What’s your problem?
I woke up and looked at the time.
11pm. I couldn’t yet feel the wind in my tent but I could definitely hear it, buffeting the tops of the eucalyptus trees above me. I didn’t bother setting up the rain fly, so I could see them now through the fly meshing, swaying. The almost full moon had recently come up, illuminating the clear sky and throwing moving shadows on the granite boulders currently sheltering me from the wind.
I lifted my head, checked my surroundings for what was starting to bother me, didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and tried to go back to sleep.
I woke up again, at 2, then 3 then at 4am. The wind was picking up, now also reaching me in my tent and starting to make me feel quite uncomfortable. I was alone, not too high, but already on a ridgeline and this was the second day of a heatwave which I came up here to escape by hiking the first section of the Australian Alpine Walking Trail. When I checked with the rangers for the track conditions the day before they said whilst the trail was in good condition, these were also perfect conditions for a bushfire: hot (40deg in the valley), dry and windy. It was an unprecedented heatwave and whilst they haven’t had too much rain in the leading up weeks, they haven’t been too dry either. It was definitely going to be risky later in the week, but I had weighed up the risk then and decided to see the conditions for myself. After all, I was only walking two days and had already left my bicycle at the top of Mt Baw Baw, so I could ride back to my car. And it looked fine for the first day: the valley was green, lush and the air was filled with the sound of insects, birds and countless streams running alongside or across the trail. The tops of the trees were still; I could feel that my face had been radiating a smile for hours and my mind was settling down, at peace and full of gratitude and anticipation of more.
Yet at 4:30am I could feel my heart rate rise and thoughts turn a darker shade. I was over halfway, but it was uphill and mostly on the ridgeline. Heading back would be downhill and into the lush valley. Was I chickening out and using the remote risk of a bushfire as an easy cop-out? Have I spent too much time lately “recovering” and forgotten what it’s like, to push myself? What was I doing up here in the first place?
Did I have a problem?
I weighed up the risk: I can’t smell anything right now and the wind is not blowing my tent off the campground. I don’t have to go anywhere right this very minute. However, if I do smell smoke, I drop everything but my car keys and run: down. That’s sorted.
Do I have a problem in my immediate future? Well, if a fire starts, it will travel up ridgelines and I will have very little escape options, not in this wind. What are the chances of that happening? Not that much right now, but as time progresses, the odds against increase with the rise of mercury. What are the consequences? As much as I like fire, in this case, that would be catastrophic. What will be the benefit of me running the gauntlet? Other than achieving this cool little goal of hiking, cycling and escaping the inferno of the concreted city… Nope, trading the hell of overheated bitumen for an actual inferno doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.
Chicken or not, if I can’t come up with a workable solution to a possible scenario and the benefit doesn’t outway the risk, then the decision is easy: at first light, I head back.
As I traced back my steps, I watched the sun rise through the moving, creaking trees. Then all I could see was the bright wildflowers, damp moss on rocks and trees and the buzzing of insects and birds became louder than the wind. Did I make the right decision? Do I have to stick with a decision I no longer think is right? Was I happy with my decision making process? Yes, no and yes.
Over the last few months I’ve discovered a new sense of peace when dealing with problems. We spend so much time worrying about the possible scenarios that we could encounter that we make them real to us. We live through all the nightmarish possibilities that life may through at us and most likely never will. We try them on for size, but often get stuck in the worry pattern and lose the ability to stop the vicious tape running on repeat in our heads. What if this happens? How horrible would that be? And worst of all, what if I was wrong?!
We need to run those scenarios. Living in the moment does not preclude us from choosing the path towards a better future. We need to be able to see the consequences of our actions. Do I want this outcome or that one? Do I have the capacity to deal with this or that? Do I need to do anything about it? Can I? Then let go and be in the moment. Respond to what actually happens in the real world, rather than in your head.
I made an assessment of my situation. When it and a possible outcome became undesirable to me, I changed it. If I had a better reason for sticking with it, maybe I would have changed how I looked at it. I don’t, nor do I intend to, run away from all risk. Then I let go of the worry, because it no longer became necessary.
No matter what the situation, you will always have a choice.
Do I need or want to change it?
Can I change it?
If yes, then do. And if not I have one last choice: I can either resist it (note the difference between changing and resisting!) or I can accept it as it is.
And once I accept it, I can then move on and live fully, not in my made up world of possible scenarios or lamenting the difference between my imagined and the real world, not in the fear or memory of somewhere I could/would rather be. I am here. Good or bad, I am where I am. If I can’t change it, I will make the most of it.
Right this very minute, whatever problems you may think you have: work, family, health, money, bills.. Stop.
Ask yourself, this very minute, do I have a problem? And chances are, if you have time to stop and think, then no, you most likely don’t. So enjoy!