“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
~Sir Edmund Hillary
Mt. Everest, located along the border between Nepal and Tibet, is the world’s tallest mountain. The peak rises 29,035 feet above sea level. In comparison, Mt. Rainier in Washington State rises 14,411 feet above sea level, and Mt. Hood in Oregon State rises 11,240 feet above sea level, meaning that the peak of Mt. Everest is more than twice as tall as these local mountains.
When I think of climbing an incredible mountain, THE mountain of mountains, I think of Mt. Everest.
Mt. Everest was named after Sir George Everest in 1865, the British Surveyor General of India. This is the English name.
Did you know that the Nepalese and Tibetans have different names for Everest?
In Nepal she is known as "Sagarmatha", which translates to "Goddess of the Sky."
In Tibet she is known as "Chomolungma", which translates to "Mother Goddess of the Universe."
How appropriate is it that THE mountain of mountains, the one that calls to climbers and adventurers the world over, the one that inspires them to conquer their own fears, to conquer physical and mental limitations, the one that calls out to them to reach the summit, is known by those that have lived in her shadow for hundreds of years as a goddess?
I would say very appropriate.
Sir Edmund Hillary, quoted above, is the first recorded man to summit Sagarmatha, in May 1953, along with his Sherpa Tenzig Norgay. Hillary is quoted as saying "It is not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves." A wise man.
I believe that whenever we set out to ascend a mountain it is ourselves that we must overcome to reach the summit. Of course, the word "mountain" here is used as a synonym for "challenge" or perhaps "goal" or "dream".
Each of us, within us, has a goal or mountain or a challenge that we want to achieve. We may not have admitted it fully to ourselves yet. We may not have allowed ourselves to dream that big dream yet. We are afraid. We fear what will happen if we allow ourselves to dream the big dream. Will we have to work hard? Will we succeed? Will we fail? If we do succeed, will we be *too* successful? What will happen if we do reach the summit of our big dream mountain and all of our life's dreams are fulfilled?
Scary stuff to think about. Big, scary, amazing, powerful, inspiring dreams...
Whatever our dream or mountain, we must first overcome ourselves, conquer our own fears, our own mental limitations, in order to begin the climb. Usually the climb to the summit is not a direct route. There are often zigs and zags over the mountain; some parts are very treacherous and some parts take our breath away with their beauty.
But most importantly, we must get out of our own way! We must keep our focus. We must stop fretting about what happens when we get there, we must simply start the process of making it happen. Preparing for a climb on Sagarmatha takes years of preparation and training. The climb process itself takes months. The climbers must first climb to the lower base camp, where they must stay for some time to get acclimated to the thinner air and less oxygen. They then climb again to a higher base camp, where they again have to get acclimated. The process takes weeks to months. No one looks at these climbers as if they are failures for having to stop and catch their breath; or having to stop and get acclimated to their new surroundings.
WHY do we feel when climbing our own mountain that the path must be linear? WHY do we feel that stopping to catch our breath or get acclimated to our new surroundings is unacceptable?
All of the starts and stops, pauses, zigs and zags, treacherous ice fields and breathtaking views are a part of the process of summiting our mountain. There is no failure in pausing. There is no failure in slipping. There is no failure in taking the South Col route instead of the South East Ridge route. Failure only occurs when we refuse to continue, when we allow our own fears of success and our own limiting beliefs to prevent us from continuing the ascent.
We must conquer our own demons and fears in order to reach the summit. We must not allow a day or two of altitude sickness to send us packing back down the mountain to the lower base camp. When we have altitude sickness, we must rest, pause, take some oxygen, look around at the view of how far we have come, how high we have already made it and be awed by our own amazingness. We must look both up at the challenges to come and down at the challenges already overcome and use those to propel us forward.
With each step higher on the mountain we prove to ourselves that it IS possible; it CAN be done. With each step we conquer a little more of the naysayers in our heads. With each step we achieve more power and strength. With each step up the slippery slope, when we swing our ice pick into that slippery surface and say I AM NOT SLIPPING DOWN, we conquer a little more of our own disbelief. With each step we conquer a bit more of ourselves.
Each day as I look at my mountain, my big dream, my challenge, I must conquer fears, limiting beliefs, and the lies I tell myself about how I can't do it. Each day as I look at my mountain I must remind myself of my strength that I have gained by climbing as far as I have. Each day as I look at my mountain I must simply take the next step higher. I must simply continue the ascent, for I will never achieve my goal by looking back down. I will never reach the summit if I do not press on.
I, for one, plan to join Sir Edmund Hillary at the summit of the mountain... my very own Everest.
"It is not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves." ~ Sir Edmund Hillary