I have the great priviledge of being on vacation at this moment – and as part of my vacation went on a lovely hike this morning in one of California’s state parks. My husband and I followed the sign pointing to the waterfall/valley view and started a trek upward that we would follow for about 45 minutes. Not long, not particularly steep, though it was a good up for a good long time, but it did get me to thinking about the nature of up and down on hikes and in our lives.
As those few of you who may be reading this know I am part of a 12 step recovery program. In 12 step the general philosophy is that you don’t make it to the program until you have hit your “bottom.” In my case this meant that I had descended so far into believing I might really be insane that there was no further to go than actual insanity – I had hit my bottom. Since then I have been climbing up, and let me tell you it is a long, slow climb.
When you are hiking toward a view, or toward a waterfall, or toward a whatever your destination might be you are very often climbing up. And it can be a hell of a lot of hard work. Up and up and up and many times you say to yourself. “why bother, how good is it going to be, what’s the point…” You may also stop along the way at lovely vista points and say, “golly, this is pretty nice, how much better can it get? Do I really need to keep going or is this good enough?” It might be good enough – sometimes one person’s idea of what the best view is does not correspond to your idea of the best view, as my husband found on our hike today. We got to the “top” and he went “ech.” He liked the view about 200 yards down the trail. But he only knew he liked it better because he had gone all the way to the top.
Interestingly we both went “ech” when we reached the bottom of the trail to the waterfall – it was a low rain year so we probably should have modified our expectations, but you never know with waterfalls. This time the additional up climb was after the disappointment and it was in this moment that I thought about the exact nature of the up and down climb of life. On the way down, which is an awful lot easier than up (unless you have bad knees in which case we need to slightly modify the philosophic interpretation I am offering) I was thinking to myself that despite how much I love hiking, I always have a certain amount of depression associated with hiking downward on any part of a hike that is not the way “back.” Hiking down inevitably means that you have an “up” coming and I noticed in myself the desire to get the up out of the way first. What struck me in thinking about this however was the fact that we talk about the ups and downs of life in slightly opposite terms: up is good, down is bad. When I hit my bottom it was a bad place in my life. It is the up, the long hard climb, that has produced the best results for my life.
It is so much easier to go down, maybe this is the basic understanding of why we “sin.” Down feels light, it feels fast and competent and like we are making great progcess toward something. Up is full of breathing hard, questioning the goal, feeling pain. But the views from the vistas are spectacular, and I am certainly curious to see what the top looks like.