Lets be absolutely clear here, my five-day trek was well organised and well led by a fully professional outfit, Outward Bound Australia. So it isn’t like I was ever in any danger. Every single one of my complaints about hardship were deliberately created by the organisation to put me out of my comfort zone or rather into my Discomfort zone, and it certainly did that.
Too cold, too tired, too heavy, too clumsy and I could go on and on. It was a very challenging environment, as I have spent most of the last forty years trying to make my life more comfortable not less. So even though I did a bit of trekking and camping as a kid, I haven’t done anything remotely like this challenge in over forty years. I had avoided abseiling altogether, and canyoning is just something that makes my blood turn cold. Wriggling through rock crevices using your elbows and toes in turn, looking for all the world like an overweight caterpillar, is not my idea of a good life.
Five days of trekking through the bush on fire trails with a backpack is also well outside my description of fun.
So what did I learn? I learned that I have good listening skills. My cooking skills were only required once, but they are pretty good. Though it is sometimes a real struggle, I am capable of letting people take charge. Those three are a pretty good start. As someone who has spent a good deal of time recording other people’s life stories, it is no surprise I’m an OK listener. My bride is a strong advocate of “active listening’ if you know that process, and just by way of osmosis, I have absorbed some of that.
Having a love affair with good food and cooking every night for the last fifteen years, or pretty much every night, it is no surprise that I have OK cooking skills. The third thing I learnt was about taking charge and letting other people take charge. I definitely have a preference for leading the way, which is very occasionally balanced by allowing others to do so when I get tired or I am need of recharging my batteries. On this trip, even when I had the wherewithal I chose not to lead. It made me a tiny bit anxious, but that’s OK too.
I learnt two other things on this trek. One is about the importance or significance of your personal style in dealing with internal struggle. In order that you develop and grow as a person, it really helps to have some awareness of the form or style of internal dialogue one uses in times of stress and struggle. Some people internalize and analyse their struggle, preferring not to share it for one reason or another. Others actually thrive on sharing it. Sometimes with some people, the more often it is shared, the less real it becomes. Regardless of the style, and there are undoubtedly dozens of other styles, unless you draw a line in the sand somewhere and say, this is where it changes, you haven’t really dealt with it.
From personal experience, I know that I need help to do that. The help of a trained and skilful practitioner. No doubt others can do it for themselves, but I can’t. I need help from time to time to know that I am indeed drawing a line in the sand and to articulate what I am putting on this side of the line and what I am putting on that side of the line, or indeed what I am putting a line through the middle of.
Finally the thing I learnt on this trek was an uncomfortable fact. I would be a lot more successful if I worked as hard every day, as I did on the trek. It didn’t kill me. It was just bloody hard work. It was the same hard work I do when I work at the farm. I work until I can’t work any more, until I’m exhausted, until my sense of humour leaves me entirely and I am on the brink of tears. Clearly that is not sustainable every day, but I rarely do it. I need to do that much more often. I need to drive myself a little bit harder, or in truth, quite a lot harder than I am currently doing. I need to work harder, produce more, do more things. There you go, line drawn.