Poem // Meditation

Music: “Nine” by Nadayana (2016)

3 Journaling Prompts:

  • Imagine the release of a major burden that you’ve been carrying lately. What part(s) of your body are connected to this burden and what does it feel like to let it go? Invite your hands to that place on your body and send it some deep breaths.
  • What’s left in the space where your burden was once rooted? What is one boundary you can put into practice to keep this a safe space for you to explore?
  • Rather than allowing something else to be planted in your burden’s place, what is a way you can nourish and nurture this spaciousness throughout the rest of your day?

These dry, cracked, and scarred hands seem to stare back with weary eyes. They are overworked from following my restless lead. I have kept them busy storing up for my future. They’ve been gathering and keeping, and it all keeps slipping through my fingers.

In their life of toil, these hands have hurt and they have healed—and they remember it all. They show a mother’s courage, a father’s resolve, and humanity’s ferocity. They are slowly, and yet too fast, growing into the skin which will forever contain them. I need to let them do what they’re created for before it’s too late. I need to let go.

All of your stories—past and future—are written in the body. Your hands are no exception. Your hands know the way of the work you must do—the way to bring your within out into the world. Do you not know that here, in these wise, weathered, and empty hands, is your gift?

If you stop trying to gather, all the words spoken infinite times before will take on new life in your hands. Are you open to receiving the guidance and direction and answers for all of your questions? If you are open, who are you listening to?

Are you turning your ear toward the clamor? Or your own knowing?

In this surreal time where we cannot consume as we’ve been so used to, we have an essential choice—to seek out more noise to try and fill the void, or put our ear to our depths and listen.

If change really does start from the inside out, this external shifting will not change us. Circumstances have changed, stress and anxiety and health has changed, but we are still the same going through them.

We will always be stirring if we don’t allow these times to stir us up. We may as well stay hidden inside, even when we can finally come out of our homes.

If I stay quiet even when I have something to say—even when I don’t know how to say it—what purpose does my voice have?

What kind of life will my heart live inside me if I never allow it to fill up to overflow, so that others may taste my purpose?

What good is purpose if it stays in winter’s sleep even when spring comes?

Our life is nothing without the heart, so why do we keep her beat from being heard? Maybe it’s because this clock beneath the ribs frightens us, reminding us that we are not forever. But this beating heart inside you will heal you, whether or not you let her. She will guide your true work through your hands if you just listen to her. Sense her, touch her, know her. Don’t be afraid. Feel her love and pain together as one flesh. One body—your body, who already knows with every cell how to be fully alive. You are a safe place for a beating heart.

I have great confidence in you. In your purpose. In your God-given ability. In your strength and resiliency. You can do what you’re setting out to do. You will do that which is written in your body.

Some days it will look different, morphing along the way—but this is normal and good because your dream is alive. It grows with you, eager to create more in you, especially during changing times.

Don’t fear these changes. Embrace them, because this right here is what you’ve been seeking in all your wandering, in all your restlessness. You are exactly where you need to be to move on the dream that has been moving in you. You have always been and will forever be the perfect human to make this into your Truth. What are your heart and hands craving today? Do just one action—one step, big or small, toward this.

Start here, where you are. Where you are today. No matter what was there yesterday or will be here tomorrow. What you are and have now is all you need for this journey.

To be there, you must be here. Those who cut corners will create a circle and end up right back here, where they were. This moment has something great to teach you. So do the next good thing, the next hard thing. Lean in to the outside change and let it change you as if you were really living for eternity. Create one good thing today as if it could make all the difference. A love note, a song, a dance, a warm drink, a kind word, banana bread—create something good today.

Your words have been sung before, but not in the way you can sing them. Your lips know how to speak this love and sound into life. Your heart knows how to keep a beat, and your hands know how to dance along.

-E

In the depth of winter, it’s been difficult to imagine the lush growth of spring. I’m not sure if you’ve been experiencing this as well where you are, but in Montana, the weight of the snow and the deep dark is pressing in on us.

