The Sacred Climb: Salkantay & Ego
Robbi Firestone, peaking Salkantay on the Inca Trail
I’ve just been asked to write short essay about the following topics: curiosity, mindfulness, stripping away ego, releasing inhibitions, and empathy. Here is my story about a moment of enormous ego!
“I had been working out for months in anticipation of my first trek ever… a 50 mile journey along the Inca Trail in Peru. The great anticipation for which I prepared was the hiking Salkantay Pass, the sacred mountain reaching 15,000 feet into the air. Covered in snow and beautiful weather in summer, I anticipated this moment for many, many years.
The journey sacred. I’d wanted to meet this mountain for a long time. My climbing team?. Every holiday they journey to another place in the world and peak a Mountain. It was their passion. Being in great shape, I kept up with them fine, despite this being my first trek.
Until 15,000 foot Salkantay. We spent the night before our peak at 14,000 feet, with a practice hike the day before to adjust our bodies to the lack of oxygen and physical exertion. I made it to the glacier lake below in my own due time. While the others challenged themselves to jump in a glacial lake, I spoke with the mule driver in Spanish, diverting my attention from the mantra replaying in my head,” Why are you so weak?” One woman had dropped from the pack, as she was quite overweight, leaving me as the last in line. (I am not used to being last. Ever.)
The next day Salkantay was our goal. Captain America, as we called our leader Ken, forged ahead setting an unnatural pace for anyone except this crazy crew. My going was slow, and Lucy, our overweight friend, decided to skip this part of the journey and went to the next destination by vehicle. The ‘back’ guide stayed with me the whole way, as tail end of our team. We got to a very steep series of switchbacks called the seven snakes. My feet would not move forward more than 30 steps. Air was so tight in my lungs and my body so heavy that the only thing the moving me forward was the thoughts’ ” Next step 22. Next step.23.”
Having been an all-star athlete and always physically confident, I could not believe that my body was betraying me. My ego was beyond in control of my mind. My thoughts were screaming,
“You are so weak! You are last! You’re slowing everyone down! You’re an embarrassment! How could you be so slow? Things like “loser, weak, crybaby, fat,” replayed with each step. I would stop for breath. The guide José would stand with me, calmly and peacefully urging me forward with loving words like, “Take your time. This is for you, no one else. Salkantay is here for you. This journey is only yours.”
Finally I peaked, with team America clapping for me. How ridiculous! How embarrassing! I was weeping yet had perfect Jackie Onassis glasses to hide my shame.
The whole while I was mindful that my ego was controlling me. So I asked Jose if he would do a traditional ritual with me in honor of The Goddess Mountain Salkantay. We left offerings of coca leaves and chocolate, and I asked the mountain if I could leave in her sacred grace my vicious ego. I decided it no longer served me.
I was the Billy goat going down the mountain and the first one in the lodge that night at the end of our journey.
When have you allowed your ego to berate and insult you? Do you realize that this is not who you are… that you can choose to have your mind act lovingly or hatefully ( this applies to others as well). How can you have a more loving relationship with your own body? Can you teach your mind to play nice?