For the past couple of months, my mind has been replaying two specific memories. Until this morning, I couldn’t figure out what, if anything, they had in common. It was Chani Nicholas, leading me through a guided meditation for the New Moon in Aries, who helped me realize it.
Both these memories were of instances that required tremendous courage. When I had to dig deep, believe in myself, and take actions that altered the course of my entire life.
Conjuring courage on the mountainside
The first memory is the most recent. This story is one of the ones I hinted at in my earlier post about stress.
It’s from 3 Peaks, a self-supported mountain run I went on with a small group of gritty ultrarunners. They called it 3 Peaks because the goal was to summit the 3 peaks around Mount Shasta — Mt. Shasta, Black Butte, and Mt. Eddy — in a single day.
This specific memory was after our group had come down from Mt. Eddy summit, the final peak.
It was somewhere between 1, and 2 am, and most of us had been awake for 24 hours. We should’ve been jubilant, but we were too exhausted. Some of us were walking like zombies in a semi-delirious state. Others were fighting off hypothermia because we made the foolish mistake of believing a weather app that said it would be 40º at the summit.
But the real sense of doom set in when we got to the ridge that divides Siskiyou and Trinity counties, looked down, and saw a 45º sheet of icy snow ending in foreboding darkness.
I’d stood on that ridge many times before. I knew it sloped down to a gorgeous area of alpine lakes and meadows called Deadfall Lakes Basin.
That night, I stood on the ridge in nothing but thin running shorts and an ultralight jacket — no traction devices on my trail shoes.
The words Dead and Fall swirled menacingly through my head as I envisioned myself tumbling down the mountainside and crashing into icy cold water.
My heart is pounding just writing about it.
After briefly discussing our options, we decided the best way to make it across the snowfield would be to bound from one tree well to the next.
Being the innately cautious creature I am, I tried finding my footing with an outstretched leg as I clung to the tree for dear life. I struggled to get traction as I watched my more courageous buddies leap across to the next tree well. I was the last one left clinging, terrified for my life as those damn words kept repeating.
Finally, I felt it. The moment of courage I needed. It rushed up through me like red hot magma from the center of Mother Earth herself.
And my foot landed securely, crunching through the layer of icy snow with the full weight of my body over it, giving me the traction I needed to leap again. And again. Until I made it safely to the other side.
My friends cheered. No one died that night. Least of all me.
Those times when doing nothing is courageous
The other memory is very different.
It dates back 20 years. I was 18 and hospitalized in the psychiatric ward — my third and last psychiatric hospitalization.
~ Read more about My Mental Health Story here ~
I had noticed during the week or so I was there that the hospital staff was upping my meds, and no one was talking to me about it. When I asked why there were more pills than I was used to, I got written up for being challenging.
In my memory, I’m lying on my bed in the hospital room. The walls have a sickly green hue, and I’m staring at the ceiling. I hear my name called on the intercom. They want me to come get my evening meds.
I don’t move.
They call again.
Still, I refuse.
Honestly, I don’t recall the details of how this story ends. I was so overmedicated at the time. My memory is like swiss cheese.
Ultimately, I left the hospital against medical advice and parted ways with my psychiatrist.
But the true turning point happened in that hospital bed. When I listened to the voice buried deep inside me that said, “No.”
No, I won’t let you do this to me. No, you cannot treat me this way. Just, no.
Meditating on courage
Fast forward to this morning. I’m relaxing on my bed, listening to the New Moon in Aries guided meditation in my CHANI app. Chani asks me to remember a time when I conjured courage.
I go to that moment on the mountain ridge.
Then, she gets more specific.She asks me to recall a time when my actions or choices changed my entire life.
I think of the time I left my amazing Ivy League job in neuroscience research to teach English in Costa Rica.
She prompts me again.
And… I’m back in the hospital bed.
Now that I’ve finally made the connection and shared it with you, I wonder if these memories will return to their places on the trophy shelf of my mind. Or, perhaps there’s something more they need to teach me?
Maybe I’m being called to act with courage right now? But for what?
With this Aries New Moon, I intend to reflect on the theme of courage.
Aries is a fire sign. Fire is a transformative element because everything it touches is changed. And so it is with courage.
In what ways has courage transformed you? I’d love to hear your stories.