I had a clear vision about what the first line of this post would be.
“I came, I conquered… and I still got it!”
Beneath the caption would be a photo of my partner and I holding a bronzed trophy. We’d have tired grins, sandy bodies, and luminous, accomplished expressions of having battled, and won the Dakine Women’s AA Volleyball Tournament.
Instead of that photo, I only have one of my wrecked 43-year-old self, trying to calmly exhale while inside the -250 degree Fahrenheit Cryotherapy unit. It was the only immediate solution to accelerate muscle recovery and provide pain relief after the tournament. Every single cell in my body seemed to be shouting, “What were you thinking?” Even the skin on the bottom of my feet was screaming. I was back to Mom mode and a 180-second remedy was about all I could pull together with a three-year-old in tow.
“Mommy’s a popsicle,” he pointed out.
Back to reality.
Idealistic and hopeful was my mindset going into the weekend. I had even allowed my inner champion to rise and gain momentum. She visualized making spectacular points, acing opponents, succeeding at crafty shots, making athletic digs, celebrating with my partner, and then writing the inspiring follow-up blog about winning the tournament. The perfect plan from the perspective of an aging, yet optimistic former pro volleyball player.
I forgot about...
The Dark Warrior
She is disguised as my inner champion.
She dwells in the shallow waters of my being.
She rides on the back of my righteous ego.
She breathes fire.
She rages war.
She feeds on the idea that I deserve more, better, different.
She lurks in the thoughts and emotions that keep me small.
She shouts into my soul that I have something to fight for.
WE. WILL. WIN! She demands.
She used to define me. Even though we had a dark and dirty relationship, we achieved a lot of triumphant glory. I sacrificed a lot to let her lead. Connection. Intimacy. Friendships, and most importantly- Inner Peace. But she no longer held the steering wheel of my existence so I didn’t pay her much attention. I have enough practice with mindfulness, meditation, positive affirmations, mantras, breathing techniques and everything else I teach athletes to help break their mental barriers.
After all, I am a mindset coach.
I’ve got plenty of tools in my kit.
But I had not put myself in real competition in over 13 years. Once my Achilles snapped, it was almost as if I could hear the Dark Warrior imploding, melting, disintegrating...whatever it is that inner demons do when they are spontaneously crippled. She withered away and tucked herself deep beneath the surface. Regrouping.
Making a plan for a comeback. Someday.
But in the past decade, I have developed and nurtured another side.
She is the soft one.
She is fluid.
She is tender.
She comes when I ask for help.
She is reliable and always loving.
She stands with me with both hands open.
She is wise.
She is my greatest ally.
She is my source of LIGHT.
As I flew to Seattle for the tournament I was full of athletic anticipation. I’d be playing with a partner that I didn’t really know, in a place I have never been, with zero knowledge of the competition.
My preparation was legit. I had re-started physical therapy on my repaired Achilles. My jumping ability was severely limited but I was positive that now being in my fourth decade of life would qualify me as a masterful old school player.
I prepared by dong intense workouts with my “Stroller Mafia” mom group. I suffered through weekly hot yoga to try and stretch out my eternally tight hamstrings. Twice I had the chance to bump the ball to myself in the four-foot-deep snow meadow in my front yard.
I even went so far as to shave my legs in the dead of winter, paint my toes victory purple, and even plucked my dark chin hairs. I was determined to be on-point for this competition. I did a 3-day juice cleanse the week before and then tightened up my diet for optimal performance. A chart on the refrigerator kept track of a weekly set of challenges with my husband so to sharpen my competitive psyche. I bought a new red Nike long-sleeve for game day that exemplified the color of a champion. I packed my favorite underwear and tightest rubber bands.
I thought of everything.
Except how important it would be to actually practice beach volleyball in the sand.
Or to be aware that she was lurking.
The Dark Warrior.
With power braids woven in, my new top and yoga pants- I took in the scene. Three indoor “beach” courts surrounded by ceiling to floor nets making the competition area look like a spider had spun a huge web around it. The “sand” was like grainy parmesan cheese with fluorescent lights hanging overhead. The air was stagnant. There were no weather factors like I was accustomed to and skilled in how to use to my advantage. The walls were covered with training equipment like weighted balls, sleds for sand pulling, boxes for jumping, large screens for playback of skills, and framed photos of the girls already committed to colleges like Stanford and Arizona for beach volleyball. A whole gaggle of teenage girls stretched and chatted while looking at their phones.
It was then that I realized that this...was the new generation of beach volleyball.
With the sport rising at the collegiate level, girls across the country are committing themselves to the sport like never before. This tournament was flooded with high school players testing their skills after practicing day in and day out in facilities like this one. The parents settled into the leather couches that lined the outside of the courts to watch their daughters compete...against the old pro.
I felt my eyes dart and my heart raced as the Dark Warrior slithered out of her lair
and unfurled her wings.
This is not beach volleyball.
Beach volleyball is played at...the...beach.
This is a joke.
And these are just teenagers.
Let’s show them what’s up.
Take no prisoners. Let’s go for the gold.
You are so much better than this.
Shaking my head to try and rid her voice from my head, I took a seat on one of the sandy couches. Taking a deep soul breath, I called on my Light Warrior. I trusted that with conscious breaths inward that the Dark Warrior could not survive.
I had a choice.
Dark or Light.
Part of me enjoys the fighting.
The war. The intensity of emotion.
It is powerful.
Weak at its root, but so seductive in force.
To soften into this experience would require me to consciously let go of my inner champion,
and compete simply for the joy of playing the sport I love.
There was a higher calling on this day.
It needed me to create space for my partner to find her flow and help her rise.
It needed me to honor the commitment and growth of these young girls.
It needed me to connect and share my experience and strength with them.
It needed me to celebrate my own willingness to show up and compete.
It was not about me. It was not about winning.
It was about working toward a personal goal and testing my physical and mental training.
It was about gathering data about the rising of the Dark Warrior so I could more effectively help other the athletes. Because everyone has one.
So I witnessed her shadowy rise and I made a choice.
I said confidently yet gently,
“I see you. Oh how I have loved you. You and I achieved a lot together, but you no longer serve my greater good. You are not welcome here.”
We ended up losing to a team made up of a 15 and 17 year old. Ultimately, we placed 5th in a tournament of 16, but I sure made a lot of fantastic individual points. Simple, beautiful points. And I set my partner up to be successful too. We played well, but there were teams that simply were better. (Not to mention these girls had cardio for days!) The Dark Warrior tried her very best to overtake me especially when I was weak and fatigued. She was relentless and came disguised in many ways trying to distract me and pull me in. Soon I realized the tournament became more about the opportunity to recognize the Dark and to choose the Light instead.
Over and over and over again.
I am all for working hard for goals, and digging deep, and pushing myself to the limit, but I am choosing to do that in different ways. I don't need to suffer on the volleyball court to prove I am important or respected. That part of my ego got fed for years and it was deeply dissatisfying. I have other talents and skills that fill my bucket which impact the greater good of the people around me. These are the kind of goals I want to push myself toward. This drive toward victory felt old, like a favorite jacket in the far corner of my closet that I suddenly realize doesn't really fit me anymore...nor is it my style.
