It Wasn't the Cliff


When we were in Moab, Utah a few weeks ago, we ventured off into Canyonlands for a day.

Canyonlands is famous for its miles and miles of canyons, winding roads and trails, and all around beauty. Though not as deep as the Grand Canyon, to me, it is equally as spectacular.

Hiking and biking trails are plentiful. There are several hikes that take you to the edge of a cliff and then give you the option of meandering all the way down to the bottom via sneaky, snaky, steep and sometimes precarious trails. Extreme topography, they call it.  The guidebook suggests “you will be thrilled by what you see and experience.”

We found ourselves on one of these trails.  The hike down was difficult for me. The footing was challenging in places. The  steepness and narrowness was so intense I could not even look around when we took breaks. Hugging the cliff wall was my natural inclination. Physical symptoms of fear such as tight stomach and even nausea showed up.

However, for whatever reason, I felt compelled to keep going. My husband was being extremely patient with my slow pace and curbed the not funny to me comments he was making after I barked at him. He did not have the same scared thoughts I did.

The trek down seemed to go on forever. I had a definite haleluyah moment at the bottom accompanied by an immediate settling of my nerves.

The surroundings looked a bit like Mars in the movie The Martian. The flat terrain consisted of beautifully colored huge rocks, scrubby bushes and lots and lots of sand. A bit anticliatcitc after the treacherous hike to get there.

The temperature was perfect and I began to enjoy the relaxed and steady pace of the flat walk on Mars. Eventually we got to a spot where we could see into the white rimmed canyons below. We took pictures and perched on some volcanic rocks to eat lunch.

After lunch, we turned around and headed back toward the cliff. The rover wasn’t coming so there was only one way back up.

My anxiety kicked in exactly at the turning around point. I thought I knew the hike was going to be much more difficult because of the walking up factor. Honestly, I was more than anxious. I was petrified of the trip up that scary trail. And now I had a new worry thought about my stamina to add to my collection.

And speaking of thoughts, I had lots and lots and LOTS of them….

Including “it’s just your thinking.” Countered by “it doesn’t look like your thinking, it looks solid, like the cliff.”

Including, “you know there’s really nothing to do or fix about your thinking, but it sure would be nice to get a grip on this anxiety because a racing heart is no way to start a steep hike uphill.”

Including, well meaning advice like “just breathe and allow the thoughts to flow through.”

Including pleas of “next thought please. Helloooo, next thought PLEASE!”

Piling thinking on thinking doesn’t usually do much to help with settling down into a calmer state. And it didn’t.

I also tried leaning into the anxiety. Just feel it and be with it and let it be. Only thing is those pesky thoughts kept creeping in. Checking up on me. “How’s that leaning in thing working for you?” “Shhh!”

This might have gone on indefinitely except that….

Eventually it was time to start hiking up the cliff.

The most amazing thing happened at that point. I began putting one foot in front of the other. We took our time and walked a steady pace.  I was highly focused on my footing. I knew what I needed to do and I just did it. Without thinking about it.

When the wind kicked in a bit strong, we took breaks. I was able to look around.  We were nestled within this amazing cliff.  New and simple thoughts flowed in. “Gorgeous.”

All the previous thinking leading up to the upward trek had dissolved. What seemed solid on the walk over, melted and flowed off into where old thinking goes. Wherever that is.

Walking uphill, my mind felt rather settled. Peaceful even. Pretty crazy! With a settled mind, I was relaxed. I found myself just walking. Being. Absorbing gorgeous.

And then another wild thing occurred. In a very short amount of time, we recognized that we were almost to the top. How did that happen so fast?!? My perception of the walk down was that it was very long. My perception of the walk up was that it was very short. Both times, unknown to me at the time, it was 3/4’s of a mile.

It wasn’t until we were headed across flat terrain to the car, that I noticed the extreme difference in my experience between the walk down and the walk up.

And I could see very clearly…

it wasn’t the cliff,

it was my thinking.

gayle nobel