Recently, I was able to travel to Ireland but due to Covid restrictions all of our experiences had to be outdoors. That took us on many beautiful hikes and bike trails with breathtaking views. In the town we were in, there is a holy mountain, Croagh Patrick. We were told many stories about the 2.5 mile hike up this mountain but most of them were about the pilgrimage to the top on the last Sunday in July, at night. On that day, thousands of towns people, from toddlers to the elderly, hike up this mountain in the evening to receive the sacrament and hike back down in the dark. We decided, if they can do it, so can we and set out with a backpack filled with lunch, water, snacks, and sunscreen.
Very quickly, it became evident that the hike did not have switchbacks. We were surprised but continued to climb, taking in the scenery on our frequent stops to catch our breath. About halfway up, the trail became all stones. Big and little but mostly loose. We slipped, slid, and fell while the trail became steeper and steeper.
My anxiety began to creep in with a very loud voice, “Did I have it in me to do this? Would my husband be, ok? I remember hearing about couples vacationing and their husband dying of a heart attack while hiking. What were we thinking?” I was being bombarded by catastrophic thoughts and asking reassuring questions to every hiker that we saw: “How much further? Do you think we can make it? Do people turn back?”. I was responded to with Irish humor, “Once you get to the top there is a coffee shop and you will get a proper Irish coffee with flakes of chocolate on top!” or “There is a bar at the top just waiting to pour you a Guinness”. I wasn’t going to get reassurance or permission to turn around. So, I did what I ask my clients to do, I decided to stop listening to the voices in my head. After all, they are just thoughts and they only hold weight if I give them permission to.
I also decided to keep walking and trust the process. People were getting to the top of the mountain and I could to if I just took another step. I often start therapy with my clients telling them to trust the process. It works even when it feels like it doesn’t but they do have to keep taking small steps toward facing their fears. Over time, they will begin to see how much progress they have made if they can just keep walking forward. So, I did.
Eventually we got to the top. There was not a coffee shop or man selling Guinness. But there was a church and the most spectacular views of the sea. Sometimes our reward is not an item, it is the confidence that begins to build, knowing that we are capable of more than we believe.
On the way down, I asked one of the hikers how on earth thousands of people hiked up Croagh Patrick and then back down in the dark. He smiled and said, “We hold on to each other and help each other…it’s really a beautiful thing.” I think that is the beauty of our work with clients. We help them until they can see more clearly and do the walk on their own.