So I congratulated the up and coming superstars for their well-earned wins and I thanked my body temple for holding up for an all-day tournament, and bid my lovely partner farewell. It was time to head back to my life as Super Mom, Queen of the Household, Inspirational Coach and Author of Awesomeness. This is where I thrive. This is where I rise.
This is where I WIN.
Over the next days following the tournament, she kept on knocking. I quickly discovered it was really easy for her to snuff out my light when my body was depleted and I was physically in pain. We had played in ten games, which was probably 5 more than I was physically capable of competing in. My 43-year-old body had dived in the sand dozens of time. I had contorted my body in unnatural positions to pursue balls. I had arched my back to serve and hit hundreds of times more than I am used to. The bottom layer of skin on my feet had tenderly exfoliated from the grainy sand, and my hips and lower back were destroyed like after childbirth. The Dark Warrior cackled and tiptoed in. For nearly 24 hours she reigned supreme actually convincing me that I should no longer play, or coach or have anything to do with volleyball. It was real. It was convincing. It was powerful. It reminded me that it is not an easy path to navigate alone.
With the support of my friends, family and a serendipitous crossing with another mindset coach in town, I regained my footing and pulled the switch to the floodlights into my Soul.
I defined a vision for myself in the world of volleyball. It must involve feeling vibrant, authentic, balanced and playful. When I make choices around the sport they must align with these core desired feelings. I no longer lead with ego, pride and fear which define the seductively deceptive Dark Warrior.
And if I play in a "beach" tournament again it needs to be by an ocean with sunshine and real sand between my toes. It's a non-negotiable.
So now I am clear.
And slowly but surely the darkness retreated.
Every day I have a choice.
On and off the court.
Light or Dark.
What do you choose?
“I will never play volleyball again.”
This raw certainty was clear after snapping my Achilles tendon in a volleyball match in 2006. I had already competed professionally for nearly 10 years in four countries on the beach and indoor, and honestly... I had plateaued. The pinnacle of personal potential had been reached and I had already sacrificed a good majority of my soul joy. I had become drunk on my own ego’s unattainable vision of success, which was always just out of reach.
It was a ruthless hunt for victory.
An insatiable thirst for recognition.
An illusory fantasy of grandeur became my prison.
I wasn’t willing to admit it, but deep down I knew I was ready to stop competing professionally, but I didn’t know how to stop. Not only had I invested the majority of my life to the sport, but I had allowed it to define who I was as a human being.
I was Ann the professional volleyball player. Period.
This title was lauded, celebrated and made me feel important. I was addicted to the pursuit of greatness and the attention that came with it. This relentless craving for athletic success had taken my true life’s potential hostage and left me pulsating with a ruthless ego that rejoiced in even the slightest external adulation.
During the last year of my time competing on the tour, I had been working regularly with the great Dr.Mike Gervais, a renowned sports psychologist. The pressure to win at such a high level had begun eating away at my mental fortitude, and my ability to enjoy playing the sport I used to love. He provided me with tools to take care of my mindset and taught me how to set reasonable and attainable goals for each match. My expectations were far too high and unrealistic and always left me feeling like a failure.
At the time Misty May and Kerri Walsh were supremely dominant in the world of volleyball, eventually winning three Olympic gold medals in a row. During this era they won every single game, set, match and tournament they competed in. In total, they won 112 matches in a row and were crowned supreme for 19 sequential tournaments. My partner, Saralyn Smith and I faced them 7 times during their streak, and help contribute to 7 of their wins. We did get to challenge ourselves against the best of all time, but this did mean the idea of actually winning a tournament was far from realistic.
With Dr. Gervais, I had made steady progress and under his tutelage, I had gained inner strength and belief in myself that was unparalleled to any other volley chapter of my career. I started enjoying the sport again and had some of the most phenomenal performances of my career alongside my partner. We had some battle-royals against our biggest rivals and on some of the biggest stages of the sport under a lot of pressure- but we rose to the occasion with our matching bathing suits and bad-ass braids. It felt profoundly rewarding to set attainable goals and take each game one point at a time instead of pursuing the highest rank on the tour. It was all about What’s Important Now. WIN. Mini goals. What do I need to do right now in this very moment to earn the next point? I started to win at my own game and the reward was freedom from mental bondage. I was filled with a renewed sense of competitive vibrancy that was rooted in my own self-worth and the authentic pleasure in playing volleyball.
It was as if the Universe was satisfied that I had finally learned how to play with clear intentions infused with authentic confidence... so she did for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
The Universe said to my Soul,
“Lesson learned darling...you are now done with this life chapter. Let’s move on shall we?”
And so it was.
The fateful day arrived at the alumni game at Pepperdine University where I had been given a full-ride scholarship ten years before, but due to my rebelliousness and naughty attitude, I rarely saw court time my senior year. I left the University full of entitled venom that- someday I shall return and show you all! So on the day of the “Snapping”, I stepped back on the hard court as a successful professional beach player to compete in the alumni game against the current team.
I was ready to show my former coach what a mistake it was to keep me on the bench (10 years before). So all my mental tools and budding humility went out the window as my ego ballooned up so big that all it could do was literally….POP. Irrational resentment caused my blood pressure to increase and my heart to race. Drunk on a cocktail of adrenaline, revenge, and ego I smacked balls with a vengeance. After a particularly impressive kill, I’d look at her with imperious immaturity,
“Bet you regret not playing me now don’t ya?!”
The Universe shook her head and clucked her tongue. “No, no Ann. Time’s up.”
Then I took one step back on a defensive play and heard a deafening c..r..a..c..k. like a large branch breaking off from the trunk. The tendon had completely detached and curled up like a caterpillar taking refuge in my calf. Time slowed. My brain shut down to the pain centers of my body. I could no longer hear or feel. Balanced on one leg I looked down at my dangling left foot.
As I lay flat on my back in my little apartment with my repaired Achilles in a large black boot elevated up on a chair I thought to myself, “This is it. I will never play volleyball again.” I was a mere 5’9 and had just turned 30. I was no longer going to be a viable competitor on the tour, especially without my hops. A primal wail released from my soul at the dramatic loss of my dream, and from an even deeper place within escaped a howl rooted in fear that I was absolutely nothing without volleyball. I was no longer important. I was no longer going to be respected nor admired. Who the Hell was I without volleyball? The pain was too raw, too vulnerable too humbling for me to hold on my own.
Dr.Gervais to the rescue. He pointed out that all of those feelings I was seeking were outside of myself. I had no control over whether other people thought I was great, or important.
And being admired? That was just ME trying to define my self-worth through someone else's eyes. He reminded me that I had a new lease on life. A blank page to define who I wanted to be in this world.
Dr.G challenged me,
“What kind of person do you want to be?”
“What kind of impact do you want to make on the world?”
“How can you use your experience to help others?”
I had only been in the business of helping myself so I had no frame of reference for what it might mean to genuinely impact others. I surrendered to the idea that Dr.G had guided me to a healthy state of mind before and so I trusted the process and let go of the outcome.
Fast forward 13 years…
After a whirlwind journey of self-discovery, extensive service to others, a belief in something greater than myself, and the understanding that when I give away my knowledge, spirit, fire, experience, and wisdom that the return is tenfold.
It was like a magical formula that was really quite simple.
My need for importance and notoriety and admiration faded, and instead I was lit up from within. It became second nature to help others, not just serve my own ascent to greatness but instead help lift others to rise to find their own golden treasure trove within.
