I had the absolute pleasure of taking a backpack trip to Southern Utah with my partner Oliver earlier this month. We flew into Vegas and drove 6 hours to the Paria River Canyon, and hiked 42 miles up the river valley to beautiful Wrather Arch and back down in three days. In the entire time we were out, we saw a sum total of five other people, a good handful of wildlife, and not a single cloud in the sky. We experienced beauty so intense and vast it was like hiking in a continuous series of magical picture postcards that unfold with every step. The contrast of red rocks and blue sky is beyond description.
And so was the pain. We crossed the river 40 – 50 times during those days, which meant wet and cold feet for most of the day light hours. For some reason, and I didn’t anticipate this, my right post-operative foot really didn’t like this at all, and I experienced a type of foot pain that was just at the border of what I could tolerate for much of the trip. On a pain scale, my foot was an active 9 out of 10 for countless hours while we weaved our way up and down the river valley. I really had to dig deep to figure out how to be OK with those two extremes, how to incorporate my pain into the incredible and expansive beauty of my surroundings. I couldn’t ignore the pain, it was too intense, nor could I just pretend that it wasn’t really that bad because it was. I also didn’t NOT want to do the trip, of that I was certain, but I had to figure out a way to make all of the pieces work together so that it wasn’t just about survival and getting through.
So many times in my life I have endured discomfort to get somewhere that I thought I wanted to be. In this instance, I was EXACTLY where I wanted to be and I didn’t have to get anywhere because I was already there. In those moments, there was truly no other place I would rather have been. I just had to figure out a way to accept the pain and yet keep a greater focus on the beauty I was absolutely in the very midst of and to be OK with it all. What I realized with every passing painful step is that I COULD focus more intently on the beauty, and let the pain just exist as a baseline reality, a very real part of the picture but not the sum total or even the bigger part. By turning my attention continuously to the beauty I could allow that to become the dominant part of my awareness. It took some practice and patience, but I can truly say that I was able to be fully present with myself, my partner, and to fully take in the entire spectacular experience!
When I returned home, I realized that these lessons are so very real and transportable, not only for me but for all of us. When we focus on the beauty that is always present somewhere in our surroundings, in our relationships, in our bodies and in our souls, the pain that is also there is naturally diminished. It doesn’t make it any less real or even less challenging, but focussing on the beauty in life does provide a contrast in which to view the painful aspects of our realities as less striking and as a part of the landscape instead of as the dominant feature. I brought home from this trip far more than a lot of desert sand in my socks, boots, and clothes…I brought home a very tangible reality that I can revisit every day…and that is the absolute certainty that Beauty DOES trump pain!