I stood tightly strapped to my skis, sweat above my brow as I muttered swear words under my breath and stared down a mountain in Colorado on New Year’s Day.
I’d missed some trail markings and ended up on a run significantly beyond my advanced pie wedge stopping skills (a decidedly rookie style of descending the mountain).
Pausing sideways on top of a slope that appeared to require some gravity-defying tactics, I wished for the fearlessness of the tiny, ski-clad children who were weaving around me on their rapid descent. But, at almost 30 and only recently released from the bunny slope, I was freaking out, surrounded by snow under a mockingly bright sun.
I pushed my goggles onto my forehead and looked back up the mountain, resigned to either a humiliating rescue from ski patrol or some equally embarrassing return to the lodge. I spotted my friend’s orange jacket near the top, effortlessly gliding down the slope until he slid into a smooth stop next to me.
Before I could start to explain, he put one arm around my shoulders and used the other to point down the mountain. “You’ve been fighting the mountain since we first jumped off the ski lift two hours ago,” he said. “You’re trying to tell the mountain where you want to go, but you’re actually fighting the natural path down the mountain. To get down this run, you’re going to have to surrender a bit of your fear and control. The mountain can guide you. Let the mountain take you.”
I said nothing for a few moments while he patiently watched me conduct an internal dialogue on the accuracy of his assertion and the options for resolving my predicament.
He was right. Skiing on the first of the year originally sounded like an ideal opportunity to start the year adventurously. But that morning, apprehension crept in as I strapped on my skis. To show my friends that I could “keep up,” I had started the day attempting to “beat” the mountain instead of “play” with the mountain.
Silently, I slid my goggles back on and slowly turned my skis down the slope. He nodded at me, then took off. As I gently pushed off, I started to chant silently, “Let the mountain take you, let the mountain take you.”
I let some of the weight fall back in my heels and took my eyes off the snow in front of my skis to look out at the tops of the trees below. My internal incantation rose to a whisper as I softly leaned to the right (let the mountain take you) and then the left (let the mountain take you). I began to pick up speed, but instead of pie wedging my skis out of fear of momentum, I embraced the pace and the whisper rose as I burst from the tree line and saw the lodge ahead.
“Let the mountain take you! Let the mountain take you!” I repeated as I sped down the slope into that space where all the trails converge and skiers speed by on their path to the lift or the lodge. When I reached the bottom, I stopped the only way I knew how—falling on my face. I stood up with a smile, looked back, and silently thanked the mountain for guiding me.
The advice of the chant deeply embedded in my soul that year. I repeated it to myself whenever I needed to relinquish my effort to control. While surfing, I chanted, “Let the wave take you,” when trail running it was, “Let the forest take you,” trying to focus during meditation I caught myself chanting, “Let the breath take you.”
I spent a tumultuous year living with my mantra, letting it guide me when it was time to let go of things in my life. When I ended a serious relationship, when I received my layoff notification, when I packed up my home for an undetermined destination, when I booked my first solo vacation, and when I stepped into my 30s without a “life plan,” the mantra spurred me on. It guided me forward when I was pushed out of my comfort zone. Or, it pushed me out of my comfort zone.
A year later, on another sunny New Year’s Day, I stood on top of a different incline. This time, I overlooked the Pacific Ocean. A warm breeze whipped through the palm trees and I heard monkeys yelling nearby; once again, sweat was beading on my face.
I stared down the tall, steep steps carved into the hill in a small town in Costa Rica, mentally preparing for one more lap on the stairs. Out of habit, I heard the words bubble up in mind, “Let the steps…” I stopped. I shook my head, as if clearing an Etch A Sketch, and let the words slide away.
I had spent the last year learning when to let go of things that had run their course. I took a deep breath and pushed off the top step, leaving the mantra behind.