn’t a very interesting story, not to mention it’s been told a million times already. My hope was to share some insights into what I think is a reality – that even when we’re living the dream, there will not only be heights, but also, depths.
I don’t want to let the cat of the bag, and I haven’t seen the finished article that will be published. But suffice it to say that for some years I was living and operating on “autopilot.” I was working too much. I was distracted and preoccupied. I was tethered (addicted?) to my cell phone. I wasn’t taking good care of myself physically or emotionally. I was drinking wine on too many weeknights. I was depressed. It makes me sad to admit it, but the fact is for some years there, I wasn’t paying very good attention in, or to, my life. I wasn’t present, and as a result, missed out on quite a lot…
Thinking about all of this caused me to recall an adventure I had 15 years ago that illustrates perfectly the state I found myself in upon realizing just how far down I was in my life.
On October 1, my husband, Jerry, and our friends, Chuck and Karla, and I drank coffee as we drove about an hour in our 4-wheel-drive truck through deep snow to the Christina Lake trailhead. It was still dark out since this adventure was my idea, and I like to be out on the trail when the sun comes up. When we parked at the trailhead, we remarked at the still star-filled sky as we put our snowshoes on. It was cold so we made quick work of it and were soon on our way.
We snowshoed into Upper Silas Canyon. We took turns breaking trail for about 3.5 miles before stopping for a hot drink and a snack at Upper Silas Lake. The lake was stunningly beautiful. Perfectly nestled in a landscape blanketed by white fluff, and surrounded by powder-sugar-covered pine trees, Upper Silas Lake was mostly frozen. We wanted to enjoy the scenery longer but it took only a few minutes of not moving before we were all shivering again from the cold. Eager to get warm again, we started our return hike.
Our return hike was mostly quiet. As is often the case on a return hike, we were each in our own worlds.
We were about almost back to the trailhead when all of a sudden, as if out of nowhere, there were hunters, scattered, each one hiding and moving carefully and quietly from tree to tree, with a rifle in hand. They were quietly hunting and looking for, and maybe even actively stalking, their prey.
We were suddenly vulnerable and exposed. Caught, and unaware.
It hadn’t occurred to us when we embarked on this adventure that it was opening day for hunting season. We didn’t have orange on, and we were not making very much noise as we snowshoed through the woods. Suddenly we were in the sights of several people with rifles.
This is what it was like for me after we sold our first company and I went from being completely consumed and time poor to having time on my hands. It was as if I suddenly “woke up” to my life, and upon doing so, I noticed numerous threats. It felt as if they had appeared out of nowhere. Almost as if I had been stealthily stalked… The reality was I was on autopilot and consumed. Somewhere along the lines I stopped being alert and wasn’t paying attention.
The waking up was painful. It was a reckoning, and there was regret I contended with for a few years before turning things around. Thank God I woke up. What a difference it has made.
Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, and often dubbed “The Mother of Mindfulness,” so perfectly suggests, “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing either mindfully or mindlessly, and the consequences of being in one state of mind or the other are enormous.” In the early 1970s, Langer studied “mindlessness.” She found then, and continues to find, that mindlessness is pervasive. “Most people are just not there, and they’re not there to know that they’re not there.”
“Not there” describes where I was during those few years. (Check out this exceptional conversation between Krista Tippett and Ellen Langer about “actively noticing.”)
Jack London says in his famous Credo, which I think are words to live by: The function of man is to live, not to exist.
What I have learned is that when we’re paying attention – and awake – we live. When we’re not, we’re simply existing and marking time.
Thank you for reading.
NOTE: I’m recruiting right now for my Epic Women program, which bundles individual life coaching, wellness and a guided 4-day Epic backpacking expedition. Please let me know if you’d like more information about that, or to schedule a call with me to learn more.
Every new year I choose 3 words that I want to guide me. (This is originally Chris Brogan’s idea)
Our family’s 2017 words are Challenge, Adventure and Service.
My personal 3 words for 2017 are: 1. ONE (Single task. Do only one thing at a time. If I’m writing, I’m writing. If I’m reading, I’m reading. If I’m in conversation with someone, I’m in the conversation. If I’m folding laundry, I’m folding laundry. If I’m driving, I’m driving. If I’m eating, I’m eating. You get the gist. It’s about focusing, and eliminating distractions.)
2. PRACTICE (Practice everything, including juggling, harmonica, reciting favorite poems, mindfulness, mobility training, etc.)
3. HELL YEAH ~oops a 2-worded word~(Saying Yes to memory-making experiences, which for me, tend to be the spontaneous ones. I started implementing this in late 2015, when I slid down the Popo Agie waterfall for the first time since I was a teenager; other examples include getting in the hotel pool and playing ball with my sons, going down big water slides, saying yes to our 30-day Europe trip even though we weren’t sure we could afford it, and spinning cookies/donuts on Jan. 1 of this year.This is also similar to living according to Derek Siver’s “No Yes. It’s Either Hell Yeah or No” philosophy.)
What are your 3 words? I would love to hear them, so please think about this and share them in the comments.
I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.” -Henry David Thoreau
One day in Alaska’s Brooks Range, on my NOLS course in 2011, we got turned around and we weren’t sure of our location. After some hours of backpacking, we were feeling a little demoralized and uncertain so we took off our heavy packs, and got our big topographical maps out before going about trying to figure out where we were.
The Brooks Range is a 700-mile-long mountain range that stretches from West to East in the far north of Alaska. The country is remote and vast and wild. There are no roads and no trails in the Brooks Range. So, in order to determine your location, you have to try to match the land formations around you with features on the map. It can be laborious. After a while of not figuring out where we were, a couple of us grew impatient, myself included. I just wanted to move, in any direction. I was tired of not going anywhere, and tired of not figuring out the answer to our question. One of my course-mates said to me, “With all due respect, I don’t think it’s a waste of time to figure out where we are, so we can figure out where we’re going.”
I’ve never forgotten those words. Such wisdom! And not only in our Brooks Range situation, but even more importantly, when it comes to life. We cannot expect to realize our dreams, or achieve our goals, without first having a very good understanding of who we are, and where we’re at. Self awareness is the single most important, and first step, to not only living our best (epic) life, but to being our best version.
And, along your journey that is your life, remember this: Your compass is more important than your map.
By design, I do a lot of things for work. Mostly, I’m a life and leadership coach, keynote presenter, leadership developer and adventure guide. People hire me when they want to take stock of their life or leadership, or both, and to help them make changes.
In order to be content and self aware, we must have some regular intervals of time each week when we’re available only to ourselves in order to listen to our thoughts, including the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m not a coach for everyone. Anyone who works with me can expect to do a deep dive into Self. It’s that important to a fulfilled life, and it’s not easy work.
As an Emotional Intelligence consultant, but more importantly, as someone who likes people, and who values relationships, I feel strongly that listening is the most important skill we ought to develop. (Unfortunately we are not taught to listen, which in my humble opinion, is a tragedy, and a lost opportunity.) Most of us are not very good listeners. Right now, take a second to think about all of the people you know and are in relationship with. Can you think of one or two who are really good listeners? These are people who listen to you so closely that you feel as if you’re the only person in the world when you’re with them, and they’re listening to you. It’s so uncommon to find these great listeners, and when you do, it’s a real gift. If you have any of them in your life, cherish and thank them. Seeing and hearing a person is one of the greatest gifts we can offer someone.
But we also need to be great listeners of ourselves.
I hike about 1,000 miles a year. Half of these are alone, and it’s not because I can’t find anyone to hike with. Rather, I yearn for a lot of time alone. Solitude has made all of the difference in my life. In fact, I think it probably deserves more credit for my contentment than anything else.
I know I am frequently referencing books, and I’m sorry if I overwhelm you with book recommendations, but I’m a voracious reader. I practically eat books, and they are a tremendous source of inspiration, and learning, for me. I just finished reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit (who is also the author of Wanderlust, and The Faraway Nearby. I recommend all of these books).
First of all, what’s not to love about the title, which won my heart before I even read the description for it. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Solnit captures it perfectly for me:
“Summer breezes caressed me, my legs stepped forward as though possessed of their own appetites, and the mountains kept promising. I stopped before the trees were gone, not ready that day to disappear entirely into the vastness. Perhaps these spaces are the best corollary I have found to truth, to clarity, to independence.”
Time alone, and solitude, is not empty, but “full.” Thanks to Joel Krieger for this photo of me in my backyard, near Temple Peak and Temple Lake, in the Wind River Range.
