When I thought I was on solid ground, an unanticipated wave rocked me. I work to ride the waves, each one an opportunity to learn from.

Like a powerful wave, overwhelm roared in and knocked me down. Lying on the bottom of the sea suffocating with a mouthful of sand and water in my nose, I had a choice. Lie there and succumb or stand up and start to walking.

I use the wave analogy as all things marine stretch my comfort zone. So too did committing to 10 consecutive days in a structured learning environment. With a deep breath, I dove into the first of any such academia since destiny sent me on a rocky trail through darkness and desperation. Despite time and mindfully adopting the pace of nature, when an unforeseeable wave hammered, I fell. Rather than allowing the wave to drown me, I stood up in search of the lesson it was trying to teach.

Considering I spend the majority of my time in remote locations, enthralled by altitude and adventure, I embarked on the National Outdoor Leadership School’s (NOLS) Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training course with the safety of others guiding my heart. My intent was to add to my toolbox, build confidence in my ability to be available and helpful should Mother Nature get carried away up high, in the backcountry or on any mountain trail in between. Adding tools to provide emergency care in the wilderness and make well-informed crucial decisions in the face of safety and risk could only be an asset. No extra packing weight, only practical tools, skills and confidence to carry on my trail.

I live quite simply, carry minimal, and turn inward to find strength when waves swell, winds are high and mountains’ steep.  In nature’s calm, my thoughts clear and perspective widens. Since ball and skull connected, I have cultivated much strength yet more sensitive in every sense of the term. Darkness can trigger a downhill spiral, sounds become excessive at the speed of light. Racket without warning, an unannounced approach from my right, the crack of a baseball bat or helicopter hovering can trigger turmoil. I withdraw in the presence of multiple conversations, when confused by an expectation, loud music, and surprise events. Public places can overwhelm and crowds stir inner chaos. My tolerance of stimuli makes social interactions awkward and evening outings brief at best.

The WFR course had nearly all such triggers; no helicopters yet clouds of doubt hovered. Unsteadily I teetered between hope to avoid unnecessary attention and advocating to ensure I could effectively maintain focus. With the rawness of vulnerability, limited vision and demons of attention deficit, I staggered to the instructors’ desk. Anticipating challenging waves, I requested specific seating to setup my learning environment so as to be as comfortable and ultimately as successful as possible. Time to stand firm, anticipate waves and rise above the triggers.

Personal connection to the majority of the WFR curriculum would be advantageous. Blooming flowers from seeds of adversity. From Acute Mountain Sickness to appendicitis and anaphylaxis, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and eye injury to pneumonia, freak dental debacles, rolled ankles and broken bones, my life experience could only enhance connectedness to the curriculum and to others.

Letting people in fosters connections and can have a domino effect. Connections carry potential to benefit others on their adventures ahead and spread like wildfire. Between four walls, 32 collective voices deafening, on the day the syllabus was structured to tune into traumatic brain injuries, I grounded myself in the undulating water, rose above and offered to share the chapter of story dated September 3, 2014.

Like the ball that came out of nowhere, a rattling wave hammered in. I have wrote extensively about the tsunami that nearly drowned me and all that has come in its wake yet on this calm spring morning something stirred the waters. My eye filled with crocodile tears, my voice cracked and my heart sank. Like a waking nightmare, a world away from being in the present moment, I was in ICU alone, vivid yet dark, speechless. Raw and exposed, all I could muster was, “I am sorry.” For the first time since the course began 3 days earlier, silence. I was genuinely lost in a classroom full of attentive onlookers and eager ears.

Despite the instructors’ captivating teaching methods, procuring prime seating, having every sized sticky note and stationary aid to garner focus, my tank drained. This was explicit evidence of the energy demands of the brain. Queen B uses much more energy since it was traumatized. Seemingly the TBI segment triggered turmoil when personal expectations were rampant, inner strength running thin and emotions high. Heart pounding, sweat dripping, my physical self was responding as if  a target was on my head with a ball and bat looming. Pulling my hat down, harnessing the power of my breath, I fought the tears. Deep within, behind the tears, I was mindful of impermanence. This wave shall pass.

Embracing impermanence, I learned from the wave. With time for reflection and self-care, I was able to open-up, share a few chapters of my story connecting intimately with a handful of curious, compassionate classmates. Be it from falls, phobias, broken family, broken hearts or broken bones, suffering connects us. Waves are inevitable, part of the shared human experience. Without opposing the waves, there is feeling if peace, acceptance and openness to what they carry.

Waves come and go according to the wind and weather, yet at the depths the ocean remains calm. Like each new wave, each new day brings new strength. With each I become more aware, more resilient. Cultivating courage and calm, I get up, stride ahead and learn from every ripple. I can alleviate my own suffering by moving with the waves rather than fighting them. I will not oppose the waves. I will ride them out, each one a source of growth. I will stumble, I will fall but I won’t stay down.

I would love to hear how you connect to such waves? Does anything in particular resonate with you? I sincerely appreciate your thoughts, comments and welcome your questions in the Reply box below.

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  1. Nadine says:

    My waves would be the waves of self-doubt, though I am lucky they’re not too big and not too often. If I really analyze it, they’re mostly likely to strike when I’m tired (ie sleep, diet, and above all, mental energy), or when something completely unexpected destroys my neatly laid plans. That’s the problem with being a control freak! The older I get, the more accepting I am about factors outside my control, and having spent a lot of time in nature helps that, too.
    But I, like most people, usually guard myself from putting myself too far out there. You’re the brave one, jumping into the water when you know a wave may (or may not) strike. You’re the one stretching your limits, and it’s really inspiring.
    It’s not entirely related but I saw this little gem recently: That failure isn’t the opposite of success; it’s part of success. And that’s so true. So even if you don’t make it through one wave, you learn something that will eventually get you through.
    Thanks for th eawesome blog and keep it coming!

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Thank you for the gem, being vulnerable and sharing so explicitly Nadine.
      Every wave is a teacher. There is no such thing as failure, only opportunity to learn.
      I can certainly relate to the waves hitting harder when fuel is low. The connection between physical and emotional is inseparable. Self-care is fuel necessary to replenish personal resources. A lunchtime stroll in the woods, a run in the forest, alone time on your boat, each time you make time to turn inwards is a small spoonful of self-compassion. Small things matter.
      Be compassionate to yourself my friend.
      With gratitude for following along my trails and waves.
      Be Brave x

  2. Tom Stevens says:

    The anxiety and fear that swims below the surface can be more daunting than the physical challenges that float atop the stormy sea of life. After living remotely for the last thirty years I found that solitude is sometimes my best friend and often my worst enemy. Days dealing with humanity are offset by times high in the mountains where I refuel. Writing also allows me to escape the chaos. I try to avoid negative people and surround myself with inspirational ones. I don’t suffer from TBI but I’m learning more about the effects as I get to know Jill. She is one of the inspirational ones that make a difference.

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Thanks so much Tom – Mountains are undoubtedly my most reliable fuel when the winds are high the stormy sea of life feels overwhelming. Regardless of the pace, the serenity, the climb, terrain and altitude always lead to a healthier perspective.
      Connections carry potential to benefit others on their adventures ahead and spread like wildfire – thankful our connection is mutually inspirational.
      Keep riding (your bike) and embracing the waves!