Through each outside season over the last year and a half, I’ve been working with teenagers in their last seasons as “kids.” Winter, is especially hard for them. It has been one of the greatest blessings to teach and to learn from these young people who are going through it. Life is so hard at that age—or really, any age. The past springs up when we’re least expecting it, hormonal imbalances reveal our fragility, “I should” seeps into the way we interact with the world and others, hindering us from actually becoming what we’re made for.

In this season in my work, I’ve been talking to the “kids” about self-care and their vision for the future. I’ve realized through these conversations, it is so hard to nurture yourself when doubt speaks louder than anything else. Instead of creating more “shoulds” throughout our day, I want to take a step back to the lessons I’ve taught and learned throughout this work.

Breath. Surrender. Forgiveness. Honesty. Opening my eyes and looking at my pain even when I want to keep them closed. This leads to the healing I seek. I need to practice what I preach. I need to share this story with you.

This past year has been one of the most challenging years I’ve made it through—even more challenging than high school. Within 12 months, I’ve had two lengthy spells of postpartum depression—without a child on the other side. I feel it in my throat, making it harder to speak my truth. I feel this past year in my chest, some days taking over my breath and sending me into a spiral of anxiety. I struggle to trust my body most days, even though I know in my mind that it contains all the wisdom I need to heal.

This life is the most beautiful and rare gift. That I am writing this—and you are reading it is a miracle. There is much more, especially including genetics, fighting against us than for us being here. But yet, despite all odds, we’re here. Please keep this in mind if you chose to practice this meditation. You are on purpose. And so am I. If for nothing else then to share our stories with one-another.

Music Album: “Nine” by Nadayana (2016)

-E

Anichka, a five-year-old, smiles sweetly and grabs my frozen hand, leading me toward a tiny house heated by a wood-fire. Before I open the small door, another child named Fafa hands me a soft broom and points to Anichka’s—and his own—dirt-and snow-caked clothes. My stiff hands grasp ahold of the broom and they both giggle as I brush the snow and dirt off of their snowsuits. A few mild tears spill out Anichka’s wide eyes as her face begins to thaw out from winter’s chill. We just spent the whole morning playing in the forest.

Other than for a warm lunch meal, naps, and an occasional local children’s theater performance, the students at Marianka Forest School in the southeastern Czech Republic spend their days playing and learning in the forest—year-round. As a weekly volunteer during the spring of 2016, they welcomed me into their world and taught me far more than I expected to learn from four-and five-year-olds who didn’t speak the same language as I did. My role as a volunteer was to come from 9-10 am on Tuesday mornings to open up conversations, songs, and games in the English language to the little ones. Each week, I stayed past lunchtime—during my short stay in the Czech Republic, this tiny community became like home.

In forest school—rain, snow, hail, or sunshine—the kiddos play outside, and they play hard. They run up big hills, climb around trees, and slide down frozen dirt chutes with a running start. They learn about navigation, they use their imaginations, they become students of life—and teachers. In a natural environment, children learn more about themselves and their bodies, their relationships with others, and life then in any school I’ve ever attended. Here are some of the lessons the forest school taught me:

If we give kids responsibilities, they can learn how to be responsible.

On my first day at forest school, I walked past zlatá brána—the “golden gate” that marks the entrance to the school—and saw three children playing as they cleared the snow from the little walkway with their mini shovels. They were happy and playful in their task to help make their place a little better. It was such a small task, but their smiles told of their big feelings of accomplishment.

These young people aren’t helpless—they’re full of help! Kids love to feel needed and appreciated. When we give them little tasks and the tools to do the tasks, they learn how to take care of themselves. Even though it takes some up-front work and supervision, delegating responsibility is the key to educating and empowering others.

There is a universal language.

Even though few teachers or students spoke English, we felt the same sun radiate through the forest trees, we felt the same dirt beneath our feet, we played the same games, and we all shared the fresh air. I did learn some Czech language and they learned some English words and songs, but mostly we communicated through smiles, snacks, and snowballs. Rather than focusing on all our differences, we focused on all the amazing human things we had in common.

When the sun comes out, sometimes you just need to run around in the forest with your buns out.

