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September 14, 2023

What I Learned about Inner Strength from Hiking 1,400 Feet.

I have never been one who loves to travel.

Anyone who knows me well can attest to my disdain for crowded airports, full planes, long lines, and heavy tourist traps.

I feel about travel the way most people feel about their jobs—they do it out of obligation.

I don’t care so much what travel puts me through, simply for the fact that the benefits I get from it far outweigh the obligation I feel internally, irrespective of the fact that I make a conscious decision to plan and take these trips.

I tend to approach every journey with a deep-seated sense of fear, intrigue, and awe compiled into one. I never know what to expect, or, worse, my expectations never amount to what the actual destination is, sometimes for better, or sometimes for worse.

Yesterday, I returned from Lisbon, Portugal. An opportunity earlier this year presented itself to travel with a work friend. And after a long overseas pause from the pandemic, a career change, and two back-to-back heart-wrenching breakups later, this opportunity was nothing shy of a resounding yes!

Our journey began in Lagos surrounded by some of the most breathtaking views, beaches, and sunsets I’d ever seen. One of the many things I’ve grown fond of when it comes to traveling is that it allows you to be still in the present moment, something I’ve always struggled with and continue to in my day-to-day life.

From Lagos, we headed four hours north to the city of Lisbon, and then another one hour to the town of Sintra. Sintra is famous for its world heritage sites and national parks. I had known there was a hike involved to the top of these famous monuments, and after researching it in advance, I had already talked myself out of it, just simply for the fact that it seemed too scary, and too strenuous. Five hundred steps up on a high and steep incline quite literally checked off all the boxes of my least relaxing vacation moments. But, to my surprise, once I started climbing, I couldn’t stop.

As I climbed, I kept reliving every difficult and traumatic moment I had endured in the past two years—but also survived. A failed marriage, followed by another post-divorce breakup, a miscarriage, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to become a nurse at the height of a global pandemic, and a two-year long battle of anxiety and depression requiring regular follow-ups with psychiatrists to constantly adjust my medications. All of these moments had been significant chapters in my story, and all of them I had survived. What made this strenuous physical exertion any different?

And so, I climbed.

Step by step, breath by breath. I did not stop until I reached the top. And when I finally did, I cried. I grieved the years and years of emotional pain I endured. I celebrated the loss of my old life, the one I left behind and no longer missed or cared to ever walk back into. I grieved the loss of my last two relationships that I thought were the greatest loves of my life, only to have them bring me to my knees in pain and grief.

I celebrated the death of my former self, someone I left behind after months and months of intense counseling and work with my life coach as well as a therapist. I celebrated everything I left and honored everything that now was. I had my health, a wonderful career that I loved, the support of this new friendship, and for the first time in my life, a healthy, kind, and giving partner who was waiting for me back home and who cared about my journey.

Climbing to the top was nothing short of total fear, but getting to that place where I can look out at the horizon to see a panoramic view of the peninsula, it felt like I was on top again, exactly where I was meant to be. I had the world at my fingertips waiting for me to grab the next piece of magic I can bring into my life.

It was the same resilience that carried me through these past several years. It was determination, self-love, blind faith, commitment, growth, and total and complete trust that somehow, someway the universe has our back even when we least expect it to. Because sometimes in life, we have to keep climbing, even when it hurts, even when it feels scary, even when the path seems dark and steep. And when we finally do arrive to the top, the view is beautiful.

“There is always another level up. There is always another ascension. More grace, more light, more generosity, more compassion, more to shed, more to grow.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

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