A thousand and more steps…

My mother always used to say that you can ‘walk off’ your sorrows. When I was angry or agitated she would tell me to go for a walk or a run because it would clear my mind.

I hiked up 3142 meters to the top of the Gungung Agung volcano in Bali and I sure had many steps in front of me to put order in to my thoughts. After the last, very intense 3 month in Indonesia, I had a lot that was going through my mind.

My guide, ‘Madé’, picked me up at ten o’clock in the evening and at eleven pm after signing in with the police (something that you have to do when you go on this route), we were standing on the bottom of the holy volcano. ‘Madé’, a local from the small village Besakih, looked exactly like I pictured a man from the mountains in Indonesia. His skin was wrinkled and dark from the cold air and the sun from the mountains and he was rather skinny. It was dark and all I could see would be my next step that the light of my head torch lit up for me. I have never been hiking in the dark and since in Indonesia the tracks are not loops like in Europe but more a vertical straight line to the top, you are forced to trust your guide a 100% and go literally one step at a time. You wont be able to look 3 steps a head of you nor can you see the top of the mountain, all you see is your next step and knowing that eventually if you keep going you will get on top!

I thought about this while I was taking my next step, how wonderful it would be if it would be so easy to apply in your life. But often we see the whole picture and not only the next step. We stress our selves out and we get frustrated with the current situation.
The path became quickly quite steep and I had to concentrate not to take a wrong step or I would have fallen in to the deep dark. Questioning the security and yet not surprised about it in Indonesia, I did wish at times that there would have been a rope to secure me to my guide. Putting aside this thought very quickly I put my focus back on my next step and ‘Madé’ and his life. I was amazed how many times a week he is doing this hike. Three to four times a week he is hiking up 3142 meters while smoking the strongest unfiltered cigarettes I have ever smelled in my life.

We took a break and he handed me half a clementine with a chocolate bar. ‘Madé’ asked me where I was staying in Bali and I replied – in Uluwatu. He lifted his eyebrow to a very specific expression that in my eyes was a bit belittling. He thought that I was doing the right thing by coming to the mountains then in his eyes the true Balinese people are in the small mountain villages. He started to explain to me that the people in the bigger areas or the cities have become greedy and lost track of what is important in life. “Here in the mountains people are genuine and polite.” – He said. And it was true. At the bottom temple where he worshipped his god and the mountain we met a group of men who were just about to enter the temple. The way they were greeting each other was so beautiful genuinely honest, that I couldn’t stop staring. Their voices were warm and kind and their faces seemed open in a way that you could see all the way down in to their souls. I have never witnessed anything like it. I was surrounded from this bubble of pure peace. It was beautiful.

Meanwhile the route has become quite hard and we reached already 2500 meters. Going from sea-level to 3142 meters is noticeable on your lungs. I started to breathe more heavily and kept wishing I was more in form. On the other hand it cleared my system, my over active brain started to slow down and listen to the breathing and my footsteps. It was calming and it almost had something meditative to it. Suddenly it felt like I was walking off everything that happened in my last four and a half years. I went back to the day my father passed away and never before I saw that day so clear as on that night on the holy mountain. At some stage it felt like my feet were moving by it’s self and I had time to focus on my thoughts. Step by step I walked through that horrible day and tried to come to peace with it. I saw myself standing next to that hospital bed again and I believed to hear the machine that helped my father to breath. I remember how cold and dark everything around me felt that day, but then something changed – I used to see my father lying there in pain but this time I saw him there sleeping and thankful for not having any more pain. Even though there has not one day gone by that I haven’t missed him dearly in my life, my heart started to relax . As if I could feel his presence on this holy mountain, I felt that he was with me every step of the way. He was an optimistic human being and had the ability to always see the positive. And there I was walking, my steps became heavier and slower, and I almost wanted to give up and turn around as I heard my dad say: “You can do it Sarah, you are going to regret it if you turn around now!” And he was of course right!

I thought about my past relationship, about that man I spent many years of my life with. I started to see the good and was thankful for what we had, but it also made a lot of sense to me that our paths have gone in different directions. I never held a grudge against him or towards what happened but I used to think I wasted my best years staying with and holding back for man who in the end betrayed my believes. Now it all started to make sense to me. I wouldn’t be here today if I wouldn’t have gone through all of these experiences in my life and I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I have today.

