Trying to build a career as a writer feels, at least to me, like climbing a mountain in dense fog.
How big is ‘I’m a writer’ mountain? How many miles do I have to climb before I can see the summit? How steep is the mountain? Are there places to stop and rest? Are there dangerous crevasses where I might fall and break my neck? Will there be trail signs to help me find my way? Will anyone else be on the trail so I don’t have to climb alone? Will I ever attain the summit? And if I do, will it turn out that the summit is just the base of an even bigger mountain??
Several years ago, I spent a week at The Ashram in Calabasas, California. It’s a simple place that’s been around for more than 40 years. All twelve guests at the Ashram do the same thing – yoga together as the sun rises, breakfast at a big table. And then we go out and hike for about 5 – 6 hours in the glorious Santa Monica Mountains. In the afternoon there are massages and volleyball in a very warm swimming pool to help loosen our muscles, and then dinner and more yoga. Everyone collapses into bed by around 9 p.m.
On the fifth day at the Ashram we did a silent hike. It was the warmest day, and it was the steepest climb. I’m not much of a hiker, and I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I looked up toward the summit, felt the anxiety rising in my throat and wondered if I should I quit. I didn’t have a phone with me. I’d have to walk down and wait for someone to come find me. That didn’t seem like a good idea. Or, I could suck it up and keep going, which didn’t seem so great either.
I took a step forward. ‘OK,’ I said to myself. ‘You took that step, and you’re not falling over. Can you take another step?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, to myself, silently (because I was obediently practicing silence), ‘I can take another step.’ So I took another step.
And then I asked myself again, ‘Are you OK right now?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘OK, then, take another step.’
And, in this deliberate manner, forcing myself into the present at every moment, I made it, step by conscious step, to the top of the mountain.
I think about The Ashram when I write and submit essays for publication, or when I edit the manuscript of my memoir, or when I query agents. Each thing I do is another step. My only job is to keep taking steps, to keep climbing this foggy mountain.
Sometimes I feel lonely and daunted on the climb. Sometimes I worry about whether I’m intellectually and spiritually fit enough for the steepest parts of this hike. Sometimes I just want a detailed map so I know how much energy and time this will take, so I know where I’m actually going!
Sometimes, though, the fog clears a little, and I see a spectacular vista – a perspective I never thought I’d see. Even when the fog is stubborn and dense, I can still see beautiful wildflowers at my feet. As I climb the skin on my face is invigorated by the cold, wet air.
I feel more alive on the mountain than I have ever felt. I am not at home, but I am exactly where I am supposed to be.