Last week I shared a story from the beginning of my trip to Kham, Tibet, in China’s Sichuan province. This trip was an amazing, life changing opportunity for me. But, as you know, no big opportunity comes without work.
Hiking at such high altitude is physically challenging. We crossed multiple mountain passes greater than 15,000 feet. Your body is in revolt, gasping for oxygen that it simply can’t pull from the thin air. What would be a moderate distance to travel and ascend back home in the Cascade mountain range was nearly impossible here.
On this trip I learned the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation. Suffering is what you project onto the situation. It’s your attitude toward the pain; an internal monologue about how you feel and a story that you have control over. You can’t escape pain, but you CAN escape suffering.
During one difficult section of the hike I was really feeling it. Exhausted, in pain and really cranky about it. But then I realized that the more I focused on when this hike would be over, the more I concentrated on the physical sensations, the more I suffered. I latched onto the pain and ranted about it in my head, “This hurts! I want to stop. So not worth it. Why am I doing this?” I no longer saw the beautiful landscape I was walking through or felt the joy of being in this amazing place.
I had purchased some Tibetan prayer beads earlier in the trip and learned the quiet chant Tibetan monks use to focus the mind. I pulled the beads out and began that chant as I walked, focusing on the beads and the cadence of the words. To my surprise, the negative internal conversation stopped and I was able to get out of my head and look around, enjoy the surroundings and the hike. I still hurt, sure, but I had found a way to focus on something other than the pain and to just keep moving.
The lesson here for us all is that you can do amazing things if you control your perspective and your attitude. Don’t focus on the pain and how much it hurts, or on what’s going wrong and how unfair it is. Just work with what IS, not what you want to have happen, or hope will happen. Attitude is everything and you get to choose how you feel about what’s happening to you at any given moment.