By Gideon Lasco
Have you ever cursed a mountain for being so difficult, so uncomfortable, or so unrewarding? Perhaps it was a hike that it did not turn out the way you planned it: the weather turned bad even though it was summer, or the bus conked out, ruining the itinerary. Out of anger or frustration, we may say things like: “I’m never gonna climb this mountain again!”
To paraphrase that time-honored phrase, lipa happens. And when the poison ivy begins to ache in our skin, be reminded that it is a test of will, for although hiking requires a set of skills, it is above all a test of character. The challenge, then, is not simply to endure difficulty, but to transcend it with a joy that comes from the love for the things that you do.
Loving the things you do is not always easy, because every object of our affection – be it a place, an activity, or a person – is bound to be imperfect and unreliable. Our loved ones can disappoint us, just like the mountains: the sea of clouds may or may not be there. No matter how beautiful the scenery is, the scorching heat of the sun may make us blind to the beauty around us, and hunger or fatigue can turn even the most cheerful person into a volcano.
Yet, if we are seriously in our love for these things, we must embrace, with good cheer, the things they bring, whether good or bad, because even the most negative of experiences can make us grow spiritually and emotionally.
Indeed, to say ‘I hate you’ to a mountain is in vain, for it is not a valid object of scorn. What you are rejecting is your own experience of it, that is, a few hours or days of your own life. It is ultimately self-defeating.
In my first exploration in the Piapayungan Range in ARMM, we had to hurdle a lot of logistical and security concerns. But once we we were actually in the trail, instead of enjoying every single moment in that area which very few – if any – hikers have seen – the thorns, poison ivy, and rain dampened our spirits. Eventually, I reflected about it and said: “Thorns may be uncomfortable and at times painful, but they teach us patience.” The challenge, in a way, calls for the triumph of the mind over the body.
Jo Steven was a very strong lady hiker from New Zealand and she was my hiking buddy and mentor when she stayed in the Philippines for two years. I called her ‘Iron Lady’ because she’s just so strong and amazing! When we did the first three-day hike of Mt. Sicapoo, things didn’t turn that well on the first day: it rained so hard as we ascended the steep trail from Gasgas River to Saulay Junction. I coud hardly keep up with her! But when Jo – in the middle of the rain – suddenly shouted “This is hiking!”, my spirit was reinvigorated and we pushed on. Attitudes, whether positive or negative, are infectious, endowing us with the power to discourage, but at the same time to power to motivate and inspire.
Perhaps the most difficult negativity to deal with is those that come from our fellow men. Just as our skins are vulnerable to lipa, so are our hearts sensitive to other people’s words and deeds. Personally I really get stressed when people are too noisy and rowdy in the campsite; it will cause me a sleepless night. There is simply no way we can get people to behave according to our own standards! Instead of allowing myself to be stressed out, however, I simply just avoid the situation by camping elsewhere or on a weekday. There are solutions to these problems. Spam filters do not always work, but you can filter what people say and do at the level of your mind; ignore the hurtful, ponder on the lessons, and move on.
Indeed, when we think of mountains and life experiences as teachers, there will always be something to gain. And when we think of ourselves as instruments in making people grow and have fun, the impetus to mold our character becomes stronger.
Having said thus, my challenge to you is always have a positive attitude in whatever you do, whether you are in the mountains or in your everyday life.
On the other hand, there are times when we cannot do the things we love and this is when we begin to appreciate their value in our lives. Understandably, we need to work, to earn a living, to care for our loved ones. Life is a matter of priority, and mountains will never be more important than relationships. But there is another attribute of life, its finitude, that ought to drive us towards the trails.
When I say ‘do the things you love’, I do not ask you to abandon your loved ones, nor abscond from your occupational responsibilities. Instead, I urge you to maximize the rest of your time and turn it into a pursuit of the peaks. Was there ever a weekend of which you can say, ‘I did nothing but watch TV’, or ‘I did nothing but Facebook?’ I believe in the Internet as a positive force in changing the world and connecting people, but the world wide web can also entangle us, giving us the inertia of the mundane that may well represent one of the biggest threats to progress in the coming decades. Hiking, on the other hand, balances our perspectives on time and distance; food and shelter; life and death, day and night; success and failure: in other words, the things that matter.
Doing what you love requires determination and walking the extra mile- perhaps working overtime to get that coveted leave, or saving up for that plane ticket to your dream mountain. But you have to do it. You are young and young people always have more time than they realize. As your age increases, your free time decreases, until you reach an age when you have all the time in the world, but none of the strength you used to have. There are, of course, ways to overcome the loss of strength that goes with age, or the loss of freedom , but in general, these things happen no matter how determined we are to fight them.
Reflecting on my hiking life, there are many occasions that give me reason to say, “I’m glad I decided to do it!” Five years ago, I devoted an entire week to climb a little-known mountain. Back then it was a hard decision to make, but the experience of discovering a mountain with strange plants and a fascinating tribe, as well as the personal growth as a hiker and as individual that comes after several days of hiking away from your comfort zone, entrusting your life to two guides who were strangers to me- it was well worth the trip. Today, I am glad, in restrospect, that I pushed myself to do that mountain five years ago. It was expensive to climb alone, but while money can be earned again, time flies and never comes back again.
A hypothetical scenario: what if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, but you still have enough strength to pursue some of your most cherished dreams? Surely, you will not waste your time idling while the disease takes its toll! I bet you will hurry up and do the things you love. We do not yet have diseases or infirmities but life itself is, in a way, terminal. But whenever we come to this realization, as when news of deaths arrive, or when we ourselves feel the toll of age in our bodies, we should feel more motivated to make the most of life, rather than feel discouraged.
Indeed, life is so short and there are so many mountains to climb and challenges to face. But we always have the power to choose which trails to take, which dreams to pursue, which peaks to reach for. May these words be your compass: Love the things you do, and do the things you love.
LETTERS TO A YOUNG MOUNTAINEER
Personal essays by Gideon Lasco
I: A letter to a young mountaineer
II: Why do accidents happen?
III: Of doing and loving
IV: A difficult situation
V: Wise words from an old man
VI: The Philippines that I love
VII: The calling
VIII: The girl who climbs mountains
IX: A mountaineer’s legacy
X: What beginners can teach us
XI: The friends inside your backpack
XII: Unfollowing one’s self in social media