Fear NOT The Plateau
My mind meandered over many a thought this morning, as it often does on my "solo" hikes with Luna. The trails surrounding Los Angeles are my place to let the cacophony of jumbled, monkey-jumpin' concepts rattling around in my brain all week sort themselves out into some semblance of logic as I perform the repetitive actions of placing one foot in front of the other - and sucking wind.
A particularly harrowing section of trail that felt far closer to vertical than horizontal had me humming Miley Cyrus's "The Climb" to myself (Yes, I LOVE old Miley as much as new Miley!) . The trail took many steep inclines followed by short flat lulls in the torture to reach a breathtaking panoramic vista. Today was the first day I actually made it all the way to the very tippety top and read the memorial placard placed there. And while that moment felt rewarding, it was not the summit that really struck me today, but all those brief flat sections, with no view, between the strenuous bursts of near vertical ascent.
I often find hiking to be full of awesome analogies for life and today was no exception. These brief, flatter, less-exciting-but-SO-blessed pieces of trail reminded me of life's plateau's. In Miley's song, she says "There's always gonna be another mountain, I'm always gonna wanna make it move. It's always gonna be an uphill battle...". It felt, as I hiked, that each steep section would be rewarded by a short break followed by unending steep sections ahead. I would think to myself, "surely this one is the top", only to be greeted by a brief few level steps before the next pitch. And I FELT the truth in those lyrics (physically, ya'll, my legs still hurt!). There is always going to be another mountain. But what really struck me was that for every mountain, there is a valley, for every steep gradient, a little level section to catch your breath.
In body building or fitness training, they call the phase when your body gets conditioned to your current program and you no longer yield results a plateau. I think life is also full of plateaus. Moments when you're not struggling too hard, or pumping the breaks, but things are comfy and you can coast for a moment or two. As someone born into struggle and chaos, I often HATE these times in life. I yearn for the feeling that I am fighting against all odds to reach my goals, that I am WORKING HARD, that I am proving my worth by DOING. I am so uncomfortable with just being, pausing to reflect and assess what lies ahead. Feeling like my life is stable is sometimes more triggering than any of the insane challenges I have faced. I feel like I can't trust it, don't deserve it, don't know what to do with myself. I feel like a caged beast just pacing in circles. Where is the race? Where are the other rats I'm supposed to tussle with? I'm deviating here but you catch my drift? I fuckin' LOVE the CLIMB ya'll. But my realization today, is that the plateaus are JUST as important.
Much like I couldn't continue at lung busting steepness for my entire hike, our lives aren't meant to be hard ALL THE TIME. I believe we are meant to have sections that challenge us, force us to grow, where we can choose to work really hard for the careers, relationships, personal growth, skills and talents, lifestyles and experiences that we want. And then we are supposed to enjoy them. Or we are supposed to catch our breath and recover from trauma. Or we are supposed to simply sit and review the scenery we have passed and take a nap. When I was putting every bit of my effort into scaling the face of the dang mountain, I could barely breathe let alone think, it was only during the plateaus that I could let all that extra oxygen get to my brain as I panted and have some mental clarity, let these thoughts start to formulate what I'm sharing with you now.
We NEED the plateaus. They are the moments that let us actually experience our lives, that let us process and decide consciously who we want to be moving forward. They are the times that let us hold space for the things in the past that are affecting us now in ways we may not recognize at break neck speed. They are the times to reach deep into our wells of feeling and shudder with massive, palpable swells of anger, sorrow, grief, gratitude, love, and ecstasy that may be too large an emotion to fit in our day to day grind. These plateaus may sometimes feel like nothing, but they are everything. They may last an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a "dry spell" of years. But I promise you, they are not blank pages.
Bringin' it back to body building, why do our bodies continuously adapt to be able to plateau? Our bodies want to reach homeostasis, to find a way to change to make current conditions easier. But if our current conditions never change, we don't get to grow. We need the plateau to allow our bodies to adjust to their new ability level before changing up our program to be able to yield new results. Reaching way back to my Christian upbringing, Jesus wandered around in the desert for 40 days and Moses with the Israelites for 40 YEARS after escaping Egypt and before reaching The Promised Land. And I guarantee these aren't the only literary examples of the kind of plateau I'm talking about. So here's my message and then I really should go to bed; If you feel like you're in plateau in your life, maybe don't fight it. Try taking a breath and let it happen, don't rush to the next mind-numbing activity you can find, or try to fill in the space with any little project that will distract you. Just let that space expand for a second and see what happens. If you can give yourself a moment of true stillness, I bet it launches you in the perfect direction. Or maybe you will wake up one day and think "I have everything I every wanted". Now, what would THAT feel like?