I wish I could take the credit for falling in love with, and discovering the value of solitude, but my love for it happened by accident. When I was 21 years old, I lost my Division I basketball scholarship. It was my most spectacular failure. I wasn’t a good enough player, and there was someone else who was better and more deserving of my scholarship, so my scholarship was given to another player.
I was devastated, and a long way from home. Most of my friends were still on the basketball team, so losing my scholarship meant also losing significant time with my friends. I started spending a lot of time alone, hiking Mount Sentinel on the edge of campus. Until then, I always thought people who went to the movies alone, or who hiked, or did anything alone, were lonely people. Boy was I wrong about that. In fact, lonely and alone are not the same things. I am blessed that I was only 21 years old when I discovered the value of time spent alone, because now I am 48 years old, and the solitude I enjoy has been a blessing over the years. And, speaking of blessings, the “spectacular failure” turned out to be one of my greatest blessings.
We hear a lot about being our “Authentic Self,” and in leadership we hear a lot about being an “Authentic Leader.” Both are hard to be if we don’t even know who we are. I think how we live is how we lead, so self realization is the first step whether your motive is to live your best life or to have a positive and effective leadership impact.
We discover our authentic self during time alone, taking stock, listening to our thoughts, feeling our emotions, asking ourselves important questions and then giving ourselves time and space to answer them.
So, solitude is a gift. Most of us don’t get enough of it. As a coach, there are three excuses I hear most often for not getting enough – or any – solitude.
The first excuse is a common excuse for not doing a lot of things we want and need to do. It is the, “I don’t have time. I’m so busy, and I can’t find the time” excuse. I think it was writer Elizabeth Gilbert who said, “We don’t find the time; we make the time.” I couldn’t agree more. We all have 24 hours in a day. I often challenge people I work with and/or know to wake up 15 minutes earlier, and to simply go to a dark room and sit alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes before officially starting their day. Using this time to start a mindfulness practice is also beneficial, and is another good way to introduce yourself to solitude.
The second excuse – and one that I commonly hear from people who hire me as their coach – is, “It’s uncomfortable.” I agree. Being alone with our thoughts can be very uncomfortable. It can be difficult to listen to our thoughts because they’re not always positive. This time alone can facilitate a sort of reckoning. We are forced to confront the brutal truths of our life. It is hard to run or hide from one’s self if left alone with our thoughts. This is one of the reasons I think solitude is so valuable. How can we be a truth teller to our self if we’re not aware of the hard truths in our life?
I’m not immune. My time alone is often uncomfortable. Tears frequently come during solitude. The quiet and lack of others around help me to feel and experience and process my emotions at a deeper level. And, as someone who struggles with self criticism, I find that solitude helps me to be more self compassionate. I’m guessing this is the result of having a better understanding of myself. My work at self compassion has only just begun, and I have a long ways to go, but I do think solitude is helping.
I’ve worked with about 125 individual leaders during the last six years, and I think every one of them struggles, at least sometimes, with self criticism. We tend to be hard on ourselves, and it is my belief that time alone leads to understanding of self, which leads to more compassion for, and less judgment of, self, and others.
One question I challenge people I know and work with to ask themselves is, “What am I needing?” This is such an important question, and most of us do not give ourselves time and space to consider the question, let alone the possible answers to it. It is much easier to live in denial, and to not confront or address personal challenges, weaknesses or pains if we avoid making ourselves aware of them. But this lack of awareness also prevents us from making changes that could be significant to our life.
I’m reading a fantastic book called Journal of a Solitude, by the late May Sarton. Sarton was an American novelist, poet and memoirist who suffered from bouts of depression. Journal Of A Solitude is a book that is one year’s worth of Sarton’s journaling, which includes some pretty dark times. Here are just two of the many gems I have highlighted in my dog-eared copy of the book:
“I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my ‘real’ life again at last,” begins Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude. “That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life, unless there is time alone in which to explore what is happening or what has happened.”
And, another gem from the book:“There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.”
Sarton’s book is inspiring to me, in ways I can’t quite articulate other than to say I have my own dark pools and depressive moments, and reading of Sarton’s own struggles helps me feel not as alone in my personal struggles. Like I often do, I use a writer’s words to reference and describe my own feelings when I can’t find the words to do so on my own. I highly recommend the book, which is hard to find, probably due to Maria Popova’s recent recommendation of the book in her amazing Brain Pickings. (I also recommend subscribing to Brain Pickings. For some years now, a highlight for me every Sunday morning is receiving what Popova curates and compiles for our inspiration and benefit.)
The third excuse I hear, and hear most often is more or less, “Solitude is boring.” As a society, we have come to view boredom as a problem to solve. Think about the last time you had to wait for anything – out front of the school waiting for a son or daughter, in the waiting room of a clinic, waiting in line at the post office or grocery store, or at a stop light or stop sign, or in TSA line at the airport – or well, just about in any situation. At the first glimpse of free time, most of us reach for our smartphone. (I read somewhere recently that the average U.S. American adult reaches for his/her phone 150 times a day. This is staggering, and I believe it.)
I work with many creative people, and in my presentations to leaders, and in my coaching work with them, I like to make a case for boredom. In order for us to brainstorm new ideas – to have Aha moments and new solutions to old problems – we must allow our mind to wander. Our mind wanders only when we allow it to – when we’re bored.
Joseph Campbell, from his Power of Myth, writes about the important influence that solitude has on one’s creativity, whether toward self or a creative endeavor.
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”
And another favorite, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea, a book I especially recommend to women: “Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone.”
Try to resist the temptation to reach for your phone, or fill/use up the little bits of free time the next time you are required to wait or have a moment to not do anything. It’s hard work, AND it’s worth it. Note to Self, a great podcast I listen to, did a series of challenges they called “Bored and Brilliant” a while back that were designed to “guide you to less phone time and more creativity.” Thousands of people signed up for the challenges, which included things like not reaching for your phone during public transit, not using your phone as a camera to instead “see the world through your eyes not your screen,” delete apps, and other challenges. (I have one friend/client who is an artist, and he, like me, is wanting to create more. We are toying with an idea of disconnecting for 30 days for purposes of seeing what we could each create by putting to good use the “boredom” we would gain.)
As far as our rampant use of smartphones, which help us avoid boredom, and keep us from being alone with our thoughts, let the record show that I’m guilty as charged! Technology is a Godsend for me, and my work. It enabled our first company (Yellowstone Journal/YellowstonePark.com, NationalParkTrips) to do world-class work from the the Frontier of Wyoming, and it enables me to reach and serve clients from around the country even as I work in an RV parked by the river in the foothills of Wyoming’s Wind River Range. I think I mostly use technology for good. Facebook, in particular, has facilitated meaningful friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise made, and has enriched so many of my connections with friends and family. It is also a marketing tool for me, as well as a place for me to share things that I find inspiring, and worth sharing with the world.
But I am finding that my almost-constant tethered-ness to my phone and social media is also not always serving me. It’s addictive, and distracting, and it probably limits me at least as much as it helps and enriches me. This is a real conundrum, and something I’ve been working on addressing for some time now. (Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, and also the work of Derek Sivers, among others, are causing me to take serious stock of my use of technology, and big change could be coming for me as a result. I haven’t sorted it all out just yet, though!)
University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues have studied people when in solitude. For one experiment, people were instructed to sit alone, with only their thoughts, in an empty lab room for 15 minutes. The only thing in the room was a button they could push, and if they pushed it, it would self-administer an electrical shock. The results were startling: Even though all participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, half of all participants shocked themselves at least once, the team reported in Science. That’s newsworthy, so I’ll be redundant: Half of us would rather shock ourselves than sit alone with our thoughts for 15 minutes. I can’t help myself – this is shocking!
Sherry Turkle is Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Initiative on Technology and Self. Turkle has been studying the psychology of online connectivity for more than 30 years, and she is the author of two books I recommend, Alone Together, and Reclaiming Conversation. The latter, which investigates how a flight from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity, is a cautionary tale for us, especially for parents and teachers. (But for the record, I think everyone ought to read the book.)
According to Turkle, “Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” So just the presence of a phone, which has become a way to “solve” boredom, prevents us from going deep with people.
One finding of Turkle’s that is a surprise, and warrants our attention, is that our capacity for solitude actually helps us be more empathetic with others.
“In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.”
Hear hear. I cannot say it better.