We got higher and it was freezing. The three sweaters that I was wearing clearly were not the right choice for these conditions. By now we were somewhere close to 3000 meters as ‘Madé’ suddenly decided to take a break and have a rest. I thought he meant a five-minute break but he had more a 30 min nap in mind. He packed out another jacket, thick and warm, a cap and gloves, and lied down in the corner of a little cave and went to sleep. Jealous of his jacket I stared at him, shivering on every single part of my body, thinking ‘you must be joking’! Since he took the whole space that you would be hidden from the freezing wind I didn’t have much more of a choice than to huddle down and trying to give my body parts as much heat from my own body as possible. I learned my lesson to never go so unprepared on a hike like this again. The alarm went off and ‘Madé’ got up and asked me if I was ready to go up the last part. Believe me – I was ready!

The last part was very steep and slippery. The sun was about to come out any second and I was able to see the top summit. It seemed so close and yet it didn’t seem like we were getting any closer! How much I know this feeling from my life and my work! If you keep working for a goal and it seems to be right there in front of you, you can almost reach it but just not yet, it can be frustrating. Having this thought I wanted to get on top of Gungung Agung like nothing else!

And there it was – my reward – the sky started to lid up red, purple, orange and blue. The deep colours got stronger and stronger the higher we got. I almost started to run up at the end because I was afraid I couldn’t see the full sunrise. Again I was afraid I could be missing out or late. But the conditions of the mountain forced me to go at my guides pace and so I followed him step by step, taking the time to let this magical view that nature has given me, sink in. As we reached the top I was speechless! I have never seen such a view – such a sky – such colours in my life! I forgot about being cold and tired, it was like I was revitalised by nature and its beauty.
‘Madé’ brewed me a coffee and offered me Balinese biscuits that his wife made for me and I gratefully slurped my hot coffee with a huge smile on my face.

As I stood alone with ‘Madé’ on top of Gungung Agung, watching the sunrise and being totally at peace, I felt like someone pushed the ‘hold’ button. Time seemed to stand still and it was like the universe gave me the chance to make a choice right here right now about my self and my life and in which direction I want to go. I waited a while with releasing the ‘pause’ button – I wasn’t ready yet. I still had a view thoughts running through my mind and I felt that this was one of these moments where you can get a major insight about who you are and what you want for your self.

After leaving my known life behind me, and going on this journey, I went through many stages. Doing things I have never done before, interact with completely different people and living life from one day to the other I did find out a tremendous amount about my self. I started to respect my self again and more importantly love my self again. I had moments where I thought I will change my life completely, live in the wild away from everyone and everything known to me. But the funny thing about finding yourself is that sooner or later you understand who you are and you come to terms with your past and it all seems to make sense. As much as I loved my time living from one day to the other I knew right there, that I had a purpose and that it was time for me to get back on it. The theatre, the literature and the arts as well as the interaction with people who want to make a difference were calling me. I knew more than ever ‘who’ I was and that I want to go back to the theatre, writing and work. I knew that I want to become a mother one day and show my children that where there is a will there is a way. Anything is possible!

Away from everything and everyone I was happy and I knew that I have learned from my mistakes and experiences in the past. Often we try to be someone else for a loved one or we hold back on our own potential to fit in, to make it work, or to make someone else feel better about them selves. We all know that we can always change to become the best of what we can be, but it has to come from your own within and because YOU want that change.
Right there, I saw my potential and I knew that I will never hold back or be someone I am not for anyone anymore!

I have been told a couple of times in my life that my expectations are enormously high and that it is impossible to live up to them. Well I believe that many people do not out live their potential and settle for less. But are they really happy? Scared of ending up alone or out of the ‘group’ which gives them security, they try to hold on to something that often holds them back. I love people and I believe that we all are beautiful individuals with a positive centre and the capacity to make a difference in this world no matter in what way. It is only the question if you have the guts to go against the stream or if you want to flow with all the other fish in the river so-called life.

I released the ‘pause’ button and the sun fully came out and lid up the whole sky with light. It was a new day, a new beginning. I knew in that moment that my life will take a major turn soon. Not sure how or in what way exactly, but I knew that as long as I will stay true to myself and my values I will be happy and on the right track.

It was the perfect ending to my time in Indonesia and the start of a new chapter in my life. I was ready to descend Gunung Agung. I took one last look over Bali to Lombok and even Java and said goodbye for now.
Walking down in full day light I caught my self looking too far a head of the track and I stumbled because I was rushing. I tried to remember what great lesson I just learned a couple of hours ago. Step by step and with patience having the big picture in your mind and you will eventually get there!

Sunrise on top of Gungung Agung

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About sarahschaefer

Pancakes and Panthers is a blog about the philosophical aspects of self discovery of a young actress from London. Life is too short to wait! View all posts by sarahschaefer

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