What trekking in Nepal taught me about the strength of the mind
I was dehydrated and depleted after a long, hot day. Wanting to avoid too many trips to the squat toilet, I had limited my water intake. We were at 2800m altitude, not that high yet, but enough to need acclimating. I sat alone on my bed in the teahouse where we were staying in Nepal’s Annapurna region, my head pounding and too nauseous to eat. Tomorrow would bring a long day of trekking, and I wondered how I would get through it.
Before I left for Nepal, people would ask, have you trained for the trip? I think I’m strong enough, I would respond. It did not really occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to complete this adventure that I had looked forward to for so long.
But here I was, facing self-doubt on top of an ambitious goal: to conquer long days on foot, traverse two 5000+ m mountain passes, and survive for days on low levels of oxygen at high altitude. What if I were too ill tomorrow to go on? If I couldn’t make it? If the group went on without me? That negative voice, which I call my gremlin, was beginning to make itself heard.
There was a knock at the door. It was Satish, our mountain guide, wondering why I hadn’t appeared for dinner. I can’t eat tonight, I said. My head hurts, my stomach is unsettled. He looked me straight in the eye. Listen to me. You are just dehydrated. You’re going to be fine. All you need is water and a good night’s sleep. He took me by the shoulders. You have to be strong in your mind for this journey, not just your body. It is the strength of your mind that will carry you through.
He was right. I knew it. Now I needed to do the work to find my resilience. I had until the morning.
I whipped out my journal, jotting down the voice of my doubts. Is my body capable of this? I will find out, I responded. That’s what I came here to discover -- what I am capable of. In its healthy and balanced state, I know my body can do this. The question is how to align my mind and spirit with my physical strength. To not listen to the gremlins that are holding me back. I thought about the words of Satish. The key, he said, is not to worry about tomorrow or think about the past. Just stay focused on the now. Rest and recover. Get back on your feet. One step at a time. And each step, however small, is a step forward in the right direction.
I looked out the window. After several days of rain, the majestic peaks of the Annapurna range were beginning to pierce through the clouds. I looked at them and asked, what is it you are trying to teach me? The answer was clear: “You are strong. You can do hard things.”
There I had it. My mantra. I am strong and I can do hard things. I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the life lessons from these mountains and the infinite wisdom of my guide, Satish. I was reminded that there are times in life when we need someone who can see us and hold up the mirror so we can find our way back to clarity and strength. Satish was that person for me in Nepal and indeed for everyone on the journey with us, staff and trekkers alike. The voice of wisdom and experience, attuned and attentive, responding to the twist and turns of each day. Wise leadership in action.
Six weeks later
Reflecting on my experience in Nepal, I’m struck by how as a coach, having worked with numerous clients to tap into their inner wisdom and strength, this was a moment when I need that same support myself. My gratitude to Satish is not just for how he helped me during our trek, but how he held up a mirror to my own purpose around coaching. I, too, seek to support others as they shape a vision for who they want to become and take one step at a time toward their future. To be there in those moments. There is no work I can imagine wanting to do more.