If I were asked what single advice I would offer, it would be Pay Attention. And learning how to pay attention starts when we’re alone.
I hope this blog post will inspire you to carve out more time for you to be alone.
Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it.
“A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.” (Rumi) Photo: Solitude in the Cirque of the Towers.
(Note: My son, Hayden, read this and approved of my sharing)
Hayden, 14, is our second of three sons. He gets his name from Ferdinand Hayden, the geologist that led the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871, which explored and documented features in the region that would one year later become Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. Since he was old enough to walk, Hayden has been drawn to rocks, and has always loved climbing and scrambling over rocks so perhaps it’s no wonder he gets his name from a geologist.
It was last year that I had this idea of leading my sons on a mother-son rite of passage expedition the summer before they start high school. A mother of three sons, I will get to have this meaningful experience three times. Last year, I took our first son, Wolf, on the adventure, and still consider the mother-son rite of passage idea one of my best ideas ever. (Our youngest son, Fin, is 9, so it will be 5 years before we get to do his.)
It was Hayden’s turn for the adventure this year, and after a lot of anticipation, we were excited to get the party started. First thing’s first, so we stopped at Lander Bake Shop at 6:30am and I bought Hayden a giant brownie plus a mocha, and we started our 2-hour drive to the trailhead.
On our way out of town, I played a Hidden Brain podcast called “Silver and Gold.” Hayden is super athletic and loves sports, so I figured this would be a good pick. I should mention that my son Hayden is funny, and really smart. He is way more intelligent than me, and in fact, one of the things we love about Hayden is the random bits of trivia he shares with us that are always fascinating tidbits that teach us things we did not previously know. The podcast started out with Shankar Vedantam explaining that David Matsumoto, a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, and a former Olympic Judo coach, has analyzed the behavior of Olympic medal winners. Among other things, Matsumoto found that people who won bronze medals appeared happier than people who won silver medals. Before he could explain, Hayden quipped, “Duh. The bronze winner is just happy he made the podium. The silver medalist is not happy because he could have gotten a gold, but he did not, and that silver just drives that point home.”
LOL. I couldn’t argue with him, and in fact agreed, so we turned off the podcast, and instead agreed to listen to the start of an audiobook, Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat. As a family we all laughed out loud while watching Gaffigan’s stand-up show, Beyond The Pale, on Netflix, and so we had a feeling this book would be good for some laughs on this day’s early start. And boy were we right. It wasn’t long, and Hayden and I were both laughing out loud. We especially enjoyed the first chapter. We loved it so much that I predicted “Dinga Dinga Dong…” might become a useful tagline, at times, during our adventure.
Once we turned off the highway and onto the long dirt road, we switched to music. We listened to Jet Fly, Ride, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Bonfire Heart, Lose Yourself, Lost!, Let the Rhythm Just, Born in the U.S.A., I Took A Pill In Ibiza, All At Once, 7 Years, Called Out In The Dark, and many other songs, before arriving at the trailhead.
Can I have some Hayden with that backpack?
As per usual, ours would not be a lightweight adventure. As we parked at the trailhead and reached for our backpacks, we had to be intentional so as not to get injured. Good thing Hayden grew 5 inches in the last 12 months, I thought to myself. His pack was more than half his height! (By the way, I’m not necessarily proud to admit this, but these growing boys of ours are young and fit and strong, so they can carry more weight than they used to carry. Read: More weight than their mom carries. I train to be strong and fit and capable, but still, my 48-year-old joints are not of the same quality as those of my 14-year-old son. Even so, both of our backpacks were tall and unseemly – and seam-popping.
Did I mention Hayden is an Eater? Yes, the capital E is intentional. We packed an abundance of delicious foods – and also a football and a packraft and a kite. These things take up space. (This sort of reminds me of a time when Wolf was one-and-a-half years old and I was six months pregnant with Hayden. We rented llamas and camped at Stough Creek Basin. Because llamas carried our loads, we packed in an exersaucer, swing, and a huge condominium of a tent. Hayden’s and my backpacking adventure was sorta similar to this except for there were no llamas.)
We started hiking down the trail, and I instructed him to take small steps rather than large, bounding, lunging steps. I told him it would be better for us to try and stay under these monster packs rather than be stretched out from under them.
At first we didn’t say much. I listened as our trekking poles clicked on the rocky trail and I watched and followed in Hayden’s steps. This is common in all of the trips I lead and take. The first bit is all about getting into a groove and developing a sense of how it’s going to feel to move and travel in this way, loaded down with everything that will sustain us for 4 days. It’s also a time for re-orienting to a new – and wild – place.
“Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” These are the words of Henry David Thoreau, found near the end of his wonderful book, Walden. I reminded myself of this quote as Hayden and I started up the trail in the silence, and in our own thoughts. I had been on this very trail just days before leading my Epic Women expedition. I was home just long enough to get cleaned up, unpacked, and repacked, and my mind had been a little scattered in preparation for this adventure. I really wanted to be here with Hayden, 100%, and to savor our time together, and to not be too tired, or distracted by my unfinished, growing pile of work that was on my desk at home.
One of the reasons I love spending so much time in the wilderness is it’s the easiest place for me to be present, and to be in the moment. Otherwise, in all other places, I tend to be future-oriented, always preoccupied with future and upcoming events, and new ideas and possibilities. As we walked our first mile, I felt that familiar sense of belonging and presence – and a relief came over me that I would indeed have no problem being here with Hayden, and only here.
I love hiking with my sons. At least in my experience, if we’re wandering down some trail, I don’t have to work to prompt the boys into conversation. Walking somehow inspires them to talk, and to share openly about what’s on their mind.
Hayden started talking to me about basketball, and citing statistics about Michael Jordan. A few months back I had bought him Michael Jordan: The Life, by Roland Lazenby, and he recently finished reading it. He commented that the book is fantastic, and that he especially loved what was said on the book’s final page.
I listened as he talked excitedly about some of Jordan’s statistics, and several other NBA players. While I don’t want to compare, I must stay Hayden is very much like I was when I was his age. Basketball was my passion. I spent all of my free time developing my three point shot and other skills at elementary school playgrounds in the summer. I even received a Division I basketball scholarship to the University of Montana in 1986. And even though it didn’t work out as planned, and ended up being what I call one of my most spectacular failures, hearing Hayden talk about basketball, and watching him invest so much time shooting and doing drills at local playgrounds this summer is a little like flashing back to my own 14-year-old self.
After a while it started sprinkling so we took out our rain jackets and had a quick snack and some water. When we started hiking again, I asked him if he had any goals for our adventure. “I want to have fun with you and to do awesome.” I told him I had the same goals.
Hayden, hiking around Big Sandy Lake.
It wasn’t long, and we reached Big Sandy Lake, where we removed our packs and ate some lunch. I pointed out all of the mountains around us: Schiestler Peak, Temple Peak, East Temple and Steeple peaks, Haystack, and Big Sandy. Mitchell Peak, the mountain Hayden would climb on his own the next day, was just out of sight. As we ate our lunch, we listened as a marmot whistled/chirped from the pile of granite boulders above the lake. Hayden used to do a fantastic marmot call, and I tried to get him to do it now, but he refused. When did he grow up? I thought to myself. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were bribing the boys up the trail by planting “trail fairy” snacks for them. Now, we can hardly keep up with them. Hayden was loaded down, with a much-heavier pack than I, and still, it took effort to stay on his heels. I have created a monster, I thought to myself, as I tried to catch up with him after putting our packs back on.
Soon we started up the “grunt” part of the day – the beginning of Jackass Pass, so named because not even a mule (ie. jackass) can hike up it. As we moved slowly up the switchbacks, I remarked that we were moving like ants carrying great loads. “Actually, if we were ants, our loads would be much heavier because ants can carry 10 times their bodyweight on their backs.” We then discussed how grateful we were that our loads were not 1,150 pounds and 1,350 pounds respectively, and talking about this (almost) made our loads feel not as heavy. Hayden suggested how cool it would be if we had some ants around to carry our loads. We figured if we wanted a 70-pound load carried in for each of us, all it would require would be two 7-pound ants. We spent a couple of switchbacks distracting ourselves from exertion by imagining these giant ants, and what it would be like to hire ants to carry in our loads.
Soon, we arrived at what I consider to be a magical, best kept secret site for a camp.
