December 31st, 2013.
Robin’s Thicke’s, “Blurred Lines” pulsed on my car stereo as I turned left onto Warner Road. At the end of this road, about a mile ahead, stood South Mountain.
A good rain had just come through, washing the dingy dirt down and away off the mountain. The vibrant green colors of mesquite and palo verde trees scattered alongside the mountain, looking like speckled paint.
This scene only lasted about 2 minutes, as I then found myself forced into turning right onto Hardy Drive. The mountain vanished behind rows of two-story office buildings.
My heart sank heavy in my chest as I approached the gray building, I would soon be spending my day in.
February 4th 2013.
My face felt tense and my jaw clenched, due to nervousness and excitement while sitting around the big round conference table with the rest of the new hires. This was my first day working in student services, as an online college advisor. I was getting paid, the most I had ever gotten paid before and I wanted to make a good impression. The orientation began with a video. Smiling faces and slow-mo movements of students throwing their caps up in the air at graduation.
One student being interviewed, expressed how grateful she was to have graduated. Being a single mother and the first of her family to go to college, this education meant getting out of poverty and changing the direction of her families life. Once the slow yet inspirational background music began playing as the camera panned back to reveal her children and family standing by her side, I found myself having to hold back my tears, for how inspired she made me feel.
I spent the rest of the time in orientation, daydreaming that I would have students like that. That I would be the motivational support they needed during those hard times when they think they just can’t go on. I would form deep bonds with all my students and even years later after they’ve graduation, they would still call me to check in.
June 14, 2013.
As I press down the mute button on my phone a students voices is loudly screaming through my earpiece. She’s upset because she hasn’t received her second stipend check yet and doesn’t understand that participation is required in classes. She feels I’m being “rude” telling her to go to class. She wants her financial aid check and then she never wants to hear from me again.
It took me a few weeks, but I finally understood the truth. I wasn’t actually working at a “college”. Instead I was working at a micromanaged, call center that offered free coffee.
I hated every moment of being at that job.
December 31, 2013
It was New Year’s Eve but it felt like any other day.
As I stepped through the glass door, I waved to the receptionist and headed towards the uncomfortable chair with the broken armrest at my desk. My stiff business casual collared shirt, tightened around my torso as I sat, constricting my breathing. The fluorescent lighting humming above me and the blue glow of my computer screen burned my eyes.
Place me anywhere on the planet and if it isn’t sunrise or sunset – I have no directional skills to point me in any direction. However, this day, sitting at my desk, I instinctively knew that I was facing South Mountain. Beyond my computer monitor, beyond all the endless rows of glowing computer screens, beyond the thick bricks of this god forsaken building, South Mountain stood.
John Muir is so famously quoted as saying, “The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go”. At this moment, I deeply understood exactly what he meant.
Within five minutes of my headset pressed upon my ear and that little circular foam microphone dangling in front of my mouth, I felt this vibrational energy calling me.
Remember the Aquaman cartoons, where he summons the fish by releasing that circular lines of energy from his forehead and it spreads out throughout the rest of the ocean? Yea, it was just like that. These invisible energy forces from the mountain were calling me towards it.
At first, I ignored it.
I didn’t want to talk to my boss. I tried my hardest to avoid him as much as possible. Plus, I figured he was still pissed from two weeks ago when I had called in “sick” 2 days in a row.
Desperately, after a while of feeling that intense vibration bouncing off of me, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I impulsively got up and found myself standing at my bosses’ desk. In fact, it was so abrupt that I was shocked at myself for being right in front of him, when he lifted his gaze up to look at me.
After blurting out the question if I could leave early, he surprisingly said “sure”.
I headed back to my desk and quickly packed my belongings as fast as I could. Like a fierce mall walker, I kicked it into high gear and bee lined it for the door.
Pushing that glass door open and stepping out in the sunshine, my sense of freedom was instantly regained.
An hour later:
Standing at the base of South Mountain in my pink tank top and workout pants, the energy force had called me here and now here I am. Along with my dog Scruffy by my side.
Excitedly, Scruffy’s nose guided her from rock to rock ahead of me, while I took my first step onto the hiking trail .
A few minutes in and my breathing was becoming shorter and harder.
For a moment, I wondered why I felt so called and willing to put my body into such an uncomfortable position. “What am I doing here?” I questioned myself.
Images of my co-workers at their desks with headsets on flashed through my mind.
And with that….I remembered.
I would much rather be right here….then stuck in that building. With that, my forehead relaxed and I felt a bit more peaceful, even though my breathing was hard.
This trail was rated as “easy” but my out of shape ass would’ve rated it, difficult. The last portion is a straight up vertical and rocky path towards the ridgeline of the mountain. Scruffy went ahead but looked back at me with concern every so often.
As I struggled, looking for my next foot placements, I thought, “I didn’t get this close to just turn around” and kept pressing forwards.
At the top, an empty bench stood. As I victoriously wiped the sweat from my forehead, I made my way to that bench and sat down. Outstretched before me, as if standing at the shore of an ocean, a vast sea of endless blue sky expanded further than my eyes could make out. I instinctively released a heavy exhale, relaxing my whole body.
By the time the tangerine glow of the sunset faded behind the mountain, I stepped off the trail feeling lighter. Feeling happier. Feeling more at ease and more accomplished than anything before.
Once back in the car as Scruffy laid in the backseat and gave me that tired but satisfied tail wag, I realized that I had spent this time….not thinking about anything. My repetitive and nagging thoughts about work and money seized to exist while on the mountain. In fact, I had really only focused on where to put my feet next and paying attention to the views.
It was my moment of Nature Bodhi.
That moment where being in nature adjusted my mindset. It unknowingly shifted my brain waves into letting go of my every day stresses and I was able to fully experience being in the present moment.
I was awakened to the fact that this was something my brain could even do.
At that moment, right there in my car looking at Scruffy in the backseat…I was transformed.
My plan for that evening, was to go to a New Year’s Party. But, after having this moment of clarity…I didn’t want to spend my New Years Day all hungover and regretting my drunken actions.
For the first time, I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to cheers anyone at midnight. In fact, I wanted to stay home. I wanted to wake up early. I wanted to go back out hiking.
January 1, 2014.
My alarm woke me up at 5am and an hour later I was once again standing at the base of South Mountain.
The crisp morning air made my nose cold but energized my spirit to get moving. I hiked alone that morning, only passing by one other soul. As I moved forward onto the dusty trail, rounding up past a wash, the first golden ray of sunlight silently emerged over the mountain top and softly rested upon me.
Happy 2014, I silently smiled to myself.