Never give up the fight!
“Life is a fight” – I heard adults saying over and over again when I was a child. And indeed they were fighting each other constantly, all around me. Mostly for unimportant little things.
First of all, I’d like to say that there are certainly all different kind of fights and fighters. Some fight for change, others for peace, political revolutions, achievements, money, victory or a position in society. Sometimes we fight with others, sometimes against systems or governments, very often we fight with nature – but underneath the surface, no matter how it looks like, in truth we always fight with ourselves. However, it seems that all fights could ultimately be divided into fights (as a reaction) against something and fights (as a response) for something. The following story is a personal allegory to the latter.
It was the end of March 2012. Three vans full of excited, curious people and a lot of sports equipment were slowly moving east, towards the Ukrainian border. A long way to the Russian Caucasus was in front of us. We were all part of a ski-touring expedition to the highest peak of Europe, Mt. Elbrus. The intention was, from the beginning, to reach the peak and to ski down safely. Mt. Elbrus is not a “Himalayan height” peak but it’s certainly one of those which, if underestimated, can be surely deceitful. Many had paid for their imprudence with life. It requires a certain level of experience as well as readiness and determination. And it is more than adequate to have an experienced guide. We had learned this the hard way.
I wasn’t preparing a lot for the trip as I was in very good shape at that time, exercising regularly. I actually never stopped sporting after I finished my canoeing career. Only sometimes over the years, I forgot to move the body and that were exactly the periods when I lost the connection with it and simultaneously I lost my own centre.
The first obstacles met us right at the border. It wasn’t like in the West and so the organizer had to use all his craftiness and cleverness to get us through the borders without long waiting or being “coincidentally” searched through. It wasn’t so long ago, but at least for me, it was a bit like entering a different, unknown world. Different mentality, different people, different habits, different perception of time. A whole new dimension of experience.
Nevertheless, after almost three days of travelling, we end up in a small hotel, right beneath the splendid peaks of Caucasus. In a war zone, at the border of Russia and Georgia. With a couple of soldiers patrolling here and there. A few days of acclimatisation we spent in valleys around and ascending some lower peaks. Another day or two when we reached the base camp somewhere at 4100m. Cold, heavy snowing and strong wind were changing with Sun, springs’ skiing and a good mood inside the team.
Two days before the attempt to reach the peak we all moved to the Base Camp. For some more acclimatisation and time to rest. It was a group of cabins above the local ski resort, beneath the long steep slope leading towards the traverse to the ridge. A high altitude, snowy weather and the anticipation of the unknown did itself and strange mood dawn on the whole team. One could easily feel strengthened anxiety, nervousness and a weird sense of lethargy and fatigue. Most of the people spent the day in their sleeping bags, some got the altitude sickness.
We left the base the next day, at one o’clock in the night. The weather wasn’t perfect at all, still snowy and windy but the forecast expected betterment during the day. Divided into three groups we began to ascend towards the rock formations at 4800m. But we were slow, the weather even worsened and somewhere around 5100m, after a lot of consideration the organiser definitely announced the fall-back. Disappointed and tired from walking in deep powder snow we began to descend and even if it was a day already, we got lost. It was misty, still heavy snowing and we could barely see each other. At some point, we had to pause and wait for at least a slightest weather change because we had no idea of where we are and it became dangerous. Later we heard that somebody from a different team fall into one of the crevasses but luckily his colleagues saved him. The next day’s morning, over a continuous snow storm we left back to the hotel.
It took us a while until we realised what actually happened. Looking at the surface, we didn’t succeed. We failed. The whole preparation, almost 3000 km’s of travelling to the Caucasus and the same distance back, the acclimatisation process, the whole energy and finances involved – all in vain. Just a few hours or days of bad weather, inappropriate conditions, perhaps a stroke of bad luck and all is gone. Well, at least on the surface.
The entire team’s mood went down. Most of the people were trying to digest “the failure”. Some looked depressed, some apathetic, some realised it was too much for them, others were treading the whole experience very lightly. But not everybody gave in. There were some of us familiar with the unpredictability of life’s paths and knew how to surrender. We accepted what happened and at the same time, we felt something inside still alive. Moreover, we honoured a grand lesson we received from Life. We saw how life can smash down all our dreams, desires and hopes instantly. We also saw how even a highly experienced guide can get lost. Even if unlike the beginner, he won’t fall into stress and by applying his highly attuned intuition and patience he would get out of any situation that may occur. We saw how simply being at the wrong time in the wrong place or forcing anything can pull apart all our meaningless human goals. But above all, we saw how we humans and our individual intentions are utterly hopeless to the powers of life and nature itself. And I saw this countless times in nature before and after this experience.
