Recently, I climbed Croagh Patrick for the charity I work for, Gorta Self Help Africa, with my wife and two daughters. For anyone unfamiliar with Croagh Patrick, it’s close on 800 metres in height and takes about four to five hours to climb and return in total. It’s a long way to climb and seems even longer when you’re climbing it on a wet, foggy day.
Though climbing a mountain might be considered just an athletic activity by some, from my experience over the climb of five hours or so, I would see it as an allegory for life. So what life lessons can one learn from climbing a mountain, or any challenge that we take on in life?
It’s about the journey, not the end result
Climbing Croagh Patrick reinforced to me the idea that, in life, it’s about the journey, not the end result. As I climbed holding one of my daughter’s hands and sometimes having to carry her, I realised that this might be the only time that I would ever climb a mountain, so I needed to savour the experience. I thought, “This is it, the moment, I have worked so hard for.” I needed to enjoy the mountain experience, not wish it away, especially because it was Croagh Patrick, home to many epiphanies and spiritual moments at the top of the West of Ireland, where you could almost reach up and touch Heaven.
Often, we wish our lives away, wanting to reach a certain place in life in order to be happy. However, oftentimes the satisfaction derived from setting an objective is not so much in attaining the objective, but in the anticipation and striving towards it. So, as much as possible, try to enjoy the journey as much as the end result—as I did with my Croagh Patrick attempt.
It’s all in the head!
Climbing the mountain is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Yes, there is intense work that must be done in order to be physically prepared for the climb when it comes along, but when the later steps of the climb arrive, and our legs begin to complain after making the same repetitive movements thousands of times, it’s up to the mind to over-ride the the urge to quit. You must figure out some mental techniques to apply in order to keep from quitting, whether that’s mentally dividing the climb into seconds, doing each few steps for someone’s intentions or loved one in your life, as I did with my climb of the mountain, or chatting with others along the way and encouraging one another to keep going but to also try to enjoy the journey.
Similar strategies can be applied to everyday life. We may face difficult life situations that require mental toughness, but we can make it through many stressful periods if we just find the mental strength necessary to continue onward. Everyone needs a challenge in life. Not everyone wants the challenge of climbing a mountain, but everyone needs some sort of challenge, nonetheless. Too much challenge or difficulty can result in frustration, but so can a lack of challenge. Challenge is necessary for a person’s spirit to emanate and to emerge. It is a state achieved when a person is completely absorbed in an activity, usually one that is challenging, yet not at a level of difficulty as to cause frustration. Achieving this spirit involves a delicate balance between the difficulty of the task at hand and the skill of the person working on it. Achieving this spirit from within regularly seems to be one element of being a happy person, and in order to experience this spirit from within us, it’s necessary to involve oneself in a learning experience that requires focus, concentration, and at Croagh Patrick, I am sure I did find that spirit.
Just keep going
I was amazed at the rush of energy I got while climbing the last stretch of my climb. I thought my legs had given me all the energy they had left, but in the last mile as I saw the finish line in the distance, I picked up my speed and gave it all I had and happily and emotionally climbed to the top with tears streaming down my face. In a climbing of a mountain, as in life, the key is just to keep going, even if that means going slowly. No matter how hard things get, there is usually an end in sight, if we just keep going forward.
Life is difficult. We are pressured and stressed and pulled in various directions. Amidst the rush and hustle of the daily grind, it can be easy to lose ourselves and forget what really matters. We get steered off course and put all our energy toward things that ultimately—when it really gets down to it—don’t matter much at all. Remembering what really matters in life requires a conscious effort, and here’s to each of us trying to life a life that really matters and that always helps rather than hurts our fellow human beings!
Thought for the week
As your thought for the week, keep going forward no matter what challenges life throws at you and don’t be afraid to give help and receive help as you make that journey through life. And don’t forget to savour the experience as it is all about the journey and not the end result.
Thanks for all your kind messages over the last few weeks in relation to some of my Thoughts for the Week. It’s always nice to get some feedback along the journey we call life!
The Galway Hospice Climb of Croagh Patrick takes place this Saturday 13th of June. See GalwayHospice.ie for further details on how to take part and to help a worthy cause.