Climbing mountains is easy

and somehow very related to tending grief..

When I was younger I wanted to run a workshop called “Climbing Mountains Is Easy”. I had realised that if I push myself up a mountain, trying to get to the top or wanting to go faster, I would get exhausted. If I walk in the way that suits the most tired, injured or aching part of my body, walking becomes effortless and enjoyable. Listening to the most weakness in my body transformed walking up hills from a struggle to a joy. I could end a day of walking for hours still feeling energised. There was an obvious parallel to how I was living my life and why I was sometimes close to burnout or breakdown. And how those around me were living theirs. I wanted to share this practice with others who might be overriding the voice of vulnerability, driven by themselves or the culture around them. And to share the wild beauty of mountain landscapes with people who might believe them to be out of reach.

As I youngster I was compelled to walk up mountains by well-intentioned mountain walking parents, however miserable it made me. In my 20s I was fitter and could find some pleasure in it. By my 30s I had a meditation practice, and noticed that when I pushed myself I wasn’t present during the walk. My awareness was in my thoughts, which were often not very kind. I might get to the top of the mountain feeling a sense of achievement and pleasure in speed, but I realised I had missed a lot on the journey. A parallel with how I was living my life, rushing to get to the next thing and missing my actual life in the moment.

The next insight came later, in my 40s, when I would head for the hills from London, taking a tent and gear to camp up in the hills on my own. The stretch of carrying a full pack and walking uphill required a new approach. This was when I discovered the method of listening to my vulnerability. If my ankle was sore I would listen to my ankle, and let it guide my whole body in how to walk. If my lungs were struggling for breath I let my lungs tell my legs how to move. If nothing was hurting I would feel into my belly, and let that guide my walking.

Every time I did this the way I walked changed. I would slow down. More awareness would go to the lower part of my body. I would become aware not only of myself, but also of what was around me, of the contact of my foot with the path, the stone, the grass. There would be more ease in my stream of consciousness, and more space, which often filled with joy, receiving the sensations of air, fragrance, sounds. Sometimes I could heal parts of me that were carrying injuries, by deeply listening and responding. And I would often find myself being kinder in my thoughts, towards myself and others.

That was when I dreamed the Climbing Mountains is Easy workshop. I used to reflect what a clear metaphor walking uphill is for burnout. How much of modern industrialised culture is dedicated to speed, productivity, output. To getting more for less. How many people override message of vulnerability from the body – mind – feelings. How being strong, stoic, pushing through, is valued above self care, listening to pain, responding appropriately, staying in balance.

I’m just back from a trip to the Lake district. As I’m nearing 60 I wasn’t sure what my older body would be up to. The practice held up well – starting with some gentle days of slow, mindful walking. These days I have let go of wanting to be on the tops of hills unless my body really wants to get there. After a week I felt the desire to go further, for longer, without any sense of pushing myself. Feeling the joy of the views calling me, and my body feeling strong enough.

As I walked, slowly, listening, I reflected how relevant this practice of listening to vulnerability feels for the practice of Grief tending. Jeremy and I led the first residential workshop in late July, back at High Heathercombe. It was such a joy to be in that profound space of grief tending with others, held in nature, embodied, with touch, eye contact. I could feel the benefit of all the extra “Banks of the River” from the bits around the edges – breaks and meals together, sleeping and waking on the same land, singing and making shrines together instead of on screen.

I felt how simple and necessary it is to make this space to listen to what is aching or hurting or tired. In me, in others, in the world. How vital it is. Both vitally important and revitalising, bringing aliveness. In our workshops there was, once again, a sweet space of laughter and tenderness after the waves of grief had passed through. How it is to be welcomed with our pain, and to open that welcome within myself. How it is to welcome and be willing to witness the pain of others.

As ever I am grateful for my teachers who carried the practices I have learnt to tend grief so that it becomes medicine for all who touch it, together. What an astonishing practice it is for someone who grew up believing that pain is unwanted, unhelpful, something to be pushed through. I’m grateful that the community of people coming to grief spaces in all their different forms is growing, and the range and number of space holders is also increasing.

Sending thanks and gratitude to all who hold me, hold us, hold each other, in life.

Author: sophybanks

living in south west England

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