Heading towards a Swiss peak long before the light of day, a dark trail became a bright, reflective classroom. The teacher, a headlamp.

The flash echoed the throb in my head. Powerful pulsating. Like a streetlight warning something was about to change. Moments earlier, instantaneous reminders of green sheets, surgical lights and a cold steel stretcher as I stuttered in mind and voice to delineate the changing kopfschmerzen* to the neurosurgeon. It was a black theraband squeezing without give around the broken bones as my brain swelled steady and constant.  The hours of the day, still less than a handful, were chilled, damp and dark. Fingers still warm enough to function without deliberate thought, I shifted my running poles into one hand while I loosened the band of my headlamp without breaking stride towards the summit.

Chasing a sunrise summit, change was happening in the darkness. From compressing to pulsating, mindfulness slipped. Deep in dark  sporadic memories of September 2014 when the headlamp started to flash a second time, I held the power button with hope. No slowing down.

Nestled in thought and in the rhythm of my feet, it was the flash resuming like an alarm clock waking mid dream that harnessed my attention. Though I chuckled at the thought of what if, it could not be. In the darkness, it appeared the stars had lost an overnight battle to heavy mountain clouds. Power button, stride on.

The refreshed illumination tuned me into the early morning mist, its coolness an early sign of the season beginning to change. Without a speck of starlight nor the moon to be found, despite having a couple more hours to work its magic, the sun was going to have to put up a fight to conquer any space in the morning sky.

Finding my way by moonlight generates inner sunshine before the light of day. When the moon is lost in hovering clouds and the fiery ball of blissful comfort struggles amidst overnight gloom, a headlamp can be a lifeline for a visually impaired peak chaser.  A blip of light was all the headlamp had left to give.

Running gives stoke to my fire. It can be a time of sorting out thoughts and struggles yet I strive to be completely present in each moment and in each stride. In this morning’s mind, without a candle in my pocket or a battery to spare, the dark trail became a bright, reflective classroom. The teacher, a headlamp.

With the headlamp changed to nothing more than weight in my pack, it had the potential to weigh on my mind. Falling into reflective thought on the moonless trail, analogies became as endless as the darkness I battled following my traumatic brain injury (TBI). Rather than focusing on lost incandescence, I found myself giggling in amusing reflection.

Change can be difficult to imagine. Yesterday’s run had also started in the dark. Like a friend who lights a smile,  my headlamp lit the trail; no thought, no question of its reliability. The sun had come up, sunglasses replaced the headlamp, my shirt got sweaty, up and down, the day rolled on. Though yesterday felt bright, it is gone. Though its warmth may carry, change is certain. Stunning sun rays nor the darkest of days, nothing is permanent.

The moon, the sun, and like every human graced their glow, they experience struggle countered by times when radiating comes with ease. As the sun struggled this morning, I connected to times when clouds feel too heavy. Deep within such darkness, I know my diminished inner light will return more powerful. Like the darkness of the night sky, all feelings, all storms, they will pass.

Luminance measures the intensity of light emitted from a surface; from the moon, from the sun, there was none. Without light on a mountain trail, a scurrying squirrel becomes a bear waking from hibernation, every twig a spitting cobra. Darkness invents stories of its own. Like trying to imagine summer ever returning amidst a dark, cold, northern winter, love again after heartbreak, life changed by a disability or illness, in life’s dark times the stories I tell myself can be dismal. When the sun rises and light returns so too does awareness that my stories have no backing.  With light, chapters ahead are eagerly anticipated rather than dreaded or wished away.

Like a headlamp with its narrow focus enhancing every microscopic rock and root on my trail, when I shift my focus, my perspective lends itself to see in new light. The headlamp has a narrow focus feature yet with even the smallest shift a whole new perspective is created. Shifting perspective can bring light to a majestic maple from what appeared as rotting root or glacial pool beyond the dribbling water crossing my trail. Expanding tunnel vision from a focus on what my TBI took away to a broad spectrum of what I have gained, my light and my smile brighten. Adjust the microscopic focus from the stumbling stones on the trail to the vastness of the mountains ahead; a brilliant lesson.

With the light I have found to navigate life, I share the challenge of maintaining its consistency with the hope that my stories might connect within another’s survival guide when their light is dim. Sharing light has potential to brighten infinite trails. Over peaks, through valleys and storms, my light has changed as has the number in my collection of headlamps yet there I was in utter darkness with lighthearted thoughts of each having a story of their own. I see them in photos: one atop Everest, another brightening a tea house in the dark Himalayan monsoon. The third is on a journey of its own. Though I deem it missing, I have no doubt that, like a lost inner glow, the light will be found. The lesson, sharing light can brighten another’s trail and spread far beyond imagination.