We set up the tent and unloaded the foods and other kitchen stuff and moved them to the scenic kitchen area, where we were blessed by epic views. Across from us was Mitchell Peak, and in the distance was Haystack, Steeple, East Temple and Temple peaks. Hayden would climb Mitchell Peak early the next morning, and we’d day hike over to the Deep Lake area on Day 3. I love this camp because from it, you can see all of the country we’d be exploring.
Hayden then sprawled out on a granite slab and took a nap. While he was napping, I remembered him as an almost 2-year-old. One time we were camping in our camper at Flaming Gorge, and Hayden, then about 18 months old, was up all night screaming in pain from an ear infection. “Sing Amazing Grace!” he yelled at me as I tried to console him on my chest. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was so cute how demanding and specific his request was. As he lay there napping, I brainstormed words to describe my Hayden with using the letters of his name. H is for honorable (Hayden has always been principled, and inspired by men and women of honor), Amazing (he probably prefers the word awesome, but given the song, Amazing Grace, has such a place in his early life and our relationship, I am going with Amazing), Y for youthful (he’s great at getting down and playing with younger kids, including his 9-year-old brother, Fin, and Whacky Fish Campers last summer), D is for Determined (once Hayden sets his mind to something, he pursues it with a dogged determination), Eater (no explanation, but suffice it to say that he’s hungry pretty much ALL of the time), and finally, N is for Night owl (poor Hayden, he’s the only night owl in our family of early risers.)
Hayden, eating Epic Buttery, Cheesy Noodles.
After writing all of this down in my journal, I opened my copy of Kahlil Gibran’s prophet, and read my favorite essay in the entire book, “On Children.” Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts… I tell myself that I must remember all this, especially the last part.
One of the thing that inspires me about Hayden is how he marches to the beat of his own drum. Even at his relatively young age, he’s his own man. He may seek advice, and be inspired and influenced, but ultimately, he chooses what to believe, and how to be. I know it’s early on, he’s only 14, but it is something I’ve noticed about Hayden for some time now. I was probably 40 years old before I felt like I marched to the beat of my own drum.
This rite of passage trip is as much a rite of passage for mom as it is for son. I have a very clear idea about the kind of mother I want to be. Still, being that person is difficult. I struggle constantly with it. As my Hayden grows into a man, I want to do my best to be the mother I want to be. That mother is not a hovering mother, but rather a supportive mother who guides and loves and cares for her son, but also stays out of his way so that he can blossom and emerge and soar. By the time this expedition ends, my hope is that we make simple promises to one another that will help facilitate my being the way I want to be in order for him to be his best, and that we may love each other even more as a result.
Hayden wakes up as I make a bunch of racket getting pans, food and the stove out. I mention that nap will do him good since his mountain climb will come early tomorrow. We plan to wake at 4am, and for him to start up at around 5am. I show him Mitchell Peak, and most of what his route will be. I ask him if he’s nervous. “Not really,” he says. “I’m excited, though.” This is pure Hayden. If he gets nervous, he doesn’t show it. I, on the other hand, am feeling nervous. This is my idea – for him to climb Mitchell Peak by himself – and yet, as his mother, I wonder if I’m being reckless, and if he’ll get his leg pinned between two boulders tomorrow, or get too close to the edge when standing on the summit. I chase these thoughts away with conversation about food. Hayden decides we should save the most epic meal – cheesy quesadillas – for after the mountain climb, and so we settle on cheesy, buttery noodles for tonight. He eats almost three bowls.
Hayden, throwing the football.
Next, we play catch with the football he packed in. I used to beg him to throw the ball 50 times with me. Now, he begs me. I’m not a hard sell. I love playing catch (fetch) with Hayden. We both try to catch the football with just one hand. He’s better than me at it. Of course. But for a minute, I feel young, like a 14-year-old girl, and I’m having a lot of fun.
Then, we play some gin rummy with cards we bought in Switzerland. We wonder aloud, and laugh, at why we would have purchased the German version. Each card has a unique illustration and paragraph of information that we imagine is pretty interesting if only one of us knew German. We play three games; he wins two, and I win one. We’ll keep track and continue the contest over the next few days.
Playing gin rummy.
We decide to go to bed early since the alarm will sound in a matter of hours. We get into my 2-person tent, and he remarks, “this is very cocoon-like.” We say good night, but I can tell he’s not sleeping. He’s tossing and turning and his breathing isn’t restful. I ask him if he’s okay and he says he feels claustrophobic. I suggest we sleep outside under the stars so he doesn’t feel so closed in. He says he’ll be okay, and after a while more of tossing and turning, I can sense he’s fast asleep. For my part, I didn’t sleep. This isn’t unusual – I’m not a great wilderness sleeper. Mostly, I didn’t sleep due to nerves regarding Hayden’s mountain climb. I remind myself that last year I was the same way, and Wolf did just fine. This helps me a little.
The alarm goes off, and we’re up. I make coffee for me and hot chocolate for him. We have some chunky peanut butter and honey bagels, and we’re off with headlamps. We stop at the outlet of North Lake to refill our water bottles and treat the water. I lead him along the trail, and over the boulders along North Lake’s north shore before arriving to the start of the Mitchell Peak ascent. I start up with him for a bit to make sure he’s on the right course, and then agree where we’ll meet up to descend part of the mountain together, and we part ways. There is alpenglow on Warbonnet and I snap a photo of him with it in the background before hugging him and wishing him a great climb.
Hayden, ready to climb his mountain.
Hayden, about to start up Mitchell Peak, right before we part ways.
Alpenglow on Warbonnet.
I climb in a different direction toward Dog Tooth, and find a rock on which to sit. And wait. And worry. While sitting here, butterflies were everywhere. This reminded me of when Hayden was a toddler and I’d carry him in a backpack. I loved those times. I have such fond memories. He’d be mostly in my right ear, over my right shoulder and he’d exclaim, “Buttflies! Buttflies!” whenever he spied a butterfly, which was often. I don’t remember Wolf or Fin ever getting excited over butterflies. Now, I see butterflies everywhere, especially on the yellow flowers that nature arranges like bouquets up high in this alpine tundra. It’s hard to not feel God’s presence and my blessings, as I recall Hayden’s love of butterflies and now see them all around me. I get a little teared up and emotional. I wait and every now and again, spy through my binoculars. Hayden is wearing a red shirt, which is helpful. I spot him making his way toward the peak. I figure it will be another one-and-a-half or two hours so before he sits on the summit. One-and-a-half or two hours of me worrying, and feeling what I can only describe as “tender.”
I pull out my journal and look for the wise words of Seneca that I printed out before leaving: It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
As a person, I can be very hard on myself. As a mother, I’m even harder on myself. It’s the most important responsibility I have, and I constantly doubt my abilities. I read Seneca’s words three times, as if to rehearse their truth. This right here, being with my Hayden – just he and I for 4 days – is using my time. For a minute, I allow myself to be proud of myself. I would not want to be anywhere with anyone else right now. I snap some photos of the butterfly that is on the yellow flower in front of me.
A butterfly on a flower as I wait for Hayden to summit Mitchell Peak.
Last year for about three months, Hayden, a straight A student, went through a period where he was not turning in assignments. He was doing the work but forgetting to turn it in. It was challenging, and I was freaking out about it. It was so out of character and I didn’t handle it well. I was not the mother I want to be. The principles I was arguing for wasn’t a problem, rather the way I was doing it. I remember being at wit’s end and yelling at Hayden at the top of my lungs before storming upstairs to sink and cry. After a while I came down, with puffy eyes, and sat down with Jerry and the boys for dinner. I looked at Hayden, in front of Jerry and Wolf and Fin, and I said, “I’m sorry. I do not want to be this way with you. While you have to turn things around and start turning your work in, this isn’t how I want to be. I’m sorry. And I hope you can forgive me.” Surprised to see his strong mother so broken down, he thanked me. I am so fallible…
I remember that Hayden’s climbing a mountain, and get my binoculars out. It’s not long and I spy him gaining the ridge to the summit. I have climbed Mitchell Peak 10 times, and every time I gain the ridge, I’m blown away by what I see. It’s as if seeing it for the first time – the Cirque of the Towers, and many granite peaks along the Continental Divide for as far as eye can see – take your breath away. I wonder if Hayden is having this same experience… I hear him on the Talkabout: “I’m over the ridge. It’s awesome,” he says. I tell him great job, and congratulate him. “That means a lot, Mom,” he says. This chokes me up, and I’m sorta a blubbering mess right now. Hayden isn’t very emotional, so this, to use the words of Hayden, “hits me where I live.”
