Two hours south of my upstairs window, the one I write in front of, is snowcapped Pike’s Peak. The mountain is what Coloradans call a fourteener — a 14,000 ft. tall peak that’s easily accessible by highway from Colorado Springs. It’s a monolith of a mountain, rising tall above the others on the Rocky Mountain Front Range.
To me, that peak used to be toxic. For a couple years, I was in a relationship with a guy who lived near it and we had visited the peak together with Willow. When things ended bitterly between us, every time I glanced at the mountain, I was reminded of the failure and pain in our relationship.
Being as large as it is, the peak (and the pain) is hard to avoid.
Have you ever had a Pike’s Peak of your own? So many objects and places can yank you back to the pain in your heart.
What’s interesting is that there’s nothing inherent in the object itself that makes us react in this way. A mountain is a mountain. It has been there long before me and will continue long after I leave.
Pain comes because we ascribe meaning to the objects and places around us.
Fight or flight
Avoiding the pain is like trying to avoid thoughts in meditation — the sooner you realize that avoiding extends the pain, the sooner you’ll be released from its struggle.
While it’s helpful for a time to get away from the places that trigger pain, there’s no denying the fact that hurt has its home in you.
You can drive far away from your home but never leave because home is in your mind.
This is often why people go on vacation and find it hard to leave daily worries behind for the first few days. After several days out of the norm, however, the environment will begin to shift the mind. You might spend one full day truly in “vacation mode” until you realize you have to go back home, which brings you right back to your worries.
“The quality of our thinking is influenced by where we do our thinking.” Yesterday, I was on a mountain even farther south than Pike’s Peak. My friend Roz and I road tripped to a retreat center in the mountains and went on a hike with the founder, Dave Van Manen.
We were at the top of a rise near an outcropping of rocks when Dave mentioned he takes folks up the trails and gives them space at this spot to journal. That’s when he said it, “The quality of our thinking is influenced by where we do our thinking,” adding that journaling on a mountaintop will yield a different result than journalling under fluorescent lights in a cubicle.
It’s true. Environmentally, suffering can surface in the most unexpected of places, but with your feet firmly grounded in/on Tadasana (Mountain) you can start to unravel the relationship you’ve created within yourself.
Your inner relationship
“The study of nature is really all about the study of relationships,” Dave went on. For example, there are trees that grow eagerly on the east side of a ridge during an especially wet season, only to find that this side is normally drier than the west side of the ridge. So the tree soon dries up and perishes. But the ants, beetles and woodpeckers use it for condominiums, and the rotting wood feeds the soil to nourish ground cover.
We feel bad for that tree. We wonder why it ever took root. But the tree that makes a poor choice isn’t stupid. What we don’t see is that it’s part of the ecosystem, and its mistake was necessary to nourish the life around it.
I’m writing this, gazing at Pike’s Peak and seeing it as a mountain, one of many, not a ticking time bomb of pain. That’s because, over time on my yoga mat, I unearthed all those places in me that held on to pain and anger about my past relationship.
As yoga teacher Kim Roberts writes, “The only true thing is what’s happening right now. Yoga can teach you to tune into that now with precision and grace, but only if you keep letting go of the past moment and being present for what comes next.”
Our roots may be dug up or forcefully torn up several times in our lives, but it’s what we leave behind that in fact nourishes us into people who can see the interconnectedness of all life — and find the simple joy of being part of it.
Try it: Mountain Pose, Tadasana, with arms down
All alignment in yoga begins with this pose. The idea is to replicate the same principles here in all the other poses. That is, once you’ve mastered the art of standing your ground and feeling grounded, all the twists, turns and heartaches of life will flow with ease.
- Come to the top of your mat and stand with feel hip distance apart, inner feet parallel to one another. Rock your weight evenly into all four corners of the bottom of the foot — two in the front, two in back like old-fashioned roller skates. Release your arms by your sides.
- Lift and spread your toes. Feel the length of the legs engage, gently lifting the knee caps up. Keep the activity in the legs and set the toes down.
- Bring the navel in toward the spine as you descend the tailbone toward your heels. You’ll feel a slight tuck inward, but don’t allow the thighs to bow out in front of you. Keep the thighs firm and pressing back as the tailbone lengthens down.
- Inhale to lift the sides of the torso and elongate the neck, energetically pressing through the crown of the head. Keep the chin level with the chest and gaze forward at one fixed point. Soften the eyes. Allow the bottom of the shoulder blades to descend without forcing the top of the shoulders down. You’ll feel a broadness in your collar bones and lift of the heart as you do so. From head, shoulders, hips to knees, all should be in one straight line like the photo above.
- Spread your fingers wide, palms facing in front of you. Reach in all directions through the fingers as you breathe deeply from the abdomen. Ensure that your navel moving in doesn’t constrict the flow of breath. It will take a while to get used to letting go of the abdomen to breathe, while also gently engaging the navel in to lengthen the low back. Stay as long as you like, finding the equality of rooting down while rising tall, with everything meeting at heart center.