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Finding clarity through reflections in the Tetons

On our way into Yellowstone National Park, we took the South Entrance through Grand Tetons National Park. Since we liked the look of the mountains so much and heard that we’d like this even more than Yellowstone, we decided to make this the next stop on our sabbatical. Little did I know that seeing the mountains and camping wouldn't be the only things that would make this trip memorable.

The Plan

We showed up the day before we wanted to head out and booked a site in Paintbrush Canyon. It’s located in the back country, which, according to the Marrium-Webster Dictionary, is “a remote undeveloped rural area.” What that meant for us was that we would be hiking six miles in, going up to 8800 ft, and hopefully being the only people we could see for miles. With the snow just melting and that campsite just opening up, we had a pretty good chance of not seeing anyone. After watching a short film about camping in the back country and getting our bear bin, we headed off to pack.

Plans Change

The morning we were leaving, I had some pain in my chest --- a remnant of the pneumonia that I was diagnosed with before we left our home in North Carolina. I knew I could suck it up and make it up to the campsite, but I didn’t want to be up in the mountains if it got worse. So even though Tom is a certified Wilderness First Responder, I decided to err on the side of caution and not put him in a situation where he might have to exercise his skills. I canceled our camping trip.

It was a tough decision because I desperately wanted to hike up the mountains. Even though I knew this was the right decision, I thought I was weak. I thought I was a failure, and I felt defeated. As we drove to the visitor center to give up our campsite, each look at the mountains was a pull at my heart --- a reminder of where I could not go that sent me into a bout of tears. The sharp inhales and exhales of my crying brought the pain back to my chest and reminded me of why I could not go.

mountains on the side of a road
It was even raining on the way to cancel our trip.

I stayed in the car as Tom brought the bear bin in and returned our site, too embarrassed to show my face and my puffy eyes. When Tom came back, he still had the bin. To my surprise, he was able to change our reservation to a Leigh Lake campsite. Instead of hiking 6 miles uphill, we would only be walking 2.5 miles with no elevation gain --- very doable.

Enjoying the new hike in. Eyes still a little puffy from the tears.

Our outdoor home

I thanked him as best I could, wiped up my tears and collected my breath as we made our way to the trail head parking lot. After a quick hike in, we set down all our gear and I learned how to “bear proof” the camp. I enjoyed learning that there needed to be specific places where the food is prepared, where the food is stored, where the food is eaten, where we sleep, and where we use the bathroom. Naturally, in order to remember what each place was for and where it was located, I started naming the places of our outdoor house. We had a kitchen, a pantry, a dining room, a living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. The view from our living room was the best. I couldn’t have been more content.

the view from our "living room"

Getting Clear

It's amazing to see just how fast emotions and plans can change. I got so stuck in my head and in my own problems that I forgot that there were other answers out there. I was unable to see clearly and forgot that things are temporary --- especially since that temporary thing was knocking on my chest and streaming down my face. But I guess that's why I practice yoga: to calm those fluctuations of my mind (those extreme highs and lows that clutter my head).

The Yoga Sutras have a verse,“yogas chitta vritti nirodha,” that translates to,

Yoga is calming the fluctuations of the heart-mind.

Even though it might not seem like it all the time, the heart and mind are connected. All these emotions, thoughts, and experiences are stored within; and it can get pretty jumbled in there. You might have even experienced a battle between heart and head. So one of the reasons to practice --- one of the reasons that I practice --- is to clear up all that jumbled-ness so I can see clearly. It’s kinda like the words to that song by Johnny Nash:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day

mountains with reflection in water
Imagine the fluctuations of the heart-mind are like the ripples in the water. The ability to see clearly happens when we're able to calm those ripples.

I didn’t possess this clarity in the Tetons. I don’t really even possess it now, but there are moments. And those moments of clarity continue to grow. Looking back and examining without judgement helps. Practicing yoga helps. Studying about the heart-mind helps. And one day, all these things that help will come together and get me there. Because who doesn’t want a clear heart-mind and the ability to “see clearly” whenever obstacles come their way?

What do you do to help bring clarity into your life?

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