Now my passion is to help young athletes find their inner strength and unlock their potential with a balanced and healthy mindset. If I had learned the tools of the mental game early on in my career I feel like my potential could have been far greater and I would have suffered far less. Many athletes not only need a basic set of tools for their mental game but also support in how to unravel some of their false beliefs about their abilities, their self-worth and their expectations of themselves.
We are a product of our inner beliefs
The greatest satisfaction comes from helping an athlete find her fire and her genuine motivation to wade through the challenges and adversity of her sport.
So in the meantime, I felt a stirring.
Two years ago I declared that YES, I AM READY TO PLAY AGAIN! After birthing two humans and helping countless athletes with their mental game I am balanced, yet softer, and in a less competitive space in my life.
But that pilot light was just waiting to be lit.
I played a few pick-up games for fun.
I was lit.
The time has come to play volleyball again. 13 years after The Snapping.
But the Universe had a funny way of telling me that it was not me time quite yet.
After months of snow and no access to “beach volleyball” I invented my own training regime:
FIERCE visualization, AGGRESSIVE snow shoveling, and HOT yoga
And so I bring my ever-expanding toolbox of mental skills to the tournament along with my bum Achilles, my 43-year-old Mom body, and a stronger than ever belief in myself and my abilities.
No expectations. One point at a time. Let’s do this.
It has been said that “sometimes you have to die a little on the inside in order to be Reborn, and Rise again as a STRONGER and WISER version of You.”
This current chapter of life –Motherhood, has taken me to the pinnacle of love, and has plunged me to the depths of darkness. The euphoria of creating humans and cherishing them so deeply holds no bounds, yet when a new being so precious enters one’s life, something must be shed to make room.
That something was the old version of myself before becoming a mother of two.
Undefinable strands of selfishness, fear and self-doubt clung tightly to my core.
These traits no longer served my greater good, nor my ability to parent well.
But I held onto that version of myself,
because it was safe,
because I recognized that ME,
because I knew how to navigate within that way of being ME
because I had ALREADY shed so much
But that old ME was not sustainable and needed pruning.
A divine spark was lit on the inside. Not one that inspired and motivated,
but instead one that burned away the fibers and beliefs that no longer suited me, my family, and my future. Slow and painful was the process as it reached its hottest flame, plummeting me to my bottom, crashing into flaming fragments.
The heat was too much to bear.
The ocean called me, and so I went.
Laying on my back in the wet sand, gasping for air. Clarity washed over me and soothed my charred spirit. The mother ocean spoke to me.
Release what no longer serves you to make room for what is to grow.
Blank eyed and exhausted I let the waves wash me clean and create the space for the next chapter. She whispered to me gently,
“You will be a better mother by diligently nurturing your heart and spirit.”
You need to be inspired by something outside of being Mom
You needed a mentor, guide or therapist
You need at least one day a week for self-care without kids
You need to share your skills and talents for the greater good
You need a sacred space to create
Like a baby trying to understand her new environs after leaving the womb, I scanned my surroundings as I lay on the sand trying to find my bearings. Raw, open, different, vulnerable- reborn. Sitting in my beach bungalow I got my writing mojo back and immediately reflected on it in a raw blog post.
Then I was faced with…
If I am not defined as just being Mother, then who shall I be?
Where do I go from here?
Many of you have followed me on this wild life adventure:
from professional volleyball player, and coach,
to Spanish teacher
to sober woman
from the pruning, I am growing in a new direction that weaves together the best vines of inspiration and truth that sprout from my soul.
This feels like I am welcoming the cleanest, most directed version of the Ann I have known.
And so I confidently move forward, exploring new territories and finding that path that allows me to grow within the best version of ME yet also serves the greatest good. I gather my strengths, skills, experiences and create the space to hear my intuition for the unfolding of the next chapter of Ann who is a
PRESENT, PLAYFUL, and PEACEFUL Mom
*a life coach guiding women on their path to their most authentic selves. Running workshops, one on one sessions, retreats, and adventures in nature to help awaken them to their highest purpose.
*a mental sports practitioner helping teenage girls find their confidence, their voice, and their internal strength to carry them to new heights on and off the volleyball court.
*a mindfulness keynote speaker talking to schools and faculties about how they can become conscious leaders and take radical responsibility for their lives.
This is where I am headed and I invite you to come along for the ride.
So take a stroll through my new and improved website to see what I offer and pass it along to someone who might be in need of my services.
Also follow me on Facebook at Coach Ann Rivera to get daily inspiration and musings.
Peace in friends,
Have you ever felt disillusionment with your life? Or frustration that it wasn't going the way you wanted it to? Or perhaps felt the resentment of a sudden setback that completely change the course of what you had planned. This was certainly my thinking at many different points in my life until I heard a metaphor that put it all into perspective.
If you have ever had the chance to witness the beauty of El Duomo de Firenze, the stunning Cathedral in Italy- then this might make sense. (or any other vast, artistic masterpiece for that matter) The fresco on the dome's ceiling is one of miraculous proportions, with details so intricate it's impossible to see it with the naked eye, a gaping mouth and a craned neck from the cathedral floor. The grand scale of it is so overwhelming it's truly too magnificent to take in with just our own two humble, human eyes- like trying to make sense of the entirety of your life all within the present moment.
It was explained to me once that we often look at our lives as if we were face to face with the design- right there up close with our nose touching the paint. We can see the acrylic cracking, the color isn't what we expected, and the proportion is off. We huff and we puff and we ask for a brush to change this close up version to our liking. Problem being, we can never see the entirety of the masterful design, but with hindsight we can often observe the wider perspective which suddenly makes sense. And you experience a glorious Ah ha! Like when my Achilles tendon snapped and my volleyball career was all over- but the bigger picture was a new lifestyle that was far better than the previous. Or even the small, everyday frustrations like a friend who cancels at the last minute and changes the course of the day- and something else reveals itself during that scheduled time- or perhaps it's not even noticeable until the following day, week or year. I harbored a nearly two decade resentment at my mom for an action she didn't take, but I had expected her to. Just a few years ago I realized how selfish my resentment was and released it. Come to find out just last week that she had a special reason why she made that choice twenty years ago, which would benefit me far greater at this current stage of my life, instead of back when I was a careless, irresponsible, world wanderer. That was one glorious Ah ha!
Often when I am feeling agitated about accepting what is, I imagine observing Giorgio Vasari's fresco of the Last Judgment laying on a ceiling platform as the artist did with his paints. Up close and personal with an easy opportunity to judge and criticize. But then the platform is lowered again and again revealing just a bit more of the divine design until I am overwhelmed with awe and stunned by its splendor. This helps me see that the challenges, disappointments and heartbreaks are all just simple strokes of the brush that make up the perfectly designed fresco of life.
One day I shall be spoken for.
One day he will declare, “you are the one.”
One day I will be part of a team, a dynamic duo, a partnership in adventure, we will be kindred spirits.
One day, is what I used to think. I had dreamed about it, hoped for it, visualized it, and pep-talked myself about its possibility.
Then, that one day finally arrived.
Long gone were the inconsolably lonely nights, all the horrible first dates, and the desperate clinging to faith in true love. Being a few years into my thirties and unwilling to settle, I had kept my sights straight ahead at the tiny pin hole of hope at the end of the tunnel,forged ahead-
and just trusted.
