Fear seems to exist only in our imagination. Without imagination, without the ability to see our place in the future, to work out the consequence of a particular event in all its gruesome detail,
we would be quite fearless.
– Joe Simpson, This Game of Ghosts
Subjecting yourself to risk…may be something you have to go through to be a man or a woman.
– Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
The mountain is different for everyone, of course, and there are a thousand paths to the top. It matters much less which path you take, or really, how far you make it up whatever block of stone you’re trying to surmount, so long as you take a step each day up the hill.
As we tread up the path, skirting stones, fording rivulets, it’s too easy to get tunnel vision, to keep watching the track for new and interesting obstacles, but there are points along the journey where we must stop, turn around, and take in the view.
Some mountains are big enough that the end is not visible. Hidden behind the clouds of uncertainty, of possibility, their peaks are intangible – they exist only as formless wishes in our imagination.
By shifting our gaze, even momentarily, from the illusion of endless toil to the open horizon behind us, we are given a gift: a tangible gauge of our progress thus far.
Looking back has its purpose as much as looking forward, because if the peak is high enough, the end is never clear.
And that’s OK too, because true success has nothing to do with making it to the top of the mountain, and everything to do with savouring the stone-sweetened scent of the creeks that pass you on the way down to their own nebulous ends, with basking in the kind of light that only happens in thinner, rarefied air.
The thing is, if you don’t like climbing, then getting to the top of whatever mountain you’re on is going to be a miserable affair. And since it is a given that the day is short, death is inevitable and racing behind us, headlights glaring, the top of the mountain is the worst possible goal along our journey.
And that’s one of the great paradoxes of life. We must choose a mountain and spend every waking hour of our lives climbing it, working toward a goal that isn’t going to be real until the moment it is realised, chasing an illusion, a dream.
Life is a fool’s errand, then, and the only real hope for happiness is to enjoy the trip of folly, embark upon a ship of fools knowing full well what you’re getting yourself into and remembering that the journey is not just more important than the destination – it is likely the only tangible, concrete aspect of our lives.
In other words, if you can’t be happy doing the climbing toward whatever high crest seems always to be on the horizon, you won’t be happy once you get there. There is no god on the mountain – anything you find there you brought with you.