While hiking the Appalachian Trail, I had the pleasure of meeting an 80 year old Canadian thru hiker named 7UP.
He had received that trail name because he had previously summited the highest mountain on each of the 7 continents.
It was a chance encounter, as often happens on the AT. We had both made it to an adirondack shelter just in time to avoid a torrential downpour.
The rain was actually coming down so hard that it was bouncing off the picnic table outside and into the shelter. We had to turn the table over, to stop everything inside the shelter from getting wet.
And then we waited out the storm.
He was a tall, soft spoken man who happily answered my questions, as he shared his experience climbing Mount Everest, while offering his wisdom and advice.
After my own experience sucking wind and constantly stopping while hiking up and down mountains on trail, I was surprised to hear from his friend that although 7UP hiked slower than some, he never stopped while going up a mountain.
That simple comment inspired me to experiment with breathwork. I learned to use my breathing to maintain my target heart rate, and was soon able to hike straight up mountains without stopping myself. That definitely made a big difference in both my skill and enjoyment as a backpacker.
But that wasn’t the only gift I received that day, and it isn’t even what impressed me the most.
I still remember sitting on the floor of the shelter next to 7UP with our backs against the wall. We had reached that point where conversation naturally quiets and we were simply waiting in silence.
As I looked at him with his eyes closed, I could feel a sense of deep calm. He was not inconvenienced by the storm. He was not in a rush to make miles for the day.
It was as if he had fully accepted the storm raging outside and was perfectly content to simply wait for it to do its thing.
But even in saying that, I don’t feel like I’m doing justice in explaining what I witnessed.
As I felt his energy, as I sensed his presence of being, it was like looking at the smooth surface of a mountain lake, like feeling the literal groundedness of mountain stone and the eons of time in which it was shaped.
There was absolutely no sense of resistance or effort, no internal background turbulence. He was in a state of complete and total acceptance and peace.
Even though I couldn’t really put it into words at the time, I commented how he seemed to be very comfortable waiting out the storm.
He then told me another story of how after summiting the tallest mountain in Antarctica, he had to phone his boss to inform him that he wouldn’t be coming in to work for a while.
He and his climbing partner spent the next 5 days in a tent waiting out a snow storm before they could be picked up. He laughed, saying that his friend had passed the time counting and recounting the stitching on the tent wall.
When the rain storm finally stopped, we parted, saying our goodbyes, and I never saw him again.
I could use this story of my short time with 7UP to point out several things.
Such as how a chance encounter, seemingly simple at the time, can have a lasting impact years later, or how we may never know the gifts we give, the impact we make on others simply by being ourselves.
But what I remember most is the gift of waiting.
Of completely accepting what we can’t control and letting it be OK to do nothing when there is nothing to do.
In a world where action and progress and success are almost synonymous, it is the times when we allow ourselves to do nothing, to wait, that we can perhaps find our deepest moments of peace.
When the storm rages around you, you can still find peace in the knowing that this too shall pass.
When you allow yourself full acceptance of what is, knowing that whatever is going on is only an experience you are having and not who you are, you will find yourself in a state of grace.
And grace, is allowing that which you cannot control to serve you.
It is a state of acceptance without resistance.
And it is in that acceptance, that we can find peace and see the gifts that the storm is giving us.