I’m relieved that he’s almost to the top, where he’ll likely sit and enjoy the view and solitary experience for a while, which means I feel like I have at least a little time to relax and stop worrying.
I think of Hayden some more. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love ice cream. It’s right up there with bacon. For years, we’ve had a tradition of eating ice cream after school on Fridays. Since the two older boys are now much busier with sports, etc. after school, we still eat ice cream together at least once a week, just not at the same scheduled time and place. I think of this now because it was during my pregnancy with Hayden that I fell in love with ice cream. I craved it all of the time.
As I’m making this realization, I remember the time I just had to have some ice cream, and so I put Wolf in the carseat, and loaded my pregnant-with-Hayden self into my Subaru Outback and headed to Dairyland to get a large hot fudge and banana malt. During the 10 minutes I was out satisfying this ice cream craving, we had a hail storm. $3,000 worth of damage to my car because I had to have ice cream. Oops! I am laughing out loud right now as I realize all of this, and that my love of ice cream can be blamed on Hayden.
I think now of Hayden’s birth. Wolf was an early, emergency C-section. I wanted to try for a VBAC with Hayden, if I could. I was in labor, feeling the intense pains of labor, when all of a sudden, Hayden’s heart rate was erratic and in distress. The doctor announced we needed to have an emergency C-section. The nurse, Karen – who I will never forget – pushed me as Jerry held my hand and ran alongside me down the hallways of the hospital to get to the surgical unit. Karen asked if we could pray together. We all prayed, and tried not to imagine the worst… it was too unbearable to do so. We got into the surgical room and there was panic in the air. Nurses and the doctor rushed around. Jerry and I cried, and prayed, in desperation. Suddenly, Hayden’s heart rate returned to normal. He was my only baby that was of average size, and didn’t require extended hospitalization or care. He was beautiful, what with his bright blue eyes and his head of thick, white hair. I will never forget meeting him for the first time.
I’m crying again when I hear his voice on the radio. “I’m at the top,” he announces. He says it’s awesome and that he’ll enjoy the view and eat something and drink some water. He says it’s not windy there, and he’s doing great.
I hear a hummingbird zoom by me. This the second I’ve noticed this morning. I think of my mom. My wonderful mom. She LOVES hummingbirds so I always think of her when I hear or see one. This one lingers a little for me, just long enough for it to feel like a specific gift sent to me.
I remember I have a Snickers bar. I packed one for Hayden for his summiting, and one for me. Sometime I’ll try just eating a Snickers but today isn’t that day, so I snarf it, and it hits the spot.
I think because Hayden’s a second child, and I’m a second child, I relate to him in a special way. I worry that because he’s second in the order, that he might not get as much attention as the first or the last of our sons. I remember when I was a young girl and sitting on the sidewalk step with my Dad watching as my older sister, and all of her friends, raced bikes up and down the street. I asked my Dad if I could get a bike, and he said something to the effect of, when you’re your sister’s age. Nothing against my Dad — he has turned out to be one of my biggest champions! – but I remember thinking how much sense that response did not make. I think Hayden is similar in that he doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for arbitrary things.
Hayden’s selfie on the summit of Mitchell Peak.
Some more time passes, and I’m enjoying myself, and the view, and the warmth of the sun that is now over the mountain on my face. I think I’m going to be okay, I say to myself. Hayden’s voice comes on the radio announcing he’s going to start down. I tell him to be careful and remind him to look around and get everything he had with him up there. “And remember, the summit’s only the halfway point,” I say. “Yeah, I know, Mom,” he says. I love it when he says this. It’s reassuring, and I just like the way it sounds when he says it, and I make a mental note that I will tell him as much later.
Hayden, headed down and in my direction.
I head toward a spot high on the mountain that connects Big Sandy Mountain with Mitchell, where we agreed to meet so we could descend together. I zoom my camera all the way in and snap a photo of Hayden, in his red shirt, descending Mitchell, with the Cirque of the Towers’ massive mountains looming behind him. He arrives, and we embrace. He tells me how awesome it was up there, and then we start down. I tell him about the butterflies I saw, and of my memories of him in a backpack and exclaiming over my shoulder and into my ear every time he’d see a butterfly (buttfly!)
I tell him that I saw some hummingbirds while he was on the mountain top. “Did you know that an NBA point guard, when dribbling the ball with both hands as low to the ground as possible, can dribble faster than the wingbeat of a hummingbird?” I tell him, no, I did not know that. This is Hayden. He’s always pulling out random bits of interesting information for us. I love it about him, and I tell him I hope he never quits doing that, and I encourage him to keep reading and being interested in a variety of things. I tell him they are great conversation pieces, and that they are wonderful contributions to the people he shares them with.
We find a huge, flat slab of granite and decide to chill out and “sun like marmots on the rock” for a while. It is nothing short of blissful. I love hanging out with Hayden. He’s fun, and he’s funny.
Sunning like marmots.
We return to camp and decide that a very early dinner of Epic quesadillas is in order. (But for accuracy’s sake, insert “Dang Quesadillas!” in the voice of Napoleon Dynamite’s Grandma in the movie, Napoleon Dynamite) While I make dinner, I tell him again how proud I am of his climbing Mitchell Peak today. I share this René Daumal quote with him: “You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” He likes it.
Then, I ask if he remembered to choose a poem that resonates with him to bring on the adventure. He did. It’s called The Great Competitor, by Grantland Rice, and he read it to me, captured in the video clip below, with Mitchell Peak in the background. He said he likes it because it’s about how you play the game – “a ballgame, and also how you live your life.”
Hayden eats three Epic quesadillas before acknowledging there is no more available space for food in his tummy. He heads to the tent and takes a two hour nap. For a bit, I read Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, a favorite of mine that I’m reading for the third time. I underline the following text: The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. Then I fetch and treat some water, make some strong coffee, and journal a bit. Life is good. So good.
Hayden wakes up (finally), and we make epic s’mores. We’re lazy and concerned about fire danger so we cheat by using the camp stove. We eat s’mores, listen to some music and play some gin rummy. The score is now 8 games to 3, Hayden in favor. I ask Hayden, “What are five ways you want to be if you’re going to be your best self?”
He says he’ll think about it, and for a while he does. He offers, “KACAB: Knowledgeable, Adventurous, Comedic, Athletic and Brave.” I tell him those are perfect, and thank him for doing this exercise for me. I add, “You know to be brave, you have to do things that are daring and courageous.” He responds, “Yeah, I know, Mom.” “You need to take epic chances every now and then. Not be reckless, but rather courageous,” I add. “Yeah, I know, Mom,” he says. Again. And this reminds me that I was going to tell him how much I like the sound of it when he says “Yeah, I know, Mom.” He seems glad that I like it when he says that.
We head to the tent early and I tell him it will be a “leisure start”the next day, that there will be no alarm that goes off. A night owl, and epic sleeper-in’er if given the chance, Hayden cheers at this news. We snuggle into our tent, and listen to some of the Gaffigan audiobook before quickly falling to sleep. We both sleep better than we did the first night.
The next day after coffee, cocoa and oatmeal, we load the “toys” (football, packraft, fishing rod, and kite), into our packs and add some food and water, and head to Big Sandy Lake, then Clear Lake and eventually, Deep Lake.
Crossing a log.
Hayden, following the cairns and leading us toward Clear Lake.
We found this heart rock.
At Deep Lake, Hayden inflates the raft and goes for a float on Deep Lake. Deep Lake is my favorite place in the Wind Rivers right now. It’s nestled under the dramatic granite peaks of Haystack, Steeple and East Temple Peak.
Deep Lake is like glass and these peaks are perfectly reflected in its waters as Hayden takes turns rowing and going places, and lounging. I can’t wait for my turn, and eventually it comes. There’s a group of women fishing on the shore of the lake under Haystack. Their entire conversation can be heard as a result of the echoing. Based on their conversation, they are a group of women I’d probably love to hang out with. This reminds me of my recent Epic Women expedition, and the fond memories I have of that time. I think of Nicole, Cindy, Laura, Monica, Cristy and Cheri, and smile. Again – and I’ve been doing this again and again and again all year long this year it seems – I realize the many blessings in my life. I watch as Hayden skips rocks from the slab on the shore where all of our toys are spread out.
Hayden, inflating our pack raft.
