2016 began in a magical way: watching shooting stars from the jetty on Lake Rotoiti at midnight. In the morning we kayaked on the lake, listening to the birds, laying back, taking in the stillness and sharing coffee. It could not have been better.
But the year also began in discomfort, as the stress I’d caused myself took a physical toll and weighed me down in body and mind. For a few days after our Christmas tramp I tried to push on through, to keep up with my intentions and expectations of myself. But in the end I had to concede that I couldn’t carry on pushing and trying, for it was just making me increasingly unwell, and resigned myself to some proper down time.
With the help of some time, friendship and rest, my stomach troubles have eased and I’m on the mend. But it has given me plenty of cause to ponder about what led me to get into such strife, and how to avoid it in future.
New Year’s Resolutions are one of my favourite devices, a guilty pleasure; an excuse to set goals and smugly tick them off.* Hell, this whole odyssey stemmed from a to-do list. But now I realise obsessing over improvement and goals has partly led to this recent strife. Obsessing over getting the preparation right, and being constantly efficient in my planning. I was failing to enjoy my activities because my mind was already deep into the details of the next one.
I took a great deal from a recent talk by ski tourer Erik Bradshaw. Early into his epic journey skiing the entire Southern Alps, he noticed he was making minor errors. All mountain risk analysts will say that it is when lots of tiny errors get stacked on top of one another that the major errors arise. So he recognised he was in a dangerous situation, and knew that he had to change something about his approach to avoid disaster. His epiphany was to realise that he had to slow down to speed up. Erik describes this as simplifying the mind so that the thoughts are aligned to what you are trying to achieve. I interpreted this as that in the pursuit of momentum/progress/improvement, rather than obsessing about getting better/further/faster, one should just do the thing one is doing with full commitment. Take rock climbing for instance. I could beat myself up about not seeming to get better or I could just go climbing a lot and then I’ll get better.
So I was committed to slowing down to speed up, and beginning to think about how to put it into practice.
But my stomach was still troubling me and my mind still too full of things to do. Nagging in my mind was the sense that I wasn’t really giving up on anything. The ‘speed up’ part demonstrated I wasn’t really ready to let go of goals and planning and improvement.
So I went on a retreat to the Tararuas to try to get more clarity. Some hut time and a bit of self-observation later, I realised that really what I had to do was slow down. Turn off the obsession with forward momentum. Let go of the pressure I put on myself. Just focus on doing what I am doing, and let the rest take care of itself.
So my New Year’s Resolution is to slow down. That’s all.**
And so far so good.
*Not to say that I always achieve them. My sole 2014 resolution – floss my teeth – was forgotten before the end of January.
**I’m just allowing myself one tiny little thing to plan for. A little something to have in mind while I’m utterly 100% wholeheartedly focussed on living in the present. A little thing called Te Araroa. No biggie. Totally not a goal. Just a thing to have in sight. But more on that later…
Photos from recent trips:
Alternative Southern Crossing in the Tararuas, due to the Otaki Forks closure: Waoihine Gorge to Tutuwai Hut (Christmas Eve); Tutuwai Hut to Alpha and afternoon return trip to Mt Hector (hilariously difficult but wonderful Christmas day); Marchant Ridge to Kaitoke (Boxing Day).
Climbing at Castle Hill near Arthur’s Pass. The ‘no bolts no Boyson’ ruled out most of the activity here – because I don’t do bouldering – but we did get in a handful of climbs on bolted routes (nb naked bolts!)
Kayaking at Nelson Lakes
Retreat in Tararuas: Holdsworth Road to Totara Flats Hut, return via the old track