On the first warm day in a while, we all couldn’t get enough sunshine. Since trees weren’t yet in bloom, most of the group played as the sun radiated down through the branches. The three girls in the group wandered off toward a sunnier area. From a small distance away, I saw them taking off their snow-pants. Giggling, they ran between the trees and danced in the warmth.

When we stay present in our environment, we become more sensitive to all the changes happening. When we’ve been cold, we feel early-summer warmth deeper in our bones. When we’ve been present in sadness, we notice when joy returns. While most people can find something to complain about in any situation—these children are paying attention to their internal and outside environments and making the most out of any weather.

Small hills are as important as the mountains.

On a race up a small hill in April, four kids ran as fast as they could, all barely making it to the finish because of all the spring mud. The youngest child of the group kept sliding down to the start. She tried many times and became upset. She was very small and the task seemed too impossible. I walked behind her and encouraged her on. Determined and slow, she made it to the top by her strength.

The little victories teach us about our capabilities and help us discover the courage to do big things in life. Each struggle we face, no matter what size, can strengthen us.

Breaking some branches and picking flowers in nature is much less damaging to our environment than never experiencing it.

I’ve been too many places where I see a parent scolding their child for playing in dirt or picking a flower. Yes, a flower will continue to grow better if left with its roots, but what’s the harm in trying to capture a bit of beauty? If kids fear touching nature and getting dirty, the activities and things they will use to entertain themselves with will be far less enriching and potentially far more damaging to their lives and our natural environment.

Slow down.

One sunny winter day I saw a child named Honza staring deeply into the skeleton of a leaf. When he saw my curiosity, he quickly invited me over. This little explorer revealed the perfect similarities between the leaf and the palm of my hand by placing the leaf in it and tracing the lines in both. He showed me that we are all connected, and some unstructured time during our day gives us the freedom to explore the mystery of it all. We can discover all the little treasures surrounding us when we receive the gift of time and slow down.

Whether they’re examining a leaf or a bug, playing red-light-green-light, picking wildflowers, sliding down hills, drawing a map of our surroundings, gathering sticks for firewood, or managing a fight with a friend—these kids were connected to the gift of the present at each moment I was blessed to spend with them. Under the forest trees we grew from the dirt, together, as the seasons changed before our eyes.

-E

balance me on the tips of your fingers.
don’t let me fall.
follow my cries
so I don’t drown.

you’re beside me now,
but I can’t see you.
there’s nothing but darkness here.
when will the light return to your face?

find me.
swim through the clutter I left behind,
all those mountains I gathered to keep you
away.

the books I never read
gather dust.
my peaks crack and crumble
burying all that I have left.

I am surrounded
by the silence
of the fears I never shared.
the dreams I can’t remember.

I am lost inside,
but at least I am hidden.
from the doubts of my mind
trying to turn inside out.

I left a path
there.
just in case
I needed to find my way back.

I wasn’t looking
for you.
but when there’s nothing more to see,
I am still here longing for you.

I went.
and would have never returned
because there’s too much wrong
with me and everything.

you found me
and saw me
when I couldn’t see
even my own toes.

the sun shines on my face
and I remember
all that I need to remember.
wind breathes deep through my lungs.

past the shadows
I see.
I exist here.
and you are with me.

-E

“He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights.” – Psalm 18:33

Your hand fingers for the hold above and just out of your reach, wiggling higher, searching for something better to rest on. Your right foot is too low to really use. Your left foot, weighted on a tiny quartz crystal, pushes you only slightly upward. There might be enough purchase on these holds, but you’re out of balance, and the good holds seem so far. Your forearms are pumping. Your legs start to shake. You want to give up…

The Psalm is a reminder of God’s promise. It’s not a promise of “I will give you bomber footholds and make everything easy.” It is instead a promise that we can be confident in what we do have—strength in Jesus. No matter the difficulty of the crux (which comes from the same root-word as “crucifixion”), we can have faith in our God-given abilities to overcome trials and reach the magnificent heights He has prepared.

When the way gets difficult and fear paralyzes us, it may seem easier to step down from the progress we’ve made than to continue climbing. We’re challenged most when we feel weak and our steps seem uncertain, however, it’s in these times when we grow closer to God. When we have faith, we can still reach mountain heights—even when we’re feeling weak.