And miraculously it worked.
There I stood at the top of the staircase in my fitted ivory gown, swirled embroidery around the waist, and hair tumbling over my shoulders. My step-father hooked my arm, patted my hand lovingly and smiled proudly. He was unaware of my heart which was about to burst through my chest. I was not calm. I felt like I was going to explode, and I didn't know what I was possibly going to do to relax myself before the illustrious walk down the aisle. All the parents, guests, wedding party, and my groom were waiting below for my entrance.
That one day was just steps away, but I wasn't prepared.
A few months prior to the big occasion I had overloaded myself to the point of a total Chernobyl meltdown. My 8th year teaching high school Spanish was wrapping up, just as my dream was being actualized of creating a program to help prevent teen drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse. The school had been given a grant at the start of the year, which I had been chosen to design a plan for the entire district. High schoolers would be educated and trained how to mentor their younger peers. The second to last week of school was the only time that all involved could agree on a date for the new mentoring event to take place. This involved busing students to our school from all the junior highs in the area, and from the other high school, and then orchestrating the assembly/mentoring sessions.
PV High and Peninsula students mentoring the junior high kids.
Although stressful, it was a satisfying success, but this added a wave to the surge of activities in my life causing me to sit on the tip of the monster wave....racing toward the eminent wipe-out.
Thinking I could cleverly juggle it all, I dove into wedding planning, and soon became entirely overwhelmed, and sank to the bottom-unable to keep my head above water. At this point my back went out, which I have never experienced before, and never ever want to again. I taught Spanish class bent over at the waist in excruciating pain until I got a brace to help me stand properly, and then had to lay on my back at home and do nothing. ( ! ) I was deteriorating quickly, and deeply worried that I wouldn't be prepared physically for our honeymoon trek in Nepal. My husband-to-be pulled me out from the pool of wedding decision making, and told me he’d take it from there, since there was already enough piled high on my plate. For those of you who have gone through wedding planning, you know very well that the planning of a decent size, destination wedding is no casual swim in the sea; it’s a triathlon of sorts which is so infiltrated with details it's enough to justify the cliché of eloping just to avoid the monstrous task. Luckily my step-mother is a detailed oriented, event planning master and took on the responsibility with gusto.
Chapter breakdown and story arc (with Maya's help of course)
Although excited about the upcoming wedding, I was fanatically dedicated to finishing my book, Journey to the Heart of Pachamama, a memoir about my volunteering and adventuring experience in Peru, which had been a three year odyssey. I was on the last, crucial chapter with a week to go before the big day. I worked tediously on a story board to make sure the plot worked out, with it all accumulating with the important last chapter. But my focus was so fractured I couldn’t seem to get in the writing zone. With my life-long dream of finding true love actualized, and the near completion of another epic goal happening concurrently, it was enough to send me into a tail spin.
Once I arrived in Mammoth for the wedding, my emotional state had deteriorated. There was no doubt I was marrying my true love and with only eight pages remaining of the book, I couldn’t quite grasp the reason behind the water-falling tears. There were wedding guests infiltrating the hotel everywhere and I feared they'd see my sorry state, so I remained in my room alone and troubled. And by the day before the wedding, I was still a mental and emotional wreck. I could definitely understand the term Bridezilla, and was glad that I hadn’t yet reached the final stages of morphing into one, but I could see the potential. My biggest concern was that I might not return to my normally balanced and serene state of mind before I walked down the aisle. Crying uncontrollably I soon sought out the wise counsel of the women closest to me. "What's wrong with me? I thought I'd be a floating on a cloud of grace, feeling serene, gracious and divinely glowing in my bride-liness!"
Then it was brought to my attention, that which was rather obvious to others, but not to me. I had been steadily climbing, with unwavering dedication, all of my adult life, to this ever-illusive peak of finding the purest of love connections. Not only that, but I had been developing the writer in me ever since I was a young girl, so not just one, but both of these epic journeys was coming to fruition within the same week of this lifetime. The blood, sweat, tears, pain, and joy which had gone into both was tremendous. I had conquered the fear of never being loved which would be “officially” proved the next day, and I had also forged through the false belief that I could never actually write a book. The emotional intensity of both had consumed me like tidal wave and I was still having a hard time catching my breath. Would I be gracefully composed and have an authentically enchanted "best day of my life" look on my face as I walked down the aisle? I didn't think it would be possible.
On the morning of the wedding I was summoned to the hotel room of a group of my female invitees who got wind that I was struggling. We sat in a sacred circle with brilliant, golden sunlight bathing me as I closed my eyes with my tribe of women. I not only had four of the most amazing bridesmaids, and an extraordinary matron of honor, but I also had a group of spiritual and loving women attending the wedding who played an integral part of my life. We meditated, and they shared their deepest thoughts to help me prepare for the day, as they embraced me with their love. Tears streaked my face as the overwhelming emotions began to dissipate. Bottles of bubbles were handed out and they all helped me blow away my worries. “This will be the best day of your life,” they told me. But at this point, not knowing what was to come, I sniffled back tears and whimpered, “the day I met Sam was the best day of my life, this day is definitely not the best!”
At the top of the mountain where the ceremony would take place, my bridal party and I waited in the ski patrol room for the wedding to begin. With an unexpected delay, I stood in the most gorgeous dress that had ever touched my skin, with my bridesmaids and my matron of honor all looking divine, in a dirty room that stunk like wet dog. After finally getting to a place of containing my emotions, it all surged again while waiting, and I feared I might disturb my make-up right before the ceremony. Gritting my teeth I said to my dear friend Dana, “Please make a memorable moment right now….please!” She took my hand and the others did the same. We stood in a circle and shared in the first of many unforgettable moments of the wedding day. The positive love energy was palpable and I felt wrapped in the pure friendship of the women who were truly closest to my heart. I was buoyed, strengthened, lifted, and supported by the spirit of the women who know what it has taken for my life to arrive to that very moment. The signal was given and I joined my step-dad on the stairwell.
Spanish acoustic guitar accompanied the wedding party which I could hear from my ready position. Sun poured into the window which framed the spectacular view of the top of the surrounding mountains. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, but was unable to slow down my heart. My dress felt tight and my palms were sweaty as I held my bouquet of purple and white blooms. "Get a grip!" I demanded of myself. "Relax, now's the moment you have been waiting for!"
But I couldn't.
We started down the staircase, carefully stepping so to not trip on the silky hem of the dress. I kept taking big breaths gasping for a thread of sanity. I was worried that with the next deep heave of my chest I might burst the delicate straps holding up my dress. "Please God, help me relax!" I saw the smiling faces of the first few guests in the audience. I locked eyes with my Dad who was waiting for my step-dad to hand me off. I caught Sam's gaze from across the room, and a genuine smile spread across my face upon realizing that he had chosen to shave off his masterpiece mustache for the ceremony.
My Dad hooked my arm and we took our first steps together. We got about half way down when I suddenly felt like I was going to explode. An all-consuming, uncontrollable surge pumped in my veins that started in my toes and raced through me until it exploded out of my mouth like an erupting volcano. I let out the wildest, loudest, guttural YAAAAAAHOOOOOOO!!!!! that pierced the air which was only occupied by the guitarist playing the wedding march. It was so loud and unexpected that my Dad jumped up in shock, and most of those near me were surprised and confused at this animalistic bellow that came from the lovely bride. Then I began laughing, a bit embarrassed at first, but then it became completely authentic and joyfully as most everyone else joined in. All the built up tension and emotions had exited through that shout and I instantly felt pure, sweet relief. In an instant, I was fully present, peaceful and ready to marry the man of my dreams.
