Recently I traveled with a small group to some very remote areas of the Andes Mountains in Peru to altitudes of greater than 15,000 feet. As we hiked for 7 days and camped in tents at night, we passed only 5 people moving along the trails too. These men and women were carrying heavy burdens on their backs of long logs or bushels. There was no easy means to get things to the villages and certainly no way to order it to arrive. The contrast of our life styles was as extreme as the environment. The paths were dirt and rocks with little vegetation. At times, I found them to be difficult to get solid footing while moving up or down precipitous inclines. When my feet landed on green soft turf, I cried out in joy, not because of any reason other than it represented familiarity and comfort and ease. Coming from a metropolitan area of NYC, the sparseness and yet vastness of this existence was overwhelming at times. The small villages we visited to deliver health care held only 4 to 27 Q’ero families. My eyes took in the details but my heart took in much more. Tears flowed easier in these settings, not from sadness but more from engagement and feeling connected. Crying is much easier when we feel loved and safe and every minute I felt this. Safe doesn’t mean comfortable and there were times and many of these when it was cold, wet and just plain wearisome; times when I didn’t know what was happening in the next minute or next day and all I could do is move forward step by step; times when my next breath was labored and I gasped for air, but all in all I felt safe, a feeling that surprised me as there was much I could fear in this land of hard edges and great heights.
It is a great thing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Before the trip, I had fears of not having enough such as food or comfort or ease; the things we think we need so we gather them and store them close by. I realized these particular fears never arose on the trip and I realize now how irrational they really were. I also learned that it was ok to ask for help when I needed it and that the group was only as strong as its weakest member, so for the sake of all, it was ok to lean on others. I also learned I didn’t need to be busy every moment of the day and sometimes just being was enough.
As we build our lives, we pay attention to what makes us uncomfortable and what our fears are and then we need to spend time in these uncomfortable zones. When we do this, the boundaries of our lives grow. We fill our beautiful lives with more than the day to day tasks or of material possessions and the canvas of our life becomes painted in colors and visions of more than we can imagine.