by Jenna Drennen
Navigating and ultimately overcoming challenge and adversity is often a central component and goal of the human experience. Depending on what life has thrown our way, this is often easier said than done. While the obstacles each of us grapple with in life have the potential to offer opportunities for growth and transformation, I’ve frequently found myself clumsily stumbling around my own set of hurdles, feeling directionless and ill-equipped to navigate the path I walked. Juggling the challenges of parenthood with my desire to discover and maintain a sense of self often felt like an impossible task, and negotiating a route through this complex web of emotions initiated a journey confronting mental illness, addiction, and ultimately a sense of healing and hope. I often recognized that this odyssey embodied the mythological template of “the hero’s journey.” This concept refers to a broad category of tales involving a hero embarking on an adventure, culminating in a decisive crisis leading to victory. The hero then returns home transformed from the experience.
As I waded through the darkness and began to identify sources of light, I sought out new challenges that could potentially support this process. The notion of climbing a mountain initially seemed inconceivable, but as I continued to gather the tools I needed to support my wellness journey, I decided to take on the challenge, and climb my first 14er. As I embarked on this new adventure, I could have never anticipated negotiating the difficult terrain of that mountain would so accurately mirror the formidable and unpredictable terrain of my own hero’s journey. As I embraced this new passion, I also found myself identifying a road map guiding me towards my own physical, emotional and spiritual health.
It is often acknowledged that the most difficult aspect of any major undertaking is simply getting started. The process of preparing and committing to climb a mountain thoroughly illustrates this concept. The initial task of gathering and organizing supplies, while identifying what is essential can be a daunting project. Carrying as little as possible to reduce the weight on your back, while choosing that little amount with care is a crucial component of any successful climb, whether it be literal or metaphorical. Prior to setting foot on the mountain, committing to wake up in the middle of the night, and then drive several hours on bumpy, often uneven terrain to reach the trailhead can often be the most significant obstacle the entire journey presents, and overcoming it the most challenging. When I arrive at the trailhead, bathed in a blanket of darkness with a vast network of stars leaving me awestruck, my surroundings feel almost alien, and my sense of vulnerability flourishes. Accepting the uncertainty of the scenery and the ever-changing weather patterns ahead can be difficult and frightening at times. As I breath in the fresh mountain air, impossibly clean and alive with possibility, my fears lose some of their power, and I begin to ascend.
Gaining altitude quite quickly, my body adjusts by increasing my heart rate, and demanding more air. As I compensate for these changes, I listen to my body, and often pause between actions when needed, in order to ground myself and acclimate to this new reality. This initial slowing down and increased focus on my bodily sensations is a powerful force, and allows my mind to slow down as well. Moving my concentration out of my head, and into my body, I am essentially thrust into a meditative state. I take cleansing breaths, and as I take in the crisp, clean air, I exhale all that is toxic and failing to serve me. The momentum I create as the initial shock of the ascent wears off begins to ground and guide my mind and body.
Understandably, my energy waxes and wanes as complications arise. Addressing the limitations of my physical body, or confronting and acknowledging false summits can feel exhausting. Looking too far ahead and viewing a steep, daunting peak in the distance can be intimidating and defeating. I find that much like in life, breaking the journey down into smaller parts, and placing all of my concentration directly on the next step allows me to stay present, and focus on attainable goals within my immediate control. Each of these steps becomes encased in a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Each bend and switchback in the trail ripe with possibility.
Inevitably, at some point during the climb, I find myself losing the path. Whether I missed the rock cairn marking the correct direction, or simply lost my way scrambling on the rocky terrain, the notion that I may be truly lost freezes my progress while allowing fear to take over. Leaning into, and even accepting the uncertainty of my position, I remind myself that despite the meandering, less than ideal path I’m creating, all paths will eventually lead to the top. I build a sense of trust and faith in my ability to navigate the rocky uncertainty while accepting the fact that my current progress may not match the time frame I originally anticipated. Reluctantly, I acknowledge that there may not always be one right way to summit.
Finally reaching the peak, I am often overcome, awestruck, and humbled by the vastness and beauty of the mountains surrounding me. Taking in the unprecedented clarity this landscape offers, I also bask in the celebratory sense of accomplishment and relief that floods my senses. I’ve conquered fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt, and I allow myself to acknowledge and bask in this mindful moment. Whether bombarded with emphatic gusts of wind, or an almost surreal sense of stillness, the merging of this breathtaking backdrop with my own untethered joy transports me outside of myself, providing the necessary perspective to acknowledge my position as simultaneously precious and insignificant. As I prepare for the journey home, gratitude penetrates every action.
Pulling from the energy generated at the peak, I begin to descend the mountain. No longer winded, and buzzing with the euphoria of summiting, I find myself supported and elevated by the sense of community generated by the hikers sharing my path. Fueled by our unifying sense of accomplishment, the trail seems to possess the power to transcend our differences, our commonality rooted in empathy steadying the trail home.
Upon arriving home from my great adventure, I acknowledge the network of lessons and principles guiding my victory. Much like the quintessential “hero’s journey,” my own journey allowed me to return home transformed and supported by the physical, emotional and spiritual rewards I gathered along the way. Identifying the courage, discipline, perseverance and patience necessary for success, It is clear that these concepts will continue to shape and guide my path forward while establishing a foundation for every successive mountain I climb. My meandering journey may have been rocky and complicated, but it was ultimately beautiful and exactly what it needed to be to bring me to this moment. As I’ve climbed subsequent mountains, the process continues to serve as a reminder of my own strength and resilience. Inevitably the path forward caries fresh obstacles and challenges, but I am now equipped with the road maps of journeys past, and when in doubt, I will remind myself to just trust the trail.
Jenna lives in Firestone with her husband, two kids, and a house full of animals. She enjoys, running, gardening, and climbing mountains in her spare time.