Thus began the best day of my life. My matron of honor sang a song she wrote for us using the melody to one of our favorite tunes, while the guitarist accompanied her. I stood face to face with her, completely enthralled, unaware that there wasn't a dry eye in the house behind me. This connection to her song, positive spirit and love for me was enough to set me free from any residue that remained from my previous emotions. I eyed all my bridesmaids: my sister, my oldest friend from childhood, my volleyball partner and my spiritual mentor all standing in the dark purple dresses I had chosen, and with tears in their eyes and loving smiles. They were standing up for me, they had my back, they were proud of me and believed in me. My ladies. I looked at the first row of guests. My mom, step-dad, dad, step-mom- all proud, all bursting with love for Sam and I, all overwhelmed to be present for this unforgettable day. This was it and I was ready.
I turned back to the man I was ready to commit to and spontaneously kissed him in the middle of the ceremony. I couldn't resist. He was the One and I was getting to marry him in front of all the people who loved and cared about us, and who also believe in and support our union.
At the reception Sam and I surprised the guests with a choreographed dance to our favorite song, "One Day" which was perfectly suited for the mantra I used to persuade myself to believe back when I was single. My father gave a heartfelt speech which he had been working on tirelessly for months, which made me laugh and cry and feel so happy that my Dad was finally getting to witness me marry after I am sure he wondered for years if he would ever get to make a father of the bride speech. There was nothing more satisfying than knowing that my Dad was as happy about me marrying Sam as I was. My mom and step-dad had taken care of the unique cake for the reception which was shaped like a mountain and had Sam climbing the side with our cat in a backpack, as I stood on the top with my hand up in triumph.
The night ended with us passing through the door of our wedding suite only to find that my tribe of girls had decorated the room with a rose petal trail, candles, our favorite drinks and treats in the fridge, and much more. We drew a bath in the extra large tub, and lit the dozens of candles as the room filled with fragrance of the rose petals floating in the water. I unhooked the tight corset of my dress, took of the shoes from my aching feet, and sunk into the tub with my husband. With a long exhale and his arms wrapped around me, I closed my eyes with profound contentment.
Finally, that one day had come... and gone, and it truly was, the best one day of my life.... so far.
Most days of our lives we just flow through. We go to work, we eat, we interact, we sleep. Of course there are rainbow smiley days and the thundery heartache days. And then every so often there are days that hit you as if a Giant Sequoia has timbered on your poor helpless body, knocking you off your feet- leaving you breathless and concerned that you might not be able to recover. But then out of the blue there is a special day tucked into the frequency of life that has been arranged especially for you. A day that alters the course of your life in such a positively dramatic fashion that you are never the same again. It's as if the universe quickly yanks off a layer of the human shell as would a magician to a tablecloth on a fully set table. This I have recently been given the opportunity to experience, and by writing about it I get to re-live it yet again, and hopefully send the vibration your way that that will open your heart to the positive rhythm that is humming through life right now.
On October 20th 2011 I participated in Challenge Day, an event at Palos Verdes High School that not only drastically changed how I view my role as a teacher, but also altered my perspective on the kind of person I want to be in this world. I was challenged to take on the philosophy of Gandhi and “Be the change I want to see in the world." I thought skeptically, “how am I possibly going to “be that change" after spending an entire day in a gymnasium with 150 students?" Well, I did change, along with every other person present.
I agreed to participate since I would get a day off from teaching, but mostly because Kristen, the gal organizing the event, promised me, "Ann believe me, this is right up your alley." (Thanks Kristen, you were right!) I was unaware that I would actually walk in one version of myself and walk back out a changed being. The vision for the Challenge Day was for every child to live in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated.
Sounded good. I was in.
During the 45minute introduction for the teachers and staff who were taking part (including the custodian and principal) we were told that we needed to have high energy and be excited all day to help motivate the kids. Kristen suggested that prior to the assembly I might want to get a Starbucks Venti with 3 shots. Really? What was I getting myself into?
We were told that we'd need to dance continuously for the first 3 hours and every time they asked the students, “Do you want to play a game?" we'd have to jump up and down and scream like it was the most exciting idea on earth. Since I'm not really the cheerleading type, this intro didn't leave me all too thrilled for the rest of the day. They pumped the speakers with classic 80's and 90's tunes so we adults could fine-tune our rusty dance moves prior to the kids entering at 8:00a.m. (Yes, and doing the running man to
MC Hammer at 7:45 am along side the principal is quite odd) Time was allotted to practice our animated response multiple times to the “Do you want to play a game?" request. By the time we were done learning about how we were supposed to act for the next 6 hours I was ready to sneak out the back door.
Finally 150 kids poured into the gym passing through our cheering tunnel of adults as we high fived them, danced like crazy people, and whooped it up. The students seemed shocked and confused to see us acting so joyful and goofy, and I'm sure it was a sight to see the custodian dancing, who is usually racing around campus in his red cart annoyed at students for leaving their trash around for him to clean up. Over the next few hours we danced, and danced, and danced some more. The most popular up beat songs were blasted from large speakers as two Challenge Day facilitators led us through non-stop, animated and ridiculous “ice-breakers" to get us to all feel a bit more comfortable with one another.
We played 150 person musical chairs, lip synced songs standing face to face, we hooked arms back to back with a partner and danced, which is incredibly weird no matter how you do it. I was matched with the center on the football team whose butt snugly rested in the small of my back as we danced to Justin Timberlake's “ Back." Yes, awkward. Next I led a dance train of over 25 kids, then I was the bottom of over a dozen people sitting on my lap as we pretended we were on an imaginary roller coaster. They played sitting volleyball with a gigantic orb, and that's just to name a few.
Not only was it a dance party but it was a hug fiesta too. We were instructed to hug, hug and hug some more. We were challenged to embrace as many people as we could in 60 seconds and then were instructed on how to give a really good hug, which we were required to practice liberally. The good vibes were flowing and it was wild, entertaining and more fun than I've had in a long time. I found myself 3 hours into the event standing on a chair getting a serious groove on to Lady Gaga while I shouted out like I had won the lottery. When they asked if we wanted to play a game I found myself pumping my fists while doing a football quick step, then squiggling my body up in the air, yelping like a giddy puppy. It felt like we were all under a spell of pure, authentic joy and I was really getting into it.
Once the guard was down it was time to inject our hearts and our minds with the Challenge Day philosophy. They talked about separation, isolation and loneliness being enormous challenges for any human being but for young people, these feelings can be devastating to physical and mental health, which often leads many down the paths of self-harm, addiction, bullying or violence. For many students living under these conditions, academic learning becomes virtually impossible. What causes separation, this profound feeling of loneliness and isolation that so many of our adolescents struggle with daily? The answer is simple....FEAR. What if the solution to the challenges of separation, isolation and loneliness was as simple as taking a couple of minutes each day to connect with those people around us? Students are surrounded by others constantly, usually spending more time with their peers and teachers than with their own families. Often, we simply don’t take the time to foster genuine connection with those around us. This they were going to challenge us to do during the course of the day along with taking a look at the behaviors in others which we consciously choose to ignore, like seeing someone else getting bullied and doing nothing about it. Notice, Choose, Act was the three word slogan to remind kids to take responsibility for not just their own well-being, but others too.