No amount of optimism nor stretch of imagination could fill my depleted headlamp. A torch without power nor a body without fuel can function on hope. A simple analogy yet ridiculously challenged by Rocky who tries to overshadow my needs and out shine my worth. Not genius math yet since my TBI destroyed my relationship with food, the concept can feel as incomprehensible as calculus did in college. Fuel my power source. No light nor summits on an empty tank.

My reaction to the depleted incandescence of the headlamp, will not change the past. I choose the way I perceive and respond to stimuli. In dark turbulent times, a piercing stare, an innocent question, a diagnosis, assumption or a burned out headlamp,  I control the way I respond. Take the lesson learned, embrace impermanence, plod on.

As I gained elevation I began to catch a glimpse of street lights in the valley below. Though my shine had changed to the minimal reflective tape on my pack, I may have seemed dark and insignificant yet no matter how alone I felt on the trail someone down valley could connect to my darkness. When life’s trail feels lonely or dark, when it feels like no one can relate, though I may not see, feel or hear them, someone else is struggling through their own darkness, another may be inspired by my light and perhaps another has light to share. In today’s world of hyper-technology, human connection has a tendency to get lost leaving many in dark spaces. An ear in times of loneliness, eye contact or the touch of a hand, simple yet intimate connections with potential to light someone’s heart and carry them on beyond the darkness of their trail.

With a smirk mid stride, I thought of  friend who amidst a Swedish summer solstice would set off on a midday trail run with a headlamp and a mitt full of extra batteries while strongly suggesting I do the same, just in case.  In reflection, perhaps a lesson from personal experience, his advice had been shared from a place of concern and compassion. Being on the receiving end of others’ compassion can ignite light in darkness. Sitting together in silence, mountain-side hugs, trigger warnings and random check-ins from afar, compassionate gestures are light. They fill my batteries with gratitude.

As September approaches, a season of triggers, dark reminders of the trail past lure. Resisting temptation to bury myself in moonless memories and tales of what might have been, I keep my focus on the present. Light I have found has led me through darkness to this very moment, where I am meant to be.  With the summit coming into sight the clouds began to part, my focus broad and bright.

~ May you always find inner light to shine and share assured of your significance and how far your light can travel.

Namaste 🌟

*kopfschmerzen translates from German as head pain

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  1. Mac says:

    Change is the nature of the present moment… which is why it can be difficult to understand… remaining still and present is the only way to assess the flow of the most subtle change, the most subtle flow of the river of life that we are all flowing in…
    Imagine the center of your heart is the brightest light, and that brightest light is here on the earth, and that earth is spinning, and that light spins with the earth, and that earth, as it spins is also revolving around a sun, and so does that brightest light, and as that light spins and revolves, it is also travelling through space along the arms of the galaxy… and so imagine that brightest light, at the centre of your heart is never still, it is always flowing within the nature of life, yet all the while that brightest light remains within you, it is yours and you are responsible for it, while you have it, as you flow in the river of life that you can only know about, if become present and still…
    Know this, and you have reached your summit…!!! stay there as long as you like, but remember, the journey up and down the mountain is just as enjoyable as being at the summit, because the valley is just as important as the summit, because without the valley, we have no summit… ❤️

  2. Tom Stevens says:

    I am also starting out my run or bike ride in the darkness relying on a headlamp as the days grow shorter. The reward, a sunrise, the dewy scent of the forest and pictures of wildlife starting their quest for food. The morning holds more promise than any other time of day. In Aspen, Colorado my mornings are Jill’s afternoons, her mornings are bedtime for me. I don’t deal with TBI symptoms but share her empathy for those who do and am thankful she is a voice bringing light from the darkness.

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      As I move along the rocky trail towards accepting my physical scars and celebrating the triumph in the stories they tell, I discover the healing powers of vulnerability, compassion and empathy.
      Being with someone’s pain, even feeling it with them without trying to make it better can be as powerful as celebrating in what they have overcome. Empathetic people, like you practice perspective taking. Putting on the spectacles of another, seeing life through their eyes (eye) and imagining what fears they are facing can shift one’s mindset creating a wondrous connection. Being on the receiving end of your empathetic and compassionate connection helps ignite light in darkness ~ thank you Tom 🙏