Saturday, July 12, 2014

Trails: A Means Of Extending Personal Boundaries

Dale Matson

My late mother would have been 100 years old this month. She was a Campbell from the Highlands of Scotland. She had two contrasting but complementary attributes. She was a fearful woman but a lady of courage and proceeded into the headwind of her anxieties.

The “Peter Principle” is often used to explain why individuals in an organization rise to a level beyond their ability to perform. The reality is that this may apply to organizations but life is quite the opposite. In life most individuals never measure up to their potential. The dreams and ambitions of their youth remain only dreams that are never pursued. Yet, they are not like the day dreaming inept Walter Mitty.

Even ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. The source of the inertia is fear. Fear usually has an object. People are afraid of failure, afraid of injury or death, afraid of change. They refuse to put themselves ‘out there’ to be tested. It is easier and safer to be a spectator than a participant. In other words, fear has put internal boundaries around the life and activities of most people. They select things to do based on fear. They decide what not to do based on fear but they are not honest about it. They always offer another reason/alibi for why they won’t do something new.

My mother gifted me with her complimentary attributes of fear and courage. As I have grown older, I have also grown more rigid and brittle. The default for all of us is to continue to do things we have always done the way we have always done them. We are less likely to put ourselves to the test as we age yet it is part of being human to enjoy learning and mastery over novel things. Remember how proud you were when you were able to tie your own shoelaces?

Trails are an incremental opportunity to push beyond where you are now. They are a life metaphor for expanding personal boundaries. Trails are a gentle test that gives us a new view, a new perspective just over the next hill if we can push a little further. Out and back trails allow us to set the limits, the turning back point yet trails beckon us beyond our comfort zone.

Climbing The Cables At Half Dome

I remember the first time I attempted to climb the cables at Half Dome. I made it about half way and climbed back down facing the smooth granite for fear of falling to my death. It took two more attempts to make it to the top and I still descended facing the granite. The trail back to Happy Isles in Yosemite was a lot shorter than the times I failed to summit. And after that came Cloud’s Rest.

Half Dome From Cloud's Rest

Many people who exercise on a treadmill never make it to the trails. Some of those folks are fearful. They want the cardio but prefer the safety of virtual exercise. They can push a button and it will be over. They can even program ‘hills’ into the exercise. I have friends who are young and fit and sound that will never go into the wilderness. It is because like Dorothy, there are “lions and tigers and bears”.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out I found, was really going in.”  John Muir     

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