The two facilitators told personal stories about difficult challenges they faced in their lives. I, along with many others got a little emotional when the leader Chris told about his gentle and loving grandmother who raised him, and then painfully described how she was hit by a drunk driver. The few tears that came from Chris's story were only to be just droplets in the rivers of tears that would flood the room later that day.
They told us about the iceberg metaphor- how most of us show what is above the water line, which is about 10% of who we really are. We don't expose the other 90% for fear of being vulnerable or looking a certain way that's not accepted. They challenged us to lower our waterline and reveal our authentic selves. It was described as if we have a balloon inside and if we stuff how we feel and don't communicate and genuinely share what we are going through, then the balloon gets bigger and bigger and we act out because we don't know how to handle what we are feeling inside. I could certainly relate to the balloon metaphor from my days in high school and post college where mine transformed from an innocent animal-twisty balloon to a wildly wreckless run-away hot air balloon, eventually blowing up causing me (and the people around me) much pain and suffering. I didn't have any tools to deal with it back then (although I do today) and by this point in Challenge Day I was completely hooked on their spiel and wanted to know more about how they planned to help these kids feel safe, loved and celebrated. I felt a twinge of envy that I had never been given the opportunity these students were getting and how possibly it could have changed the course of my own life.
We were then paired up for multiple, quick activities where we shared personal stories of fear, embarrassment, sadness and joy. I spent my lunch with one of my current students whom I already had judgements about prior to Challenge Day. I had the opportunity to listen to her fears but also her future hopes and dreams and share with her my own.
Next, we were efficiently orchestrated into functional groups of an adult and five students and were guided to complete the sentence, “If you really knew me, you'd know...." This was where the real miracle started to spread through the gym to take hold on the hearts of each person present. Boxes of Kleenex were well arranged around the room as the tears commenced. I was touched to discover that most of the teens in my group had parents who were rarely home and who put suffocating pressure on them to succeed, but gave them little support in doing so. Even an uber-cool surfer kid in my group emotionally opened up about feeling that no one loved him. Every single student in my group expressed feeling unloved, unheard and alone. This exchange really had an impact personally because it's easy for me to see on the outside that most of the kids at our school have what they want materially and somehow I had overlooked that maybe they didn't have what they needed emotionally. They certainly did a good job of covering it up- or as they say at Challenge Day- they had raised the waterline so others couldn't see how they really felt.
Our group bonded over their common suffering, which they seemed to find solace in realizing that they weren't the only ones. Hugs were generously given and a connection formed, which was also clearly taking place in the other twenty-five groups of five. The honesty, vulnerability, support and compassion was palpable.
Then it was time to "cross the line", one of the most powerful group activities I have experienced. I remembered seeing it done in the movie Freedom Writers, but this time I got to cross the line myself. We were taught the “I love you" hand gesture in sign language, which we were instructed to hold up for the those who crossed the line.
Cross the line if you have ever been bullied.
-For being tall
-For being small
-For being smart
-For the color of your skin
-For your religion
-For your sexual orientation
Cross the line if you have been abused.
Cross the line if the one who abused you was the same one who said they loved you.
Cross the line if someone you know has a problem with drugs or alcohol.
Cross the line if you have lost a parent.
Cross the line if you were adopted.
Cross the line if you or someone you know has tried to commit suicide.
Cross the line if you never had a childhood
The list went on. The tears flowed and the love and compassion swirled through the room as an actual entity in itself, caressing, soothing and wrapping itself around the hearts of all of us.
If I crossed the line I would wrap my arms around a student near me and look back at the others who had their I love you sign up and who were looking us all in the eyes with tears streaming down their faces. The tough football players cried, the science teacher cried, the trumpet player in the band cried, the math wiz cried, the star baseball pitcher cried. I cried. Everyone cried. I could feel the shift taking place. I saw the eyes of the kids who had been bullied, or abused or left out or unloved or had faced very difficult challenges in their life. There were so many of my current students and previous students whom I had made up stories or made assumptions about in my head. It suddenly all dissipated and I saw the real authentic images of love in each one.
Suddenly it seemed incredibly insensitive of me to harass my students when they didn't have their homework or to make an example of them if they were late, or say something that I think is witty when they're not doing what I want. This usually makes the student uncomfortable about themselves and creates an environment for others to laugh at him or her. I realized it would be important for me to re-evaluate my methods of discipline in the classroom and instead dig deep to become more sensitive and compassionate to what is going on behind whatever behavior is transpiring in class. Sometimes I act like Captain Windes, “All aboard my ship! I am in charge and if you don't abide by the Windes laws on this vessel you will walk the plank!" Over my eight years of teaching I've found it easier and more efficent to just have a set of rules that everyone has to follow equally without much flexibility. Having a standard for behavior is crucial, but I was starting to wonder if I was relying on a set of rules that didn't allow for a more human element. Of course I get, “the dog ate my homework" (yeah students still use that one) or “ my homework fell in the shredder." (got that last week) The list goes on. But I also get the kid who averts his eyes with a fallen face who, on day 3 of not doing his homework still has no reason why and I continue to give him a zero and roll my eyes at him. Could I take a moment to pull that kid after class and ask if they are okay? Sometime I get caught up in the idea that I am already doing SO much for kids and I am compassionate and I do listen and I do talk to kids after class and at lunch and after school. But perhaps there is room for more. If I truly want to be the change I want to see in the world it's going to take some extra effort. I'd like kids to feel listened to, and loved and valued and heard.
So what's that going to take?
By the last stage of Challenge Day hearts were open wide, waterlines were lowered, compassionate empathy intertwined each soul in the room and pulled everyone together as equals- not fractured as seperate entities like the cool kids, the band kids, the jocks, the emo's, the teachers, the drugies, the smarties.... we were One.
The final activity was for individuals to come up in front of the entire group of 150 and proclaim, "If you really knew me, you'd know.." As if we all weren't already a bit overwhelmed with the previous activities, this kicked it up to the final notch.
One boy, “Steve" bravely came to the microphone, “If you really knew me, you'd know that I've been bullied emotionally and physically since my first day at this school and I'm a senior now and no one has ever done anything to help me. I am now determined to not let this happen to anyone else and I will stand up for those who don't have a voice."
The crowd wildly applauded and put up their I love you's, as one boy stood up crying and came to the microphone.
“If you really knew me, you'd know that I bullied Steve since junior high and I even hit him a few times." He began to sob. "I am so insecure and I don't know who I am or how to act and I am scared most of the time. I think Steve's so brave and I am inspired by him and I will never bully another kid again. I am really sorry Steve." The two boys hugged.
Tears and cheers from the crowd.
A former student of mine who is extremely introverted came to the microphone. “If you really knew me, you'd know that every day I eat lunch in the bathroom stall because the one time I asked to sit with a group of girls they laughed at me."The Challenge Day facilitator asked the crowd who'd be willing to have lunch with her. The entire room jumped up raising their hands and most even got up on their chairs waving their arms that they volunteered. A rare smile stretched across her face as she saw the new support and inclusion that was flowing her way.