I paddle in, and Hayden and I play catch with the football for some time, before we eat lunch. And here is my opportunity to have the “deep talk” at Deep Lake with Hayden – to talk about one of the things I’ve come for, a promise that we each make to each other. I explain to Hayden that this mother-son rite of passage expedition is not only an opportunity to share an inspiring and challenging adventure together, but to mark the mother-son rite of passage with a shared promise. I told him the promises we make can be simple – that for best results they should be simple – and I offer what I’m willing to promise him. “I promise I’ll trust you more, and give you more freedom if… and then you add what you’re willing to promise in return.” He thinks about this for some time, but not before quipping, “Dinga, Dinga Dong…” I love this kid.
Hayden, floating on Deep Lake.
He mentions principles. I ask him, “What are your principles?” He thinks about this and then responds, “Family, Love, God, Faithfulness to others, Honesty, Humility, and Excellence.” We relate these principles to cairns – things that mark our trail so that we don’t get lost or wander aimlessly. We decide on this: Hayden promises to not stray from his principles if I promise to give him more freedom. It’s a wonderful moment, he and I, just sitting there after making this promise to one another. I add, “We’ll make mistakes. I won’t always be as trusting as I should be. I’m not perfect. And you’re not perfect. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll stray. But we’re promising to do our best with this promise to each other.” After that, we share a little more about things that are more personal.
Hayden, leading us to Paradise.
Trying to fly my kite, but the Wind Rivers were not windy.
At about 1:30pm, we pack up and wander in our Crocs down about a quarter-mile to the big slabs of granite that feature water running from Deep Lake up above to Clear Lake down below. We can see Mitchell Peak and the Cirque of the Towers and Clear Lake in one direction, and Deep Lake, and Haystack, Steeple, East Temple and Temple peaks in another. So much rock everywhere. This place astounds me, and I’m thrilled that Hayden is loving it.
We stop at a fresh pool of water between springs and watch as a large school of small trout swim, and rise to snatch insects. Hayden wades in the pool before sitting and whittling with the knife Jerry got for him for this trip. I try to fly the kite, but there’s not adequate wind. These are the Wind Rivers, I say to Hayden. Where is the wind? He’s not hiding that he’s a little thrilled there’s no wind for me to fly a kite. He is embarrassed at the prospects of his mom flying a kite out here. After not having any luck, I decide to lay down on my stomach and get some sun on the backs of my legs and arms, since sunning like a marmot the day before resulted in quite a lot of color on my face and the fronts of my arms and legs.
Hayden, tossing a football, while wading in the spring.
An hour of this perfect lazing passes before we pack up and start our 3-mile hike back to camp.
We return to camp with full bottles of water so we don’t have to do unnecessary work. Just cook Epic chicken fried rice, play some gin rummy, start a fire and roast marshmallows so we can have Epic bacon s’mores before closing in for our last night in the wilderness. During gin rummy, I ask Hayden if he can pick 4 things he wants in his life in order for it to be Epic. The words must start with E, P, I, and C. He needs time to ponder this and promises me he will. I share mine: Experience, Play, Inspiration and Curiosity.
Epic Bacon s’mores.
After stuffing ourselves with our last dinner, we clean up the kitchen and move to the “lawn” portion of the best kept secret Epic campsite. There’s an established fire ring at the end of the lawn, sheltered nicely up against a gigantic boulder. Hayden starts a small fire and we make bacon s’mores. Epic yum, we both agree.
Then, for a couple hours we have a great conversation. We take turns asking each other questions. Some of the questions we asked, and each responded to include: Describe a perfect day. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to go through – one thing that was by choice, and another that was out of necessity. If you’re stranded on an island and you can have one single food item for the rest of your life there, what would it be? If you could have only one outfit, what would be the one outfit you would choose to wear? Who inspires you? Who do you trust the most? Who are your closest friends, and why? What do you get from your Mom, and what do you get from your Dad? What do you think people say behind your back? What do you wish they’d say? It was a fantastic conversation where we both shared a lot, while making a lot of discoveries about each other.
Enjoying a fire on our last night in the wilderness.
We ended the night finishing our gin rummy tournament. We agreed to stop when we got to 10 wins. After I won two in a row, Hayden won two games to be victorious, 10 games to 7. He was a gracious winner. He was The Great Competitor.
During our last night in the tent, we again returned to listening to Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat audiobook. It is so funny, and we laughed out loud a lot before Hayden dozed off and I turned it off so I could listen to him sleep and hopefully find sleep myself. I didn’t sleep well. I was buzzing from the new memories Hayden and I had made together, and enjoying some star gazing by looking out of our tent’s door.
I forgot to mention in this blog post that Hayden is a sleep talker. At home, almost nightly he sits straight up and exclaims something that is loud enough for at least some of us to hear. He seldom remembers doing this. Right when I was about to fall asleep, he jutted up in the tent, looked at me and exclaimed, “Congratulations on your child!” And then collapsed back down. It was hilarious – and so Hayden. Of course when I told him about this as we were hiking out the next day, he couldn’t remember it.
We laughed, though, and wondered if his comment was the result of listening to Gaffigan’s audio book, which is all about having children, or if Hayden was congratulating me on having him as a child. Either way, it was a fitting end to our expedition, and for what it’s worth, I do feel as if I should be congratulated for this son of mine.
Big Sandy Lake reflections.
As we got to the car, Hayden announced he figured out his E, P, I and C: “Excitement, Principles, Intuition and Courage.”
At The Finish of our mother-son Rite of Passage expedition. It was epic, and I’ll never forget it.
I just returned from one of my most memorable and meaningful experiences in my backyard, Wind River Country. As I write this, I am basking in the memories of an overnight backpacking trip with my 18-year-old niece and Goddaughter from the Dallas, TX region. (Daylia is the oldest child of my younger sister, Amber.)
The adventure started early on July 14 when I fetched my Daylia from my parents’ house at 5:30am. Our destination: Island Lake in Upper Silas Canyon.
This would be a trip of so many firsts for Daylia. It would be her first time backpacking. It would be her first time to sleep in a tent. It would be her first time to start a campfire. It would be her first time to climb a mountain. And as for me, it would be my first time to take my Goddaughter on an epic adventure. This was a big deal that we had talked about a lot in the past, and finally the dream was coming true.
Daylia, who is very fit, had mentioned a few days before the trip that she expected to carry her share of our load, and for her backpack to feel legit. It did. It weighed about 32 pounds.
As someone who hikes about 1,000 miles a year in Wind River Country, and who leads a number and variety of epic adventures, I did not take lightly this opportunity to provide my Goddaughter with her first wilderness experience. I hoped to provide an unforgettable experience for my Goddaughter, and maybe – just maybe – this experience would convert this city girl into someone who might want to do more of this in the future. (Maybe the title of this blog post could be The Making of a Backpacker.)
After listening to part of a Ted Radio Hour podcast episode called, Champions, featuring the story of Amy Purdy, and her triumphant comeback from the brink of death to making history as a Paralympic snowboarder, we jammed out to Let the Rhythm Just, by The Polish Ambassador, and arrived at the trailhead pumped and ready to go.
It was a beautiful morning with the sun just up. The trees reflected perfectly in Fiddlers Lake as we started down the trail and into our adventure.
Fiddlers Lake reflections.
Daylia is extra special to me because she is my Goddaughter. I remember flying to Texas when she was about 6-8 months old, and snuggling and playing with her almost constantly. From the beginning, she had a charming personality and an inquisitive way about her. I have this vivid memory of her being contained in the middle of the queen sized bed in the guest room I was staying in, and her being propped up against a big pillow and using her hands as she talked (cooed) to me in an adorable language I couldn’t understand. The one thing that I did understand during that moment was that time with her inspired me to really want to be a mother.
Now look at her. 18 and all grown up. She starts college at the end of August, and will begin her studies and work to become a Physician’s Assistant.
As we headed down the trail, at first we were quiet. I didn’t start in with the conversation right away. I like to provide space and a bit of solitude for whomever I’m leading as they settle into the cadence of moving through the forest and over the rocky trails with everything they need to sustain them on their backs and under their own power. The birds chirped and sang, and the day’s new sun lit our way. Just another blissful morning in Wind River Country, I thought to myself.
