Is it just another day?
The Watershed Experience
Earlier this year, 2017, my coach urged me to compile a “vision board” of all the things I would like to bring into my life – places, people, activities, experiences and so on. I have it in my little office at home and see it on a daily basis, and because of the regular attention it gets, I have a whole raft of visual anchors to keep me purposefully oriented towards a variety of motivational and pleasurable “to-do’s”.
Needless to say, some of them have since become “have-done’s”as the year has progressed. That too is a good reminder, if I ever needed one, that life IS good – both through these landmark experiences as well as in the more day-to-day stuff in between.
Now, part of the everyday plateaux, includes preparing for the more climactic things – and with my planned walk of the Yorkshire Peak Pen y Ghent, this certainly did involve quite a bit of multi-layered preparation.
It started with WHEN. It would have to be in September or October, after the schools had gone back, and yet before the onset of possible wintry conditions. I felt midweek would be better than weekends, given what other plans were in my diary – then choosing where to stay and for how long was the next set of variables. These considerations then telescoped out into travel plans; what to pack; whether I’d be going alone; costs, etc.
Next was getting information on everything I thought I might need to know about Pen Y Ghent itself. The summit is well over 2,000ft, so there is the en route temperature change to consider, plus if there’s any breeze blowing then it will be intensified past a certain height. This, and what routes to take, was all research with regards to the external considerations.
Finally, there was all the internal considerations – was I ready; was I fit for purpose, as they say?
Physically, there was a lot I did by way of preparation in the weeks and days prior to going to Yorkshire. Although I am reasonably fit, especially for my age, I did some longer walks with steep inclines here at home on the SW Coast Path and on Exmoor. Also, just a few days before, I had taken a day trip to Lundy Island, which involved a sea trip, a 10km round the island plus the elevation on the walk from jetty to the island plateau of approx 400ft.
So, I was happy with the physical prep and the condition I was in … which just left the mental side of things!
OK, I’m a specialist mental performance coach – so, what could possibly happen in THAT area that might come along to bite me in the butt?
The Thinking Experience
Given that I’ve talked with many clients over the years, of all ages, about how we can prepare for any performance – this now was an instance where apply to self was going to be looming large! It’s a bit like watching teachers going to sit in the black chair on BBC TV’s Mastermind – “OK, Sir – now show us what you really know!”
The key, of course, to any pre-Performance is about our relationship with our Thinking.
If we have a good understanding of that relationship, AND actually do have a good level of grounded-ness, then we know we’ll be better placed to handle the “curveballs” that are going to come flying towards us through every real-time moment for the duration of the Performance. That is the innate and unquestioning trust we can rely upon in advance.
We’ll also know we’ll be better placed to handle the “gremlins” of unsure-ness and doubt that are going to dance around amongst our thoughts, in both the run-up to, and during, any Performance. Provided we are aroused for the Performance, then there will be gremlins – trust me. They come with the territory – for we are ONLY human after all, and our human frailties accompany us wherever we go.
On my Lundy Island trip, I had no arousal in terms of the outward sea journey – beforehand. However, in real-time some 10 mins into the sailing, I had a massive wake-up call, and I got curveballs AND gremlins coming at me all at once! The sea was quite rough, and the little flat-bottomed ship accentuated every wave we encountered.
Was I prepared? NO!
Was I aroused? YES – suddenly!
Yet my human frailties including everything I was feeling in the moment, driven by thought, were soon assuaged by my relationship with my Thinking. I was re-oriented to what I have recently come to describe as my Thought Horizon.
Through the night, before walking Pen y Ghent, I wouldn’t be truthful if I’d said I was not visited by the odd gremlin! Yet, I didn’t churn stuff over in mind; I wasn’t ploughing up endless fields of thoughts! Yes – I was aroused, of course. This was to be one of life’s special experiences after all – and I was caught up in the arousal generated by anticipation! Certainly, I wasn’t caught up in the arousal generated by stressful anxiety or worry, about what might – or might not – happen to me on the morrow, however.
The Ascent Begins!
The weather was, as per forecast – set fair and dry. There was a breeze, so I knew what that would bring.
I drove to Horton in Ribblesdale and parked in the Yorkshire Dales National Park car park; togged up with my footwear; five layers of torso clothing; GoPro camera; mobile phone; stocked-up back pack; sunglasses; and Uncle Tom Cobley and all!
I could see Pen y Ghent almost beckoning me from some three miles away. From this moment forward it was only going to be all about
Right Here, Right Now.
As the ascent began to unfold I had two early “curveball” moments of awareness – one physical and one mental.
The physical one was a feeling of discomfort in the chest at the top left-hand side of the ribcage. Was it a tightness in breathing terms, heart-related, or merely the back-pack straps pulling hard due to five layers of clothing?
The mental one was when I got a first glimpse of the bigger picture of how I was approaching Pen y Ghent. From here there was still over 2 miles to go, and boy did it look high up in the sky! Suddenly the I that is me seemed very small and insignificant!
I’ve heard it said that for a human being to experience AWE is probably the most profound experience of all. This particular “curveball”, I surmise, was one of the by-products of AWE.
Yet, don’t we readily, and regularly, trivialise and mis-use the real meaning of the word when we say “awesome”?
I was, as it happened, to use that very same word repeatedly over the ensuing hours.
The relentless ascent continued, and, as the Pennine Way pathway snaked interminably into the distance in my field of vision, I passed many walkers coming down whilst at the same time becoming aware that I seemed to be the only one that was going up this “Blue” route.