Having faith isn’t avoiding falling, coming down when things get a little bit uncomfortable. Faith also isn’t blindly going for something when our decisions may be a detriment to ourselves or others. Faith is a calculated risk, knowing we’ve done all we can in our ability, and knowing we could fall—but if we do, we’ll be safe.

We’re only human. Falling is inevitable when we’re outside of our comfort zone. It can be terrifying, it may hurt, but we will make it through.

It’s similar to having faith in Jesus—when we pick up our crosses and follow him, it can be so scary to let go of our plans and expectations. And it may hurt sometimes to do the right thing. But when our hearts are centered on eternity, we can move beyond any crux and into His loving arms. Just remember to check your knots.

-E

The sun radiated through towering pines, laying a canopy over the dusty trail toward Suicide Rock. Idyllwild, California—the true birthplace of the YDS, home to the world’s first 5.9, and central to the rise of rock climbing in the States. On a clear Saturday afternoon, climbing parties danced up the trail to hop on all the classics. My mom and I planned to do our first traditional climb together—Graham Crackers, a two-pitch 5.6.

We arrived at the Northeast Buttress and joined the other weekend warriors—some were smiling, and some scowling at the increasing amount of people arriving at the crag. We greeted the woman standing below Graham Crackers who placed gear on her harness, preparing to lead. As we discussed our choices to wait or find another 5.fun route, a woman dressed head-to-toe in Patagonia interjected, recommending we try out Etude, 5.11a. A bit alarmed we would jump from 5.6 to 5.11, and a bit honored she assumed my mom and I would be up for it, I responded, “I do love that route but we’re looking for something easier.” The woman looked at me surprised and responded, “you’ve climbed it?”

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With this response, she suggested that either she expected us to climb it on-sight, or that she simply said it to measure her climbing ability against ours. I calmly told her I climbed the route last time I was here and my mom added in, attempting to be helpful, “she top-rope on-sighted it!” In a condescending tone, she went on to tell me that doesn’t count and she would love to see me lead it.

The climb tempted me with its beautifully delicate features, but I was new to traditional climbing, I wasn’t warmed up, there were a plethora of stressed climbers defensive of their spot in the queue for Flower of High Rank—the climb just next to it, and my mom would be tense and terrified belaying me. These didn’t feel like excuses, they were valid concerns. And for some reason, my ego still wanted to prove that I could.

I looked up at the climb from where I was sitting and took a deep breath. I knew that it wasn’t my voice telling me I wanted to climb it—it was the insecurity of another. I smiled and brushed it off as if her challenge was a friendly joke. We ended up waiting only a few minutes more for Graham Crackers. My mom and I climbed our two pitches and had a great time together.

As climbing ascends even more into the mainstream, crags are becoming more crowded and the competition becoming far less than friendly. With this, we worry that climbing-related accidents will also become more common. We’re a community, after all. Why doesn’t it feel like it sometimes?

Increasingly, and not just in California, I have seen people pushing their goals—and insecurities—onto others. If someone has a true intention to do something, they will do it rather than spray about it. If you have a goal to try climbing indoors, try it! If you’d like to climb outside, it’s wonderful! If you’d like to climb 5.15, work super hard and get there! But please remember, we all have different limits and we all have diverse goals. Competition can be positive, helping us try hard and do our best. But not everyone wants to compete.

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There’s a huge difference between challenging others to be great and shaming them for not being “as good” as you. It takes enough strength and energy to become a better version of ourselves, and criticizing others’ abilities and decisions is a waste of it. We must use this energy to grow, as members of the same community, and encourage others rather than judge them for growing in a different way. Climbing is a beautiful physical endeavor, but it can also help us face the weaker parts of ourselves so we can see that there’s something bigger going on than just scaling a blank-looking rock.

What we learn when we climb—about patience, about respect for ourselves, other climbers, and the natural world, about overcoming fears, about having grace with ourselves—can translate into our everyday lives. If we are busy invalidating others’ pursuits and accomplishments, we will miss opportunities to better ourselves and our community. Wherever we may be in our journey of ability, we must all embrace our own goals and allow others the stillness to reach theirs. Climb on!…if you want.

