In April of 2013, during a painful divorce, I decided to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Piccu as a pilgrimage.
The guilt and shame from the break up of my family was pulling me into a downward spiral of self destruction within the structure of daily routines and familiarities. A new pathway was necessary to leave the torture of excessive thinking and return back to my body.
As a licensed psychotherapist and world traveler, I had been studying human behavior for many years. I knew that leaving a comfort zone creates a pathway into fear. This allows it to surface instead of burying it with addictions and false attachments, like romantic relationships or alcohol addiction.
Death and divorce are considered the top two most stressful life transitions. Within the prison of my own mind, I unconsciously disconnected from the overwhelming emotional pain of my situation and split from my body.
A pilgrimage is a journey of spiritual significance that can be a pathway into major life transformations—instead of brilliantly avoiding the pain within the comfort zones of our home.
I decided I would walk into the foreign lands of my own pain, which I had carefully avoided my entire life.
The Inca Trail is located in the Andes Mountain Range of Peru, with the trail passing through several types of Andean environments, including rain forest, alpine tundra and cloud forest. Many Inca ruins are located along the trail before ending at the Sun Gate. The highest pass is 13,829 ft above sea level. Each day is about nine hours of trekking.
Nothing could have prepared me for the lack of oxygen.
Day One was long and exhausting. The second day resembled a war zone. Trekkers with severe altitude sickness were strewn along the trail; and if you’ve never experienced high altitude, imagine being suffocated, with no way to escape the sensation.
The next 10 hours would be the most tortuous, transformational experience of my life. My strong, youthful body was coughing up blood, dizzy and faint, plus I had severe anxiety.
In times of pain when no control strategies work anymore, we learn to stay and surrender.
In the midst of suffering, the pathway begins to reveal itself into mindful awakening. There is mysterious flow of life contained within the body—our personal history, teachings, suffering. The cause of suffering. The end of suffering.
I walked past green hills, snowy mountains and cloud forests, the ever flowing shift of nature. And in that landscape was a lesson about change. Each new step became a small awakening into present moment awareness.
Who would I be if I didn’t believe I was bad? Did I have the courage to feel my feelings?
There is an entire unlived life in the wilderness of our own bodies. The greatest challenge is how to be in the world after we have hurt others. It is difficult to find a loving presence inside when we feel unforgivable. I imagined the “badness” inside of me transforming into self-forgiveness and self-compassion. Just like the Buddha, I asked the Earth goddess of this ancient Shamanic land to reflect and be a witness to the goodness inside of me.
Sometimes it is not possible to immediately go into deep loving, but a shift in identity is a whole new place to start. We all have the ability to find a pathway back to a loving presence within ourselves. All it takes is opportunity and practice.
These are the questions I found useful in helping my pathway reveal itself:
“How does this experience feel inside of me?”
“Can I just let it all be?”
Then pay close attention. Just be with it. This is the portal into true intimacy. When we stop resisting change, there is a shift that happens; we find freedom from excessive mind activity and enter the flow into a larger sense of belonging.
I finished my trek stumbling along the narrow trail towards the Sun Gate. The descent into Machu Picchu became symbolic—it represented the larger opening into my newly-expanded sense of self. It showed me that the most essential waking up happens when we deepen our attention to the truth of our identity.
We all have the capacity to find our pathway to healing if we let it lead us back into our body—where love is awaiting us.
Author: Melissa Rondeau
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Author’s Own