I remember the very first session I had with my life coach when I was trying to redefine what I now refer to as ‘My Beautiful Mess’. Everything ended so abruptly for me that I wandered in an emotional haze for some time before the gravity of what had occurred hit me. I do recall that session where he asked me what outcomes I had hoped to achieve while working with him. I had no clear idea what he meant and had trouble verbally expressing it. Then he asked me to draw it – I’m extreme organiser and planner, so diagrams are my thing. I drew a person holding a bunch of balloons of various length of string and in each of those balloons was a word that I felt was a value important to me and what I thought defined me – along with a percentage attached to it on how much I thought it signified to me … it was a complex diagram – I still have it and now it looks like the ramblings of a crazy person. It took me a whole week to do.
I proudly strolled in the following week with my life’s mathematical representation ready to explain it fully to him. His remarks before I got that chance on looking at it was just to say … ‘Why don’t you just let go of the bunch of balloons, then we can see what happens.’ – So I began that process of letting go of those balloons. Some I still held on tightly to, but Pete’s remarks were always the same, ‘How much are you prepared to give up to get through, let them go, they’re just old balloons, and the new ones you inflate will lift you higher, you have to put trust in that.’ … and he was right.
I understand through that process how difficult it is and can be to let go of treasures, items of comfort and support. There are things we should keep, but a lot we can do without. A major part of my job in the industry of Outdoor Education and Recreation working with participants and clients is to ask of them what I did with my coach, the exception being that I worked with Peter for several months in a very different environment. Outdoor Education and Adventure Therapy programs are designed around allowing people with some preparation to arrive in a wilderness setting, handover everything they don’t need and have it replaced with just equipment they need to be self-sufficient in a group or by themselves for a period of time. Resistance to giving up certain items is common – phones and sugar, surprisingly are the most common – go figure.
Working back along the Snowy River in Victoria for the last month has been a stark reminder of another era of letting go and handing over of my life to another purpose more recently, which was far more challenging than working with a life coach for months. This time it was a life changing lesson that happened over just 14 days and it’s been great to be back here to revisit and reflect on that experience.
Part of my old Internship with one of Australia’s leading Outdoor Education companies was for every intern to complete and experience a program run by the company designed at an instructor level to experience what our participants experience. A ‘Course Experience’ as it’s known for instructors by instructors who know every trick in the book to push and challenge. A unique bonding session, so to speak to put us in the place of those who we take outside their comfort zones. Our experience didn’t start at an issue site in the remote wilderness, it started at our national base where we were hyped up into thinking that we were all going FWD’ing for training after watching a video on the risks of driving on dodgy fire trails, which we all do regularly and love.
We headed outside to see our entire FWD fleet lined up, yeehaa’ing to each other with excitement, only to see that as we got closer, the cars drove off and all that was left was a person dressed up in a white rabbit suit, 8 old tyres, several big logs, a frames that would represent those several cars. We were then to chase the rabbit around a circuit of several kilometres including through the Murrumbidgee River with each of us holding a part of the car in formation … this planned to go on for 7.5 hours, no breaks just laps … A simple activity designed to see what happened to a high functioning team of people who are given a task with no perceived outcomes. I tried desperately for the first few ‘laps’ to try to co-ordinate the group, problem solve how I thought we could maybe trap and ambush the bunny etc … before I realised that there was no solution to this exercise, the point of it was for me a realisation that once again, I was not in control of my destiny for the next 2 weeks. In ‘participant mode’ I had handed over my belongings and been issued my group gear and now it was time to hand over everything I had to trust my senior instructors – I would go where they told me to go and do what I was asked to do and each evening I would be asked to critically evaluate to my peers my performance for the day and they would provide me with critical feedback for self- awareness, growth and improvement. Peer coaching on leadership and personal development. Exactly what we expect and ask of our participants.
That experience was one of the fondest memories I’ve had in my career. Open mindedness was key to this and trusting that people who knew much more than I did would allow me to discover again for myself some unique insights into my character and values definition. Reflecting on this I still ask of my participants and clients on every journey we take together in an expectations session before we head out to just be open minded about the experience and put their faith in a new experience that is foreign to them.