–E

When looking for a partner, it’s tempting to consider someone with a nice-looking rack or a sweet set of nuts, but take it from me, you’re better off with a belay partner whose gear—and ego—is well-worn. There are too many people out there who claim to climb, but instead spend their time flaunting their equipment on social media, seeking partners who will shower them with thumbs-up approval. Despite the occasional d-bag around the crag, there are still many bona fide dirtbags: people who don’t need the newest Prana climbing pants, or the most aggressive shoes, or lavender-scented chalk. If you too want to rope up and cut the crap, but can’t figure out why your climbing days still consist of the auto-belay at Spire, here are some tips.

For starters, talk to people. Many Bozemanites have climbed before, so you’re not putting yourself out too much if you ask, “Do you climb?” If it’s a co-worker, a cutie in line at the Co-op, or a babe in Burke Park, be friendly and strike up a conversation about how great the conditions in Hyalite have been looking. If you both are up to climb, exchange numbers, and call if you say you’re going to. Agree on a time, and if you’re the one who initiated the date, let your partner know what to bring and what to expect.

When you call, have a plan. If you ask someone out for the first time, remember that “Want to go climb in Hyalite at 1am?” is similar to “Want to watch Netflix and chill?” It shows that you probably don’t have a plan and that you and your partner might get into some very risky business.

Now, if you’ve never been to Practice Rock, tell the truth. Your partner will figure out soon enough if you were bullshitting about your Cardiac Arete lead. It’s okay for him to see that you don’t know everything—and just because you know some things, doesn’t mean you’re going to do all the work. Climbing is a team effort, and it will help your relationship if both you and your partner know that from the start.

After you do make a plan, show up. Be prepared and don’t expect your partner to bring water, snacks, or gear for you—unless he already told you he would. And it’s a safe practice to have extra water handy anyway, for when you and your partner get hot and bothered by the start on Theoretically.

In addition, try to avoid talking about all the long and hard classics you’ve done. Even though you may want to tell your partner how experienced you are, there are other ways—communicate well, help him feel safe, and climb smart. It’s easy to blab about climbs you’ve done; it’s more difficult, and more fun, to climb.

When gearing up, if a more experienced partner says you didn’t follow through your knot, or that your harness isn’t double-backed, listen. His advice could save a life. A good belayer will help his partner become a better climber.

If a less experienced partner is ready to get onto the sharp end of the rope, encourage him, answer his questions, be an unselfish and attentive belayer—and don’t beta-spew. Even if your way is the “right way,” as long as your climber isn’t in any real danger, give him some real words of encouragement.

If you’re not cheering him on, embrace the silence. If you don’t know your partner well yet, get to know him, but not when you’re halfway up the route. From 50 feet up, “What did you say?” sounds a whole lot like “Off belay.” Be respectful of other climbers, be mindful of the timing and volume of your conversations, and welcome the quiet moments between you and your partner.

When we climb for ourselves and encourage others to do the same, seeking to become a better belayer rather than finding the perfect belayer, we will discover that they are all around us. And it just takes a few awkward moves, sweaty palms, and courage to get to the top of the world with one.

–E

This article first appeared in Outside Bozeman Fall 2017.

Who are you, when you’re alone, without a mirror, without your phone?

When we allow the wild in our minds to find stillness, we can let go of the desire to be anything other than true. It’s too easy to fall prey to the windows of distraction and the mirrors of comparison social media provides. All the various voices, especially the negative ones, have been getting louder and louder, trying to get others to reflect their fears—their fears of being alone.

We may more clearly hear our purpose, not only in the absence of noise, but in the presence of silence. Make more of an effort to let the stillness sink into your day—into you. Stay in it for a little more time than feels comfortable. The more we let the uncomfortable silence speak, the more comfortable we will become with ourselves.

More often we must allow our eyes to gaze up at the stars rather than down at our blemishes, and let our fingers brush against the perfect artistry of a leaf or the hand of another, rather than scrolling endlessly through a screen. Even if only for a moment more of silence each day, we may feel more alive, more ourselves, and less alone.

You are real. You are not a reflection, and you are not what you see on your phone.