I started to take little trips around Europe on my own. I was in my early 20s, I had never traveled on my own before, so my first trip to Amsterdam for a long weekend, flying solo, was scary as hell. When the plain took off form Tallinn airport, I was clenching the armrests thinking "what's wrong with me? Why can't I just use my spring holiday to clean the house and organize my closets, like normal people do."
Like in my yoga practice, I soon discovered that being out of my comfort zone is not scary, but exhilarating and fulfilling instead. It felt it's the unknown out there, that was beckoning me. So when my co-worker forwarded me an e-mail advertising a 2-week trip to Africa to climb mount Kilimanjaro, something in me stirred. I had to go. I had never traveled that far nor did I know anything about mountain climbing, yet it sounded hard and scary and definitely out of my comfort zone. It was also my first (and last) organized group travel with total strangers.
I borrowed the money for the trip from my father and most of the hiking gear from my friend's husband who is a climber. I was quite obsessed with the idea of reaching the top of the mountain. I was some-what aware of the difficulties and about the mountain sickness, yet I was determined and passionate about making it to the top. Because I knew it was going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done, I had this idea that when I reach the top, there would be some kind of an epiphany that would bring clarity to EVERYTHING. Literally - I was looking for a "higher" meaning - higher, as in 5895 meters.
Well … I wanted it to be hard and I got my wish. But as it often happens, not quite the way I had envisioned it. Before the climb, the group of us was taken on a safari at the bottom of the great mountain. I wore my open sandals for the safari and by the end of the first night my feet started to itch. I did not think too much of it, it just felt uncomfortable.
There are a few different routes to the top of Kilimanjaro. Our group was lead on a route called Marangu or sometimes also "Coca-cola", as it is the easiest (also shortest and cheapest) way to the top often taken by unprepared and inexperienced climbers. There are small dormitory huts on the route for accommodation and we had sherpas carrying out big bags for us.
When we started the climb my feet hurt a little and there was a small snakelike red line under the skin of one foot that seemed to inch longer by the hour. I was too fixated on making it to the top to let a little red line stop me. So, I put on my boots, told no-one about it and kept walking. The first day is an easy stroll, there's a need to acclimatize so the ascent initially is a leisurey walk in beautiful surroundings. When we reached the huts for the first night, my feet were swollen and blistered. Still blinded by my desire to reach some sort of illumination or salvation at the top, I kept silent and I kept walking.
When we reached the camp site at about 4000 meters, my feet looked black and blue, they were covered with blisters, the red line was getting longer and I was officially scared. There happened to be a doctor on the camp, a climber on her way down. When I showed her my feet, she looked me in the eyes and said: "The only way you are going is down". She did not know what it was, but she assured me that I was in serious risk of bacterial infection and that there was no way I could keep climbing.
You can see the snowy top from 4000 meters. It is where the alpine zone begins, so the conditions are harsher, it can still be very hot during the days but at nights the temperature drops below zero. It was the loneliest I had ever felt. My group kept moving on and I stayed on my own for a night at 4000 meters before starting my way down. I sat, I wept, I could not fathom that I was not able to push my way through this. I wanted to make it to the top more than anyone else in the group, there were people a lot weaker than me who were still climbing, and I had to stay behind and just stare are the Uhuru Peak from distance. I felt cheated, my heart was broken, I felt like a failure and mostly I just could not accept what had happened. You'd think I would be worried about that red line or my shattered feet, but mostly i felt devastated of being robed of the chance to get clarity. The illumination, the salvation, the epiphany - that was supposed to fix me.
On my way down first I was strapped on a stretcher in my sleeping bag unable to move, but after a 10 minute ride on narrow cliff path, I declined the transport and decided to walk. The doctor at the foot of the mountain was not of much help, but she did give me some anti-bacterial medicine. My flight back home was the next day and when I arrived in Tallinn I drove straight to the emergency room. I waited and waited, but when it was finally my turn, the the doctor looked at my feet, shrugged his shoulders and said, he has no idea what it is and just sent me home to have a rest.
Next morning in panic, I went to the Infectious Decease Hospital. Initially I got the same treatment, more compassionate than the day before, but still of no help. Luckily, one of the doctors there had worked in Africa, so when he saw my feet, he exclaimed a name in latin (cutaneous larvae migraines) and called in some of his students to see a perfect case of "creeping eruption". It's a human infection with dog or cat hookworm larvae. It would heal on its own over the course of few weeks or months, but in my case it got irritated and infected by my climbing agenda.
I was checked into the hospital right away and ordered to bed-rest for a week.
And now (finally?!) we get to the zest of the tale. As I lay in my hospital bed, a good friend of mine came for a visit and dropped a book at my bedside table. In the evening staring at the salad-green walls of my room and feeling extremely bored, frustrated about missing more work and still grieving over my failed adventure, I picked up the book. It was Eckart Tolle's "Power of now". I inhaled it in one reading, I did not sleep a wink that night, just kept reading and reading, the words resonating and landing on a soil that was thirsty and ready. It was my first "spiritual" book that opened an inner world that I had sometimes felt, but never knew in terms of words or concepts.
Though I had practiced yoga for a few years by then, this was my first real pointer from the outer to the inner. Or maybe I was finally ready to hear it. I have to admire the circumstances - me needing to travel across the world, to have my dream shattered, to feel utterly lonely and defeated, in order to land in that salad-green hospital room with exactly the message I needed to hear. "Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness."says Eckart Tolle. I wanted it hard and painful, and oh boy, did I get my wish. I wanted an epiphany, and I got it - not on the top of Uhuru, but in a hospital bed. I was so fixated on something out there being the key to my happiness, in that hospital bed it was the first time I felt the into the meaning of "life happening NOW", the "joy of just BEING".
I floated in that newly discovered bubble of inner peace, calm, understanding, appreciation and joy for a few weeks to come. Like in my first yoga class when a seed got planted, then watered and nurtured though years of practice, I recon this is when a new direction in my life took up strong roots. It wasn't only the unknown out there, that was beckoning me. It was the uncharted inner landscapes of who I really am, that yearned to be explored.
Of course, this was just a beginning of a journey - both outer and inner. I had had a glimpse of freedom, a way out of bondage and suffering. Since then, I've sentenced myself back in that self-imposed prison ruled by fears, beliefs, ego, insecurities and loss of faith countless of times. As I kept discovering new contents, countries, cultures, people, founding new relations, ties and tribes in different corners of the world, I also kept up the "inner work" of questioning all I knew myself to be. The game was ON and I knew it was only the Truth that would set me free. Truth - as truth behind reality. Truth not only as some kind of spiritual experience but a revolution in a way life can be lived.
...At each moment, whether we realize it or not, we are making a choice of whether we are thinking and acting from the completeness of spirit or the brokenness of ego. And it is by taking responsibility for this choice that freedom becomes accessible at each and every moment, and new and creative possibilities flow into consciousness as formerly unknown insights. But we must be willing to choose the open heart and open mind of spirit over the assumed rightness of the egoic viewpoint. (Adyashanti).
...TO BE CONTINUED
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