It’s been very refreshing to work back here in Victoria from the Alpine National Park and Snowy River National Park where that journey took place and see some of those places again that prompted a memory of something that I had rediscovered about myself on that course experience, and then realising the importance of why as outdoor professionals we should continue to put ourselves outside our personal comfort zones to reflect on how our clients and participants experience what is somewhat ‘normal’ for us.
During a break from ‘the office’ on the river, I wanted to explore a little more of Victoria and heading to the High Country for some solo hiking for a few nights. I had an amazing weather window to summit Mt Feathertop, Victoria’s second highest peak, so I took it. The hike in was relatively moderate and the weather was stunning. It was great to see so many other people out enjoying the 12 km hike in from Mt Hotham to Federation Hut near the base of the summit, but oddly that’s where they stopped – at a hut, in a campground, with a toilet. Alpine Huts are generally used as emergency shelters and there is a regulation of no overnight camping in them unless there is extreme weather. This one was equipped with a water tank that was empty and a small drop toilet block. I love the conversations that can be had with other track travellers in general when I’m solo hiking and on this hike people would say, ‘We’ll catch up with you again at the campground at the Hut’, - no chance – I was planning on camping on the summit. After going on an off track mission to find a natural water spring that was noted on my topographic map, I set up camp on the summit – alone. It was magic. The perfect night, no cloud, almost no wind, sensational sunset and sunrise and a meteor shower at 4am. That night my tent became my emergency shelter – I slept under the stars – proudly knowing that, on that night I was the second highest person in Victoria, just in case someone was doing the same on Mt Bogong (Victoria’s highest peak).
Sitting up there preparing for the night, many of the campers at the hut headed up to see the sunset. Most stopping for a chat to remark about what a great set up I had and how they ‘wished’ they could be up there too …. This was something that struck me. There were less than a kilometre away. They were all so close to being up there, they had already walked up for the sunset. So why did they choose to stay at the campground? Why not walk the extra 10 percent of the way? It’s right there, and it was all for the taking. I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t want to. They weren’t there for the Hut or the water, the tank was empty. Maybe it was for the company, maybe it was because there was the convenience of a toilet. Maybe it was for a perception of comfort that the hut, toilet, tanks represented. Who knows.
One conversation with a gentleman and his wife centred around how sometimes people just find it too hard to step a little further and want to hang on to what might not be so important in the grand scheme of things. His final comment to me that night, ‘but I think you’ve got the right idea up here experiencing this, most people need to realise that they can’t take all that stuff with them when their gone. This is where life is not in those things that they have.’.
It just brought home to me again how giving up a little more than the person next door is prepared to and taking a step further away than from where your feel you might be comfortable will always bring you closer to some of the most enlightening moments you’ll ever receive and the most unique experiences you’ll ever have.
This year to date I’ve slept in some of the most iconic sites in Australia, namely Victoria and Tasmania and hiked to some of them for almost a day to see the sunset and rise, and that is a really special experience – why because almost every time, I’m the only one there. Working in some of the most scenic locations in the great outdoors of Australia offers me lots of opportunities to know exactly where the roads less travelled are, and my experience allows me to depart from the maddening crowds, for a much deeper connection to these unique sites and what they offer us personally. So if you’re keen to experience a unique sunset and sunrise location and prepared to let go of your comfort zone, take a step further with an open mind contact www.escape-and-explore.com
The next few months takes me back to the Blue Mountains and Wolgan Valley in NSW, Grampians in western Victoria and down to towards the Southern Ocean in Western Australia for coastal expeditions. A few short stays at home in Canberra will be welcomed for recharging all the batteries – literally.
So what happened to that bunch of balloons and where did they drift to. I have no idea, but after I let them go, I realised that those were the balloons that other people had probably given me to hold and they were heavy. My new balloons regularly pop after I inflate them, which is fantastic, I’m constantly filling up new ones with ideas to take me away. Some may see that as an inconvenience, but it’s a small price to pay for fresh air and freedom – to explore, everything that is possible. I caught up with Peter last Christmas on the Gold Coast. He asked me if I remembered him telling me that if I could explain to people how to let go of the balloons I might be able to help a lot of people. I remembered that comment and now understand how important it was and is.
chasinrainbowz via Instagram