I have heard and read a lot recently about the analogy of practice as climbing a mountain. At a discussion on a Thursday night someone mentioned that, whilst the summit may seem elusive, they can appreciate how far they have come by looking back at the view behind. This idea of taking stock of how far my practice has come by looking back to where I started from caused me to reflect on another kind of experience.
I can relate to that sense of enjoying the view. If I’m asked what has changed for the better over the course of my life I can find examples. There are situations, experiences and thoughts which used to disturb me but which now pass without comment. Sometimes though, when I turn around to enjoy what I assume will be a good view, it is not there. When I look down the slope to appreciate how far I have come, I discover that I am actually standing in the car park where I first started. This can be deeply frustrating. It can lead to giving up and wandering off elsewhere, albeit with the nagging thought of something that has yet to be resolved. It can feel unfair. How, after all the time, effort and sacrifice, is it possible that I am standing in this dull, foggy patch of concrete with nothing but a little kiosk selling bovril and a dirty public toilet? What about the view that I deserve after putting in all those miles? Despondency, a sense of failure and anger are all things that can kick in. And then, at some point, I look around and I’m on the track again. I chalk it up to a bad day and carry on.
As the experience becomes more frequent, though, it warrants further investigation. If I regularly find myself transported back to the beginning and breathe a sigh of relief when I get away again, the question has to be answered: Am I trying to get up the mountain, or am I trying to get away from the car park? And if that is the case, what is wrong with the car park? There is a bench and a hot drink. There is usually company. There is also a great view of the mountain from the car park, albeit not one that has been “earned.” Does a good view have to be earned? Is that what makes it good, what makes it different from any other view, that it comes as a reward for a self imposed struggle?
I’m not questioning the validity of climbing the mountain, far from it. But I am saying that for me it is not a linear journey. Experiences come around and go away, get forgotten and then remembered, and none of them can be written off or chalked up to a bad day, especially not the persistent ones. The more I find myself in the car park, the more I realise it is because that is where an integral part of my life is happening. The more often I turn around to look at rolling hilltops and see instead metal, concrete and fog, the more urgently apparent it is that something in that place needs to be taken care of.