Halfway up the scree field, I paused to take yet another break. My chest heaved in and out, my lungs sucking air. My mind drifts to the usual dialogue that sustains my ability to believe that I can do this, but that space in my mind has gone quiet: I am not entirely sure if I can go on. It’s an unusual feeling for me, and my hands automatically snap down to cradle the roundness of my stomach, below my navel, where, ever since I gave birth to my daughter and went back to work and carried on with life as a mother, I had been carrying thirty pounds of extra weight.
Somehow, being in the outdoors, challenging myself to pedal up hills, traverse mountain terrain, and surf pounding swell, had been replaced by the quieter, more child-friendly activities of darting out to yoga practice whenever I could catch a break, or wearing my baby on a walk around the neighbourhood; enough to break a sweat every so often, but not enough to maintain peak performance. And somewhere, in my struggle to find anything totally selfish, totally pleasurable, and completely my own as I parented my young one, I convinced myself that charging down a trail, testing my legs’ ability to carry me over roots and rocks, was not enjoyable, or necessary, or even possible given my commitment to mothering. And I guess, if I’m being honest, none of that stuff was as important to me anymore as it used to be.
As I resume climbing once more, stepping a little more slowly and deliberately this time, suppressing my pride and competitive spirit as a group of flip flop-clad hikers passes me, I realize that I am, indeed, hauling my overweight body up the face of this mountain. I am doing it. The process certainly does not look like I imagined it would, somewhere at the bottom of the hill with the sense that my body could perform the way it did pre-baby, but I am doing it. My inhalations and exhalations snap me into awareness, and I try to push away the thought processes that are attempting to galvanize me into a healthier way of living – once I get down this mountain – and just focus on how connected I feel to my body and my mind when I push both to do something that doesn’t come easily. I re-familiarize myself with what it means to listen to my body’s urging to step this way, to grab onto the rocks with my hands and scramble up, to take breaks. I get comfortable with acknowledging the defeatist thoughts that flit through my consciousness, allowing them to come and go and then digging into my self-compassion to find thoughts that encourage, strengthen and empower.
I made it up that mountain, and back down again. There were a few tears, and my legs were more ragged at the end of it all than they would have been five years ago. I had the opportunity to practice great patience and empathy with myself, because I had to. At the end of the day, even my softened, rounder body felt strong and capable, despite my struggles. And in that, I realized why I used to spend so much time charging up hills, hiking mountains and slicing through heavy surf. It wasn’t for the thrill of it, or the cardiovascular workout, the leg muscles, or the glory. It was for the power of being able to say “if I can do that, I can do…..”