Well, the bottom line could most likely be too many people, wrong timing, bad weather and nonfunctional navigation.
One of the insights I got personally from this experience was that the first attempt is almost always a kind of test. It’s there to show us what is possible and to allow us to experience our highest potential for a while. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a clue what are we going for when attempting “for real”. Because as the next step we have to come back to the very beginning and start from scratch. As an allegory and put in the words of Tradition “It is complete insanity to begin the work in Black before first having an experience of the work in White. The same insanity as beginning the work in White without first going through the work in Black”.
A few of us, however, decided that we are not going to sway away from the primal intention. And should there be, in the remaining few days an opportunity, we would attempt for the peak once again.
Three days remained and we spent one of them relaxing – eating, wandering around and sightseeing. And just two days before we were to leave back home a good weather forecast came. It supposed to be clear weather and the snow from the previous period also settled down a bit. Making the circumstances for another attempt not even possible, but ideal. The decision was clear and made very quickly. Behind the dinner’s table – “We’re leaving in the night”. Due to the shortness of time and the fact of being down in the valley instead of in the base camp, we left very early and arranged the snowcat to get us just underneath the rocks around 4700m. It would anyway be a long journey up to the peak a little higher than 5600m and back in one day.
We commenced ascending around 3 am in the night if I remember. Dark, cold, about -37 degrees on the wind, we were slowly walking up on the skis. Only one group this time. Much fewer people, much more determination and strength. No formally chosen leader. Mostly fit sportsmen, about 5 priests and one woman. When the dawn came we almost reached the traverse, somewhere around 5300m and the group started to pull apart a bit. One of the priests got the altitude sickness and after receiving some adrenaline injections two others went down with him. Another two or three people turned down later, due to exhaustion.
I was walking alone and at some point, I lost the leading group. I had some problems with one of the climbing skins and at the steepest point of the traverse, where it was icy, I slipped on the slope. The skin came off the ski and when trying to fix it I lost the ski. It was sliding down the hill, away from me. For the moment I thought I lost it and it’s finished. I was exhausted, frozen and a bit angry on the group not waiting for me. But luckily it came to halt at some rock or some ice crack, I don’t remember. So I took off the other ski and sliding the slope as cautiously as possible went to take it. The potential danger, physical exertion and emotional strain pumped some adrenaline inside the body and probably the energy of released anger made me take off the skis, put on my crampons and walk promptly into the saddle.
The rest of the group was waiting there, resting a bit and refreshing in a storm porch. I went through a small emotional release, ate a bit and calmed down after a short while. The energy partly came back and I decided to finish the vertical section. It was anyway maybe 200-250 altitude metres to the peak and I knew I would be reproaching myself if I did not. In hindsight, I realized that the most part of my short personal “adventure” was just a drama and if I would remain present at the moment, it could easily be just another valuable lesson as a gift from life.
The peak plateau was, apart from the utter exhaustion, a pleasurable walk. Around 2 pm, eight of us were standing at the highest point in Europe. It was sunny, almost no wind and amazing visibility. We had a beautiful view of Turkish mountain called Ararat far off about 650km.
One can hardly explain the feelings of reaching such a place. Even if there are much higher and difficult peaks in the world and most of the experience is to be realised later on. In that amount of exhaustion, I didn’t really sense the ride down, to be honest. But I remember that from some point I started to enjoy the 3500 altitude metres of skiing down to the valley. I came down as first, just before the dusk fell down. Completely exhausted, yet filled with joy and delight. The next day we left back home.
One of the greatest and most important lessons life taught me in the Caucasus is that you can never win the fight against something. You have no chance whatsoever to succeed because you are fighting against life itself. But that you have all the chances to succeed, should you fight for something worth fighting for. Moreover, at the moment you start fighting for something worthy and valuable, the character of your fight suddenly changes. You stop refusing and denying – other people, the dark faces of life or your own shadow. And that changes everything. Because ultimately there are no dark faces, there are no negative people or “bad energies”. It’s all you. Those are all aspects of your own nature.
I only can say that the expedition to Mt. Elbrus marked an important point in my life – the moment when I remembered a very important thing. It’s a beautiful archetypal truth woven into the whole human history and a lot of ancient myths. Amongst all of them, I choose the scene from the movie I recently saw in the cinema – when the French Prime Minister George Clemenceau came to say goodbye to Marie, the Romanian Queen who was leaving Paris back home to Romania, prior to acknowledgement of the greater Romanian territory by Allies, after the World War the 1st.
One particular sentence resounded with me and I’m sure with all those who are committed to bringing their primal intention to a fruition one day, whatever it takes. He kindly asked her to allow him giving her one advice. He said: “Your Majesty, please let me give you one advice. From the Tiger to the Lioness. Never give up the fight”…