The other day, someone said to me “why is it that everything is so easy for you?”
It gave me pause. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, for you, everything always seems so easy. Not like the rest of us who go through all kinds of mental challenges.”
I spent many days meditating on this. I found it intriguing, someone thinking that I “never have any mental challenges.” This had never occurred to me. “Of course I have mental challenges”, I thought to myself. Why wouldn’t I? It got me thinking about mental resilience. What is mental resilience? Why are some of us better at it than others?
Here’s what came out of my meditation.
Mental strength is a practice
A Tibetan lama once told me that many of our daily thoughts are “false perceptions” (many of us for example struggle with one form or another of living up to some sort of expectation or not being good enough). “Quite simply,” he said, “the negative thoughts we have about ourselves or others are often untrue and are the cause of much suffering.” When I asked him to say more on this, he said that many negative thoughts arise due to our own afflicted emotions – emotions such as anger, fear, and envy. If we let these emotions run wild, they will take hold of our mind and construct all kinds of thoughts, or “false perceptions”. This can be dangerous ground, the monk explained, since our thoughts shape our lives and the world we live in.
I realized a key part to practicing mental resilience is to not get caught up in our own afflicted emotions. If I find myself suffering or struggling with a negative thought (as happens often when I’m about to start a rock climb from the bottom), it’s helpful to look beyond the thought and recognize the emotion that’s driving it (in this case fear), versus trying to battle out the thoughts, which can be endless. Once I recognize the afflicted emotion I can then embrace it and start actively working with it.
Keeping an active lifestyle
Hiking and climbing mountains is my therapy. For me, climbing mountains creates “freedom of view” – it helps me let go of bias and experience a greater perspective. The more I climb, the more I realize there’s a much larger world out there, and my prior view/reality was but a tiny fragment of it. Putting this into practice in all areas of my life, I find helps me to listen more and better understand the world around me. The more I begin to understand others and my environment, the more I understand myself.
Spending time in the mountains also helps me to take responsibility for my own life (no one else will do it for me), as well as diminish the ‘victim mindset’ since this kind of mindset can put my life and the lives of others at risk.
Minding my surroundings
It’s important for me to surround myself with those who are like minded AND like hearted, who allow me to be who I am without judgement or pretence (and vice versa). These are close knit relationships built on mutual respect and trust, so I can also rely on them to tell me the truth when needed. First of all, it just feels better. Secondly, who we surround ourselves with I think has a dramatic impact on who we are. I also try to keep a pulse on where I feel a “gravitational pull” – for example, focussing my time and energy on those who I feel pulled towards (where I feel respected and valued).
It’s also vital to align myself with what’s important to me, so I can be present with what I love, such as rock climbing, being in nature, writing, and spending time with Loved Ones.
It seems like just about everyone is talking about practicing gratitude these days. When I thought deeply about it, however, I realized there’s a good reason for it: it actually works. Since I was a child, every night before I fall asleep, I’ve gotten into the habit of giving thanks for everyone (I name them individually– this is key) and everything in my life. The habit was so embedded that I no longer even think about doing it – kind of like brushing my teeth. When I examined the practice, I found it wasn’t only about WHAT I’m grateful for (my health, family, friends, etc), but also WHY I’m grateful for them (their unique qualities and how they’ve help me). I even apply this to those who I feel have wronged me, focusing on the goodness in them and who they’ve helped me become.
Research shows the more we elevate our positive emotional energy (i.e. focusing on joy and love versus anger and frustration) the more we empower ourselves. Practicing gratitude I believe is one of the best ways we can tap into these higher vibrational energies.
Service and Love
My dream, ever since I was a teenager, was to climb in the Nepal Himalaya. I was in my early 30’s when that dream began to manifest in reality… or so I thought …as it was crushed just as I was at the foot of the mountain I thought I was meant to climb. Although it took me a while to get over it, I chose to trust in the unfolding events around me, which eventually led me to meet a little girl in a remote Himalayan village. It was the most profound encounter of my life, and one that changed the trajectory of both of our lives.
Over the years, Karma (the little girl I met as a result of walking away from the mountain), her family, my wife Chantal and I have grown our lives together across continents and cultures. Fostering and honouring our love for each other has brought new truth, meaning, and fulfillment to my life. Every time my mind wavers, I think of Karma and her sister, Pemba, and find new mental strength that I never knew was there.
Not climbing the mountain of my dreams, was one of the best experiences of my life.
Michael Schauch is a mountaineer, entrepreneur and storyteller who lives to explore remote places around the world and to share the depth and beauty of human connection he discovers along the way. He is the author of A Story of Karma: Finding Love and Truth in the Lost Valley of the Himalaya. Learn more at www.michaelschauch.com