The poetic flows of life bring swirling highs along with the devastating lows. I walked onto the dark trail in the land of volcanoes with a pack on my back and a surfboard under my arm. The silence was singing for no one and everyone and I happened to be the lucky one listening, walking under the damp cloudy sky with nothing but the sweet and sticky scent of morning glory to remind me that it was not a dream and I was indeed still in this universe. I was headed for Halape down the 8 mile trail for a few days of camping,surfing and running in solitude. My friend Patrick arrived at the trail head an hour before me and became impatient so he began the trek with little daylight remaining. I looked forward to making the walk in total darkness. Sometimes hiking or running in the dark creates an in between world where thoughts mold into memories and dreams............
.........I thought about a night hike I went on last summer that lasted into the early hours of the morning past pristine lakes and over snowy peaks on Bishop Pass in the Eastern Sierras. Laughter and delirium illuminated the trail. Earlier that day I was tricked into summiting Mt.Whitney. I use the work tricked half heartedly. I was told by Jenn the summit run would only take 3 or 4 hours round trip. I was excited to run up and begin the journey with her. She was attempting to run the JMT and I was crewing for her and Connie along with our friend Eric. We set off in the early morning, running for the tallest summit in the continental U.S. Eric started running up with us but knew better than to listen to Jenn’s estimation and turned back. I carried little water and only two Gu gels not expecting to be out there all day. Well..... Ten hours later and my first dance with altitude sickness I stumbled back down to the trail head, completely thrashed where Eric was waiting to say “I told you so.” He then proceeded to tell me we had to begin our 15 mile hike into Le Conte canyon immediately because Jenn and Connie were way ahead of pace on their quest to Yosemite. I was horrified at the thought of hiking into the darkness in the state I was in. I slowly began to see humor in the situation and gained some life after resting for a few hours and poaching a hotel swimming pool. So at 10pm we began the trek, the silhouetted mountain peaks seemed other worldly under the magic of the moon. We stumbled along laughing until we were both to exhausted to know where we were and could go no further. We thought we reached a giant snow field and decided it was to imposing to cross. We pitched our tent and immediately passed out, only realizing in the morning that the giant snow field was only a 20ft. patch of snow not even on the trail. Also we chose the worst possible place to camp; on top of a rock pile directly on 11,900ft. Bishop Pass......
((Medium format film))
Back to the present trail to Halape, I had the same surreal sensation as if my body was floating along like a hummingbirds wings in slow motion. I was fresh out of the field for the week from my job as an instructor at a therapeutic program. Rites of Passage and the components of the Heroes Journey are some of my favorite aspects of the work and I thought about what it really meant to me and how it all ties into my own daily life. It’s the daily journeys and quests that give life shape and meaning. There are big moments in life of transformation and there are daily moments. I think the daily moments are harder to define and equally as important. We all make daily choices and decisions that either propel us forward to obtain the quality of life we desire or keep us down in the doldrums. There are many different versions and definitions of a rite of passage but the one that really hits home for me is from anthropologist Victor Turner:
“A rite of passage is any ritual, in which one ‘passes’ from one realm or condition of life experience into another.” Psychologically speaking, this ritual involves a breaking down of the old ego structures; so that a new vision can emerge, an image that is more fluid, expanded, and rooted in the depths of the collective unconscious where psyche and nature are no longer perceived separate.”
There are generally three phases and these are brief descriptions of Severance, Threshold and Incorporation:
Severance – There is a growing awareness around patterns or behaviors that do not positively serve and the voice within starts as a whisper and strives toward a howl. Where we begin to lose it in order to find it.
Threshold- The in between place where there is no turning back, thoughts and time flow freely. The threshold is where limiting thoughts, fears or anxieties are faced in order to relate to the world in a new way.
Incorporation- Where what was learned during the threshold is applied and shared. I think of how to hold on to the magic feeling of running down a trail or gliding across a wave and apply the inspiration to my daily life.
Those same three phases are also apart of Joseph Campbell’s “The Heroes Journey” which outline a singular pattern found in stories and myths across cultures throughout history. The phases seem to be a part of human consciousness that help us push through our fears and go beyond the limits of our possibilities. Many myths follow the pattern where a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow on his fellow man. The Heroes Journey is a template of transformation and self awakening that can be applied to daily life.
In conclusion; there is something to learn from taking an epic journey into the mountains, surfing in the backcountry, making a small change in a daily routine, or just walking out your front door in the morning.