At the signed junction with the Christina Lake Trail, we removed our packs, and drank some water before continuing toward Upper Silas Lake. As we hiked through the woods, and up and down hills, I asked Daylia how the making of a backpacker was going. “I can feel it in my butt,” she said. “But at least after this, I will have Buns of Steel.” We both laughed, and I agreed. Then, Daylia asked me how I first got into hiking. I waited until I wasn’t on an uphill, and then shared the story about losing my Division I basketball scholarship in Year 3 of college, explaining how I found myself “without a map” after that happened. I started spending time alone, healing, reading books – and very importantly, hiking. I appreciated her asking the question because it allowed me to share a point that I have come to feel so strongly about, and around which so much of my leadership work, coaching and guiding is centered.
I explained how losing my scholarship turned out to be one of my most important and spectacular failures. I shared that I don’t think life would be what it is – as wonderful as it is – and certainly we wouldn’t be here sharing this adventure right now, if not for that “failure.” As we hiked, I asked her about some of her failures. She shared about a failure involving running the 800 meters in track a few years back, and about another involving a violin solo that didn’t go as planned. I encouraged her to look at the positives that came out of those, and to consider those events not as failures, but as events that will somehow inform her life going forward. I added, however, that it took me almost 20 years to look back at my aforementioned “failure,” and to realize that it wasn’t a failure after all but rather one of my greatest gifts.
Daylia, at Upper Silas Lake.
At Upper Silas Lake, we took our packs off and enjoyed a 15-minute snack break on the shore. Daylia ate a healthy, yummy-looking BLT, and I ate my first Snickers bar of the trip. It was a beautiful morning. Upper Silas Lake has a big granite mountain at its upper end, and its water was as smooth and as clear as glass. Every now and then a fish jumped through its surface, and I did as I always do when this happens, briefly regretted that I didn’t pack my fly rod.
Refueled, we continued up the trail to Island Lake, which we reached in good time. We found a wonderful campsite, the same one Jerry and I and our sons have camped at before. Perfect, I thought to myself. I taught her how to set up our tent and we worked together to get our accommodations in place. I also shared with Daylia that we’d Leave No Trace, and explained what that important ethic means.
After establishing our camp, we ate some lunch, drank more water, and then set out, with our lighter packs, for Thumb Lake. As far as Daylia knew, we were going to establish camp at Island Lake, and then take a quick day hike to Thumb Lake, and that would be our itinerary for the first of our two days in the wilderness.That was correct, except I also had in store some additional options…
The night before our adventure, I became curious if there’d be a mountain we could climb on our route. (I love to have people climb mountains because climbing mountains is such a great metaphor for personal development, and for being in pursuit of something in life or work.) Jerry looked at a topo map, and suggested we might be able to get up Roaring Fork Mountain from the area above Thumb Lake. We studied the maps and could see there were possibilities.
When Daylia and I reached Thumb Lake, we removed our packs and hunkered down to enjoy the views, and drink some more water and eat some dried mangoes. Daylia enjoyed her Snickers bar here, too. Wildflowers of every color were everywhere, and we both remarked at the beauty of Thumb Lake and the surrounding granite mountains with snowfields.
“I have a couple of things I’d like to propose if you’re interested,” I offered. Daylia, being the trooper that she is, asked me what those things were. Pointing up beyond Thumb Lake, I said we could either “go explore that lake that you can tell exists up there in that cirque, and-or we could try getting up that mountain. I pointed to the notch (what some people call Devil’s Bite, or the Cookie Bite) on Roaring Fork Mountain’s high ridge. Daylia has seen this bite from Roaring Fork Lake, and from our cabin, and she was impressed that it was just right there, so close to where we were. And yet not very close. In fact, from where we sat, I couldn’t see a route to the notch that I would be comfortable leading my Goddaughter on, especially on her very first wilderness trip. Briefly, as I sized up our options, I was a little disappointed, but then I discovered some possible routes we could take from a second cirque up higher that, if we were lucky, might allow us to gain the ridgeline, and ultimately, the top of Roaring Fork Mountain.
This is the lake at the head of the canyon. It was a sight to see, and the flowers were pretty awesome, too…
“Let’s first go see the upper lakes,” I suggested, and we returned to our feet and headed up. We skirted the first upper lake (which is situated in the cirque below the notch of Roaring Fork) and then crossed a huge boulder field to a spring where we refilled our water bottles, before continuing up over some snow and more boulders to the most beautiful cirque and lake we’d see up close on this adventure. There was still a huge slab of ice. The shades of green and blue around the ice were breathtakingly beautiful. Some really thin sheets of ice were sloughing off at the head of the steep cirque, which included tall and massive granite mountains that were dressed with snowfields. (Earlier in the day, I had shared with Daylia how I like to look for heart rocks and other hearts. I noticed that one of the snowfields directly above the lake’s surface resembled a heart. “I spy a heart,” I said. “Do you see it?” And she did.)
I shared some skills about mountain climbing and hiking up steep, often loose, terrain with Daylia, and we started venturing up a route I predicted would get us to the top of the mountain top’s ridge.
Daylia, climbing her first mountain.
Daylia was a champion! We moved together, deliberately, as I was more motherly than I probably needed to be. But she was “precious cargo!” I suddenly felt the enormous responsibility of keeping this beautiful young woman who is so special to me, and to so many, safe and in good health and spirits. We developed a system where we’d take about 20 steep uphill lunges, and then lean into the mountain, rocks and tundra to take mini breaks. During these mini breaks, I encouraged Daylia to look up, catch our breath, get our bearings and to take in the views below.
Altitude often causes people to get light-headed, and the experience of climbing a mountain can be dizzying and disorienting. Climbing a steep mountain, on a route that featured huge dropoffs into a still-ice-covered mountain lake in a steep cirque with no shore, or chance of rescue, was high stakes. I had explained to Daylia at the start of our adventure about the high stakes out here. I said what I often say to people I’m leading up the trail. “I don’t mean to be dramatic, and yet I do. The stakes are high out here. If you turn an ankle or hurt yourself out here, we’re hours, if not days, from help. As a result, it’s critical that we are more deliberate about where we place our feet, and what we choose to do or not do.” This right here is a case in point, I thought to myself as we climbed up this steep mountain, little section by little section, and with such focused attention and great care.
I think we’re going to make it!
“Look how far we’ve come already,” remarked Daylia, as we were about halfway up the mountain. I acknowledged that fact. In fact, in my humble opinion, that is one of the greatest values of climbing a mountain – taking time to look back and down and acknowledging your progress so far. It can be inspiring, and provide inspiration for continuing.
Soon, we saw the end of our climb. “It’s right there,” said Daylia. “We have to make it now.” And make it we did. As we gained the ridge, we were speechless. Before us was a panoramic view filled with a range of tall granite mountains, including Wind River Peak, and Lizard Head in the distance. Below us were the main lakes of the Stough Creek Basin. While accessing the mountaintop this way was a first not only for Daylia, but also for me, the top of the mountain was as I remembered it from the time Jerry and I had accessed it from Roaring Fork saddle a few years ago – rolling, littered with a googolplex of rocks.
Once on top of the mountain, we were rewarded with panoramic views.
Selfie of us, invigorated from our mountain climb.
We quickly bundled up with our warmest layers and puffy coats, hats and mittens. We hugged and gave each other high 5’s and each snapped photos from different vantages, as well as some selfies of the two of us, “victorious” on top of Daylia’s first mountain, and on top of our first mountain climbed together. I watched as Daylia soon hunkered down behind a boulder that was the size of an SUV’s bucket seat to get out of the chill of the high winds.
We stayed about 20 minutes before deciding we wanted to start down if for no other reason to get out of the cold and the wind. We took about 20 steps below the summit on our descent, and it was suddenly hot and still again. We de-layered and returned to our summer attire, and talked excitedly about what we had just accomplished and seen. We were both giddy about – and proud of – our accomplishment. “I don’t want to steal our thunder, but, as a world-class climber (Phil Powers, Wyoming’s only man to climb K2 without oxygen) once told me, the summit is only the halfway point. Most injuries happen while descending, so even though we’re excited and we summited, we need to pay even more attention going down.” Daylia, now a backpacker, and ‘Epic certified,’ understood and agreed.
Descending, and heading back to camp.
Before we knew it, we were back at the spring from which we had refilled our water bottles at hours before, and walking across van-sized boulders toward Thumb Lake. It was a glorious day. Until now the sky had been cloudless and certain, and as blue as my Goddaughter’s eyes. Now, there were some clouds forming in the sky, but they were of the harmless variety – not tall, pure white, spread out, and shaped like misshaped cotton balls. We both agreed that the clouds made the view more interesting.