A current student of mine walked to the front of the gym. “If you really knew me, you'd know that I crossed the line for someone I know that has thought about suicide, and that someone was me. But after today I don't feel that way anymore. I know that is not the answer and feel there is hope for me." You could hear a pin drop, which was right before the thunderous applause and hollering and the onslaught of hugs and tears.
Goosebumps dotted my skin as the life-saving power of this assembly sunk in. These kids needed a voice. They needed to know someone cared. They needed to know they were not alone.
Then I got an idea.
It was as if a power greater than myself pulled at my heart and said, “Now is the time, little grasshopper." I started shaking and my heart accelerated knowing that, yes, I was really going to do it. More students went to the microphone of equal or greater intensity as the past few I described, but no teachers. Yet.
I was going to say it. Out loud.
I realized I had a chance to be real with the students. To lower my waterline. To help bridge the gap between adult and teenager, and especially to honor those brave students who chose to take the risk to reveal publicly very personal details about themselves.
Next thing I knew the microphone was in my hand and all eyes were on me.
Deep breath again.
Am I really going to do this?
"If you really knew me, you'd know...."
It seemed as if the crowd was leaning into me, waiting to see what that crazy Senorita Windes was going to say about herself.
“If you really knew me, you'd know that I am an recovering alcoholic and I have over 6 years of sobriety."
And then I started to cry. My teary faucet had already been tapped all day and was fresh and ready to keep on flowing. I caught myself before I got too emotional and said, “and if I would have had something like Challenge Day when I was your age I might have chosen a different path. I didn't have tools like you are learning today, or someone safe to talk to and instead I chose drugs and alcohol as the solution to my problems. My balloon popped many times over and over and I still didn't know how to change how I felt inside. Many of you know I run the drug and alcohol awareness program here on campus but I feel its important for me to lower my waterline so that you know that I understand and I have been there, so if there is anyone out there who is struggling with substance abuse, or you know someone who is, my door is always open and I am here to help." I started visibly shaking with tears streaking my face. Did I really just say that? Did I actually give up the anonymity that I used to guard so fiercely? What will they think? What will people say? What have I done? Why am I standing here crying in front of the Palos Verdes student body and staff....and the principal?
Then the applause began. The audience took to their feet offering me a standing ovation in support. Students rushed up to hug me. Staff members approached me teary-eyed and embraced me.
I exhaled and looked out to the crowd who now had their I love you fingers up, and I knew I had done the right thing. I am ready to be the change I want to see in the world, and that starts by taking a risk and putting myself out there. To share my experience, strength and hope with others, and to be a beacon of light.
So I now I challenge you to be the change you want to see in the world. What does that look like? How can you stretch yourself to be a more loving and compassionate human being? Take the risk to share more of who you really are - underneath “the waterline”. We could all work on deepening our relationships and on building intimacy through genuine connection, which helps us find real freedom. We get to experience the freedom to be ourselves, to embrace our full humanity and to live our lives 100% fully alive. So what's it going to take?
Let's start with this....
“What would I know if I really knew you?”
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog
Peace and blessings
Note: all pictures are borrowed from www.challengeday.org
Pole. Pole. Step. Step. Exhale.
Pole. Pole. Step. Step. Exhale. Sob
Pole. Whimper. Pole. Sob. Step. Stumble. Exhale. Moan.
After the miraculously successful "bagging" of Mt.Langley just over a week ago (written about in my previously uplifting blog) I had gained a certain confidence which I was utterly and completely stripped of only half way up to Mt.Baldy this past Saturday. What the hell happened?
Yeah Baldy is only 10,064ft, in contrast to Mt.Langley's 14,000+, but this time the elevation gain was over 5,800 in just 6.4 miles, which basically meant hiking straight up in a temperature that started off at 82 at 6 a.m and rose to 105 by mid-day. Sam and I had joined the well-seasoned Tony, the hiking Tiger, and his girlfriend, Cheryl, who was about my mother's age, so I mistakenly thought she would actually hike like my mom. I couldn't have been more wrong.
We were doing the back route to Baldy starting at the visitor center (The Bear Canyon Trail), which snakes and switchbacks it way up, up, up and more up to the very top. I am not fond of "up" hikes, as I call them, and Sam knows what my typical reaction will be when he proposes one, so he saves that part until last, then slips in, "Oh yeah, it's kind of an up-hike." I whine and moan and say, "You know how I feel about up-hikes!" But then he lures me in with his handsome smile and promises of breathe-taking views, spectacular landscapes and the scrumptious picnic we will have once we reach the top, which will make it all worth it- he says.
On Baldy there are no pristine lakes to gaze at, nor magical meadows to whisk away my imagination since it's a dry, rocky training mountain for the ambition mountaineers who are planning bigger trips and need practice. Sam will be doing a super human trek next weekend by hiking the Palisades Traverse which hits five 14,000ft peaks in one day. Yes- one day. Obviously I will not be joining him on that mega up-hike and I was certainly not helping his training efforts any by dragging myself up Baldy. During an unconscious lapse of better judgement I agreed to Baldy instead of honoring myself and my previous made decision about taking a break from up-hikes after Langley.
We were up at 4 a.m and on the mountain by 6. The fuel of a coffee-energy duo drink allowed me to keep a good pace and to be in a perky and motivated mood. Then the elevation hit. I trudged away, step after steep step when suddenly my mind turned on me. Now I am fully aware of the vicious committee which resides in my head and can take over my well-being at any moment. At this point in my life I have it pretty well monitored and I've learned techniques to help myself. This being especially important when doing up-hikes ,which is when the shitty committee can get uncomfortably vocal. My I-pod helps, doing walking meditations help, singing, thinking positive thoughts. etc. Sam even graciously presented me with an article from Backpacker magazine with Psychological tactics for climbing mountains. This time nothing worked and it started to get really bad. So bad that my head kept shouting "Clusterfuck fury!" I am not sure where that came from, or why that pairing of words was put together, but it would be better off as the name of a death metal band- than my hiking mantra.
Cheryl passed me with light and methodical steps as Sam and Tony easily handled the elevation while chatting about the flora and fauna and other Baldy factoids. There were supposedly big horn sheep that traveled in packs, but were a rarity to see on the mountain.
Clusterfuck Fury. Clusterfuck Fury. Shuuuut up!!!
I was engaged in an all out battle with my devious and unrelenting mind- and losing. I was pretty clear on what triggered it. I had not adhered to my previous decision to not hike Baldy, so I could recover from Langley and enjoy my last weekend before going back to work on Monday. But what did I do? Get up at 4am and do the ultimate up-hike in oven-like temperatures on a bleak mountainside. Clusterfuck Fury!
The heat was nearly unbearable at the midway point at Bear Flats (inappropriately named- flat-) I couldn't go on, but I remained mute and trekked on anyway, pushing off before Sam and Tony to get a head start. I came to what I thought would be the top of the peak and saw the switchbacking trail zig zagging straight up the mountainside ahead. A little tear streaked down my face, and then it was all over. Sam could probably see my trembling chin as I walked back down the trail toward him, wrapped my arms around him and began to sob like a little girl. He didn't say a word and just let me cry it out. He rubbed my back, gave me some candy from his secret supply of "Annie Meltdown" treats that I guess he had prepared for. Eventually I got to my feet and headed back up the mountain.