When I’d been togging up in the car park there were a couple of fell runners also togging up. We started out almost together, and I guessed they had gone up the “Red” route; they said “Hello!” as they ran down past me looking very much like their mission was almost accomplished whereas mine was still at early doors!
My pauses to catch breath became more frequent, understandably – however I did notice that the tightness in the chest near the heart had melted away.
Finally, I arrived at the turning point – a sharp turn in the path that signified what I called “The Final Assault.” I took another pause, and did some filming here for about 5 minutes – for the prospect was stunningly awesome to behold!
Little did I know at this stage that much more AWE was waiting for me!
I finally made it to the top and here I am leaning on the Trig Point as proof!
The Ascent was, indeed, all about stamina – my own capacity of physical resilience and endurance. This was everything I had prepped for, and my prep had got me up here in good time, without any trials or tribulations.
I’d been saying to myself for the best part of a year that I would “GO UP” Pen y Ghent.
And now I had!!
The glow, the sense of achievement, was almost tangible – in spite of 30+mph winds and buffeting gusts!
I drank deep from my water bottle, and stuffed my mouth with dates, one after another. I must have footled around for the best part of half an hour, soaking up everything I could see, hear, eat and drink. When I finally got the feeling that this was all beginning to sink in, I put away my refreshments and got ready to start down.
There’d been a party of school children there when I arrived and they’d gone down the “Red” route. My original decision to take that route down was, therefore, endorsed by their actions – so, without further ado, I loaded up and set off, into the teeth of the strong and buffeting wind!
There is a point, on this picture, where the flagstoned pathway meets the lip of the hill. It is a very unassuming piece of perspective, when taken from a distance. However, when I reached the “vanishing point” I have to say this was when the next “curveball” hit me.
For a moment, all the prepping seemed to melt to a mush; my resilience was blown away on the strong wind; and I called out to someone called “Kinnell!”
Here is a bit of script from the OS Walking Guide as to the last part of going UP the “Red” route.
“As you approach the ‘nose’ of Pen-y-ghent your route takes you over a stile to join the Pennine Way, heading north-west-ish and towards the summit via a fun and exhilarating scramble. On the steeper sections of the scramble, have three points of contact, take it steady and do not rush as it can be slippery.”
I had approached the “nose” from the other direction, and was heading DOWN the fun and exhilarating scramble – in strong and gusty winds. Yes, it was, as the guide said, slippery. What it didn’t say was that it was nigh on vertical at the top!
“The Zone is one of those things in performance that elevates our activity from something we love, to something that brings us a level of profound and utter ecstasy.
To be able to go there when we choose, rather than stumble upon the experience just by chance or luck, is much more accessible than we realise. As we are buoyed along understanding the parts played by thought, equilibrium, love and devotion, we experience effortless action. Along the way we encounter an altered perception of Focus and Absorbed Attention, the dual constituents of Concentration.
And we intuitively know that none of this ever happens when we try too hard with the things that really matter to us. We really do have to let go of that trying.
Our every performance is vital to our quality of life – and enhancing the way we perform can transform our lives every step of the way.”
These words are written on the back cover of my book Gateways to the Zone – Pathways to Peak Performance.
The book was published in 2013 and, because I’d written lots of books and articles since, and encountered many personal insights and light-bulb moments, I’d been rather foolishly dismissive of the book, its message, its purpose, and its usefulness – as a piece of work – in enabling people towards performing with effortless action. Fortunately, it was my own expressed wisdom and it came back to me in my hour of need!
The Ultimate Watershed Moment
I had been in The Zone when walking UP Pen y Ghent. Of that I was sure, especially as I had been at the summit some time before I came around to savouring the moment, and tasted the undiluted sense of success. It had been about stamina, both physical and mental, and my performance had delivered me up to that level of profound and utter ecstasy!
This, NOW, was very different.
After the initial “Oh Wow!” there were a number of thoughts and actions then that I now remember quite vividly.
Holding a good balance in the wind, I looked down and began to pick a pathway that had an entry AND an exit point – and by exit point I mean a point where I could pause and then take stock of the NEXT pathway. That was my strategy for the route down.
To be fair, the hardest part was choosing the very first pathway – for not only did it set the right way for the subsequent moves, it also involved finding a strong fingers and hand hold for a start to launch my feet, one by one over the top edge.
The other thing I remember was that I never looked back, or even
considered going back.
That was never an option – neither was taking any photos or video footage! It was out of the question – due to the strength of the wind and the gusts. I was totally single minded, focussed and 100% absorbed in the moment.
By the time the descent had reached the stage when it became FUN as well as exhilarating, I was able to take some more pictures.
If my journey to the summit was all about stamina, then my journey down was all about nerve. Put quite simply, I held my nerve on the descent. There were consequences waiting to happen if had been anything other than totally 100% in the now, in the PRESENT moment.
I could have turned back, yet that would have sullied the achievement.
I could have slipped, and been brought down on a stretcher or worse!
For me, now, the world feels different and I feel different. And, to put it another way, this is how we ALL experience a change of perspective. In whatever way we saw the world before right here, right now, it was – quite simply – an illusion made up by our thinking. That is how a change in perspective brings about such instant change for us. It is OUR thinking that has changed.
As quantum physicist David Bohm said,
“Thought creates the world and then says, ‘I didn’t do it.”
And if there are some quotes that ring more truly for me right now then I’ll take these for starters …
“The only Zen to be found at the tops of mountains is that which we take up there with us”
“By Failing to Prepare you are Preparing to Fail.”
“Expect the Unexpected”
“What goes up must come down.”