We were back at camp by 4pm. Daylia wanted to learn how to start a fire, so with a little instruction from me, she did, and it was a good one! Especially because its smoke helped clear our camp of some of the hordes of mosquitos. I made us coffee. By the way, how is it that my Goddaughter is old enough to want to drink coffee with me? Once again, I’m reminded of how fast the time flies, and how, in a seeming blink-of-an-eye a child is a young adult in the prime of her life. This reminds me that I have brought in a couple of gifts for Daylia. I give her a book that is a new favorite of mine, called The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, by Caroline Paul, and also an Epic journal, with a few suggested prompts to help her reflect on her Epic life.
Our home for the night.
Next, I teach Daylia how to set up and start the camp stove, and she helps me make what we decide to call “Epic Island Lake Quesadillas,” which were tortillas fried in lots of butter, and filled with pepper jack cheese, spicy green chiles and Ro*tel tomatoes. Daylia loves them and makes me feel like a world-class chef. I don’t mean to brag, but they were quite delicious, in part because they were so hard-earned.
Daylia, enjoying an Epic quesadilla.
We enjoyed a lot of meaningful conversation, made s’mores that were also – you guessed it – Epic. We each roasted double marshmallows and added them to dark chocolate with almonds and graham crackers. We snarfed two Epic s’mores each, and then spied the Big Dipper and the North Star, before heading into the tent. My Fitbit indicated we had logged 14 miles and almost 400 flights of stairs. I told Daylia how epic she is, and told her the day was epic by anyone’s standards, but especially mine. It would be a day I would never forget.
Reflections of alpenglow in Island Lake.
When we got nestled into the compact, 2-person tent, Daylia remarked, “This is a little cozy compared to what I’m used to.” I had her right where I wanted her…very near to me. When I shared this tent with my oldest son, Wolf, last year on our mother-son rite of passage trip, he had said the same thing, as I made him snuggle into my right arm the way he had so many times over the years beginning when he was an infant. I didn’t make Daylia cuddle with me, but it sure felt wonderful to have my Goddaughter so near to me.
We said good night, and I told my Daylia that I loved her, and that I was so proud of her, and that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere with anyone else right now.
As we turned off our headlamps, I listened, and there was not a single sound. I think it was the most quiet night I’ve ever spent in a tent in the often-windy Wind Rivers.
I rose the next day at around 6am, started a fire to keep the mosquitos at bay. I made coffee for myself while looking at perfect morning reflections of Island Lake. Daylia slept soundly in the tent. For two hours, I sat and reflected on how blessed I am, and thanked God for all of the blessings in my life, while hearing only the songs of birds. I thought of Jerry and the boys, and of my parents, who first inspired me to get outside in Wind River Country. I thought of Wolf, who was in the same wilderness somewhere on Day 4 of his 30-day NOLS course, and wondered if he was up early too.
Morning reflections in Island Lake.
Daylia and I had a great hike out later in the morning, and right as we thought the adventure could not get any better, we spied a bullwinkle moose in the meadow after Upper Silas Lake, browsing on willows. It looked at us to make sure we weren’t a threat, and for some moments, we watched the moose, and he watched us.
A bullwinkle moose we spied on our hike out.
Yeehaw! Daylia is certified Epic. 🙂
Here’s a video I captured after descending our mountain:
On our drive back to Lander after our epic adventure, Daylia suggested we make our Epic Island Lake Quesadillas and show our families a slideshow of our photos and share about our adventure, which we will do tonight. I can’t wait. I will let her tell the story.
Speaking of her version of the story, my helpful, wonderful, beautiful, adventurous, smart, interesting, courageous – and Epic – Goddaughter agreed to answer some questions for me. Those questions, and her responses, follow:
What all “firsts” did this trip include?
It was my first time backpacking, hiking by, and seeing seven lakes that were new for me, climbing a mountain, starting a campfire, setting up and sleeping in a tent, seeing a moose while on foot, and eating epic rotel and green chile quesadillas.
What was the hardest part about this epic adventure?
The motivation to keep going was definitely the most difficult part. Doing all of those steep uphill and deep lunges was hard!
What were some other challenging aspects of this epic adventure for you?
Some really challenging aspects of the trip included the fear that I would disappoint myself and Shelli, or that I wasn’t strong enough physically and mentally to make the further venture of climbing up a mountain. Some other mundane and obvious challenging aspects were sleeping in a forest, going bathroom in the woods, and the shooting pain in my butt (now buns of steel!) and ankles all the way up.
What was the most fun part of the adventure?
Our conversations, and I also gloried in the sights, and in eating the best quesadillas I’ve ever had (thank you again.)
What was the biggest surprise for you of this adventure?
I climbed a mountain!!!
What was your favorite part of the whole experience?
The best part was realizing that I’m so much stronger than I had thought. By (hesitatingly) saying Yes to the Island Lake adventure, the additional venture to Thumb Lake, and then up the mountain. I feel so self-fulfilled and happy to have accomplished something so much greater than what I thought possible. And I got to do so for my first time with Shelli, whose mountain climb to that particular peak was her first, too!
What was your favorite part about the mountain climb?
Seeing the view from above—all the lakes and mountains—was my favorite, but I also really loved coming down from the peak because it was so cold and windy up there!
Of all the nature and beauty you saw, what was the most beautiful sight you saw?
I actually really liked the Island Lake’s view from our campsite. The glass lake with the tree and
mountain reflections was breathtaking. I also loved seeing all the lakes we’d backpacked past on top of the peak.
What was your favorite part about “camping?”
The campfire was so much fun! It was great roasting marshmallows for s’mores. I felt serene hearing the fire crackle, and watching the flame’s glow.
What insight, or insights will you take from this adventure and epic experience?
If there’s something you so badly want to accomplish or experience but fear begins to overtake you, just say Yes and go for that adventure. You’ll live a much more fulfilling and exciting life, truly living the phrase, “carpe diem” – to seize the day.
Do you think you will be changed in some way as a result of this backpacking experience in the Wind Rivers? If so, how?
I feel stronger physically and emotionally. I never thought I’d be able to carry poles and a 32lb
backpack up a rocky mountain for 1.5-2 hours straight, nor did I emotionally feel up to it, with
exhaustion and the pressure to quit creeping over me.
Any advice for others who have never done anything like this?
Just go with it! You’re definitely stronger than you think you are.
Anything else you’d like to add?
You can do anything through the motivation of a friend and mentor. Without the positive and
encouraging influence of a teacher, I never would have accomplished what I had that day.
I can provide unforgettable and meaningful custom adventures such as mother-son rite or passage trips, and other special occasion adventures similar to the one I provide my Goddaughter with. Email me if you’d like to discuss a wide range of possibilities.
If you’d like to read more about adventures and hikes in my beloved Wind River Mountains, you can check out a list of several headlines and articles HERE.
Hi there! My family and I are on Day 19 of our 29-day “Epic Europe Family Adventure.” I am writing this from a small airport in Rome, where we’re waiting to board our flight to Portugal. It will be our seventh country to meet and explore!
This is a dream-come-true trip that was hard-earned. For at least three years we have dreamed about doing this, and we have made many sacrifices to make it happen. I’m reporting it has all been worth it!
So far, we’ve been to six countries and we have been surprised, inspired, humbled, and blown away by all that we have seen and experienced. Behind only Jerry’s and my decision to get married almost 24 years ago, and deciding to start our family, this is one of our greatest decisions and achievements.
This is all to say that if you have a dream, don’t wait. Start saving the money, and making whatever plans and changes you need to pursue your dreams. The size of your house doesn’t matter, and the stuff you buy doesn’t matter as much as having new experiences. Even if we have to eat bread and water for six months after our return to pay for our extra gelatos and other goodies, it will all be worth it.
When I started Epic Life in 2010, it was because I was inspired to live more on purpose and with more purpose, and to help others do the same. To not only imagine that each day might be our last, but to really believe and embody that. I think living like I believe this could be true has caused me to place a higher value on the people I love, my time, who I work with, and choosing what work to do. Living like I believe that today might be my last has made all the difference in my life.
Finally, for years, before starting Epic Life, I was in the tourism business, and was a travel writer. I have become reacquainted with that version of myself, and have written 12 blog posts about our adventures so far while reviving my old travel blog. If you’re interested in reading about any of our adventures, you can see them at http://www.HaveMediaWillTravel.com.
Family selfie while hiking in the Cinque Terre, Italy, area, on Day 13.