Pole. Pole. Step. Step. Exhale.
About an hour later I began whimpering with each step as my body stiffened up and my legs began to feel lifeless.
Pole. Pole. Step. Step. Exhale. Sob
Pole. Whimper. Pole. Sniffle. Step. Stumble. Exhale. Moan.
After another break and a "Tommy the Train" pep talk from Sam I was heaved back on my feet yet again. This time through tears and a last ditch effort to find the strength within I decided to reach out to my Higher Power- My Divine Spirit- My God, for guidance.
I was skeptical, delirious and and nearly defeated, but I called out in my head to the all Powerful One above. "Ok God! If you really think I can do this then....then...show me a sign! A sheep will do. Thank you."
Not five minutes later I saw it. A young bighorn sheep. Just like I had asked. Not in a herd which is how they usually travel, but all by itself. A sheep. Hysterical laughter consumed me. The quickness and efficiency that my Higher Power responded to my very specific request was nothing short of a miracle. Then it hit me. Oh boy, I guess that means I am suppose to make it to the top of this damn mountain. Tony got a shot of my lucky sheep which will help me remember the immense power in prayer and that God has a very funny sense of humor.
I did make it to the top of the Old Bald Headed Mountain. Sam had prepared a marvelous picnic and the views were quite enjoyable, especially with the storm cloud formations in the distance. Cheryl had already been at the top for quite a while as I staggered up the last stretch. While perched on a rock staring off and reflecting on the journey, a man came up to me and commented, "You really look happy." I immediately defended my face saying flatly, "it's a grimace." Then I wondered-maybe there was a bit of peaceful joy in my face.
If we were to go through our lives without any obstacles, we would be just a shadow of real selves. By doing things that make us uncomfortable we build character and it provides us with experiences that makes us stronger and more valuable members of society. Give every opportunity a chance, but listen to your intuition, and don't forget the power in the struggle.
Was inspired by a sheep.
And then felt no struggle whatsoever in choosing... to take the chairlift down.
Now I have been known to do some seriously strenuous physical activity. I played volleyball year round on teams for over 15 years, I walked 500 miles across Spain, I hiked to the bottom and back in the Grand Canyon and was chewed up and spit out by an 18,000 ft volcano in Peru. But Mt.Langley. That's a different story.
From the trailhead she hides mysteriously behind a family of jagged peaks disguising her beauty and her dry sense of humor. The Army pass route from the trailhead was suppose to take 18 miles, which would be a stretch for my ability. Uphill hikes with my busted Achilles just isn't really my cup of tea. But for Sam, my mustached mountaineer man, it's just a walk in the park. His passion is infectious and I often fall victim to his boldly extreme adventure ideas because he is quite convincing especially with his gallantly swooping mustache, so in the end I conceded. Part of me shouted, "No no no no!" Knowing I would stare in the devilish face of pure suffering and mental agony, but the other part of me wants so badly to be a part of what lights Sam up and inspires him beyond reason. Not to mention "bagging" a 14,000 ft peak is most certainly a deeply satisfying experience.
Sam's friend and partner in moustached maddness, Jimmy, joined us for the hike. Actually Sam kidnapped Jimmy without him having any idea what were doing or where we were going. We set up camp near the trail head and woke up at 3 a.m so we could get to the meadow by sunrise, which Sam claimed would be well worth it. I wasn't so keen to rise at such an early hour to hike in the pitch black, with only a headlamp, where there could be cougars or bears or other such hungry forest creatures stalking me in the dark. I think it is one of Sam's deepest desires to fight off a Mountain Lion with his pocket knife. Once the thick trees parted we stepped into a meadow of unspeakable beauty, as the sun slowly crept over the mountains as if on cue and lit up the meadow in an etherial other worldly glow.
After a bowl of hot oatmeal with peanut butter, bananas and a potent cup of coffee heated up on Jimmy's super portable flame we headed toward the start of the elevation gain. Each step was a meditation and I quickly warded off any sprouting negative thoughts. I have been known to have an utter and complete meltdown (Split Mountain and Chichani) when I can not control the demon in my head which can quickly deteriorate my serenity and determination that then leads to my body physically shutting down. This time I had prepared and had all the tools to succeed. Walking poles, energy gel shots, an Ipod with pre-arranged playlists of varying tempos and Sam on board with the type of support I would be needing if it got tough. Pole, pole, step, step, EXHALE pole, pole, step, step, EXHALE. I got into the routine and time, miles and body aches were lost.
Just me and the mountain.
By the time we reached the last 500ft I felt like a champ and had not even entertained one negative defeating thought. But my breath got tighter at the high altitude with the route becoming dry, treeless, and covered in scree with a endless vertical pile of massive rocks stacked to the heavens. I felt the strength drain out as I stared up at the treacherous and steep part of the trail which lacked a specific route. Find a way and climb it -is basically the theory to get to the final stretch of the peak. Sam bounded up it like a billy goat as I stood with my neck craned up gazing blankly at the jagged rock formations above. The demon entered my mind disguised as a thoughtful angel, "Ann, its the journey not the destination, you've already done so well, you don't need to reach the top." I looked up at Sam and his mustache above who were waving me up. I paused, took a deep breathe and asked myself what I would feel when I stepped onto the peak?
Exhilaration. Inspiration. Pride. Satisfaction. Elation. Accomplishment.
What would I feel like if I sat here and then just went back down?
Safe. Disappointed. Uninspired. Let down. Defeated. Weak.
Then a gentle voice from within, which I'd like to think of as the matronly voice of Mt. Mama Langley spoke to me. "You can do it. Trust me. One rock at a time." I exhaled and grabbed onto the first notch of rock to pull myself up and slowly made my way all the way to the top of 14,042 ft Mt.Langley.
I did make it to the top, but returning to the trailhead again was another story. Mt.Mama Langley might have encouraged me to her highest point but she gave me a swift kick in the ass on the way back down. After hour 18 of hiking there was no stopping the demon in my mind, so I turned up the volume of Eckart Tolle on my Ipod to occupy my vivid imagination with his calm and oddly melodic voice. The dark night encroached and my mind started to unravel. Wood stumps looked like evil trolls as mosquitos devoured my face, and my sanity. At one point I truly thought I had seen a Sasquatch. I dragged my walking sticks on the ground with my head down like a wilted flower. When Sam asked how I was doing, I dug deep with every ounce of spiritual serenity I could muster and I choose a different reaction than "little Annie tantrum." This time I whispered, "I am hanging in there," as opposed to throwing down my poles and shouting explicatives like a foul mouthed gremlin with a ugly scowl. Reacting to my calm yet defeated demeanor, Sam took my poles, wrapped his arm around my back and soothed me, "I know this has been tough, but I am really, really proud of you."
Not only was he proud of me, but I was of myself. I bagged a peak and found a new serene and safe place within in my heart to deal with the difficulties along the way. I might have reached the top of Mt.Langley, but more importantly I learned to stand on the top of my suffering and fear and look out at the horizon to see the beauty that is there all along the journey and that will gently guide me to overcome any challenge before me.
Thank you Mt.Mama Langley, Jimmy (for providing me with a lot of breaks for me to recover) and of course my Samisito and his mustache.