Lessons From the Volcano

Our family recently went on a hiking excursion up to the top of a volcano.  It was an enjoyable hike filled with interesting scenery.  Reaching the top and surveying both the inside of the volcano and everything surrounding us for miles was quite amazing and very rewarding after the effort put into getting there.  But I think the more important part of that hike was the lessons along the way.  You see, if you have never stopped to ponder it before, you can actually learn a lot from a good hike.  And most of the things you learn can be applied to life.  So here’s what the hike to the volcano taught us.

1.  You Can Be Tripped Up by Small and Large Rocks

As we picked our way through lava fields on our way to the volcano, there was an abundance of rocks to step over and around.  It didn’t really matter if they were small rocks or large rocks.  They all hurt your feet, they all created a tripping hazard, they all slowed us down and they all made the hike much more challenging.  There are things in life that do the same thing to us.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a big thing or a small thing-an obstacle is an obstacle.  But the hike to the volcano reminded us that regardless of the size of the rock, the only way to keep going was to pick up our feet and go.  In life when we are faced with obstacles, we can’t just stop.  We have to pick up our feet, maneuver through and go.

2.  Keep Your Eyes on the Path (But Don’t Forget to Look Up Sometimes)

With rocks all over the ground, we really had to keep our eyes on the path to make sure that we didn’t trip or misstep which might have caused us to fall.  We had to keep our eyes on the path.  In life, don’t lose sight of what you are doing.  You are on the path to where you need to go, but keep watching the path to make sure you don’t misstep or get sidelined by an obstacle.  Be that as it may, if we never looked up from the path, we missed the scenery extending for miles and the volcano looming closer.  Even with your eyes on your path in life, you’ve got to look up sometimes and see the bigger picture so that you can make adjustments and appreciate everything around you.

3. Sometimes Your Path Is Empty and Sometimes It’s Crowded

When we hike, we generally enjoy hiking on secluded trails because it allows us to have quiet family time and to enjoy nature more.  As we began hiking the path to the volcano, we were alone-not many hikers had ventured out in the early morning hours.  But as time progressed, more and more people showed up.  Sometimes we wished they weren’t there and sometimes it was nice to encounter a friendly face and exchange a pleasantry.  Sometimes in life, we are more alone and secluded which can allow us to slow down, think about ourselves and take in the world around us.  At other times, we have many people coming in and out of our life.  During those times we can be uplifted and encouraged by others.  And, though you might have a preference, neither time is wrong; they both serve a purpose, so appreciate both the times you are alone and the times you are not.

4. Both Ups and Downs Can Be Tough

Of course, hiking up a volcano means both inclines and declines.  Experience, instinct, and knowledge tell us that going up will be tougher than coming down.  But, I’m here to tell you that they are both a challenge.  Going up there is a physical challenge required to propel oneself up, and coming down there are loose rocks and an equally steep decline requiring great effort to avoid slipping.  In all the hikes we have done, I’m truly not sure if going up or coming down is harder.  In life, we also believe that only the times that we are having to struggle to rise above something or rise up to new heights are hard, but there are also moments in coming back down from something great or an impressive achievement that can also be quite hard.  Anyone who has ever worked incredibly hard to achieve success at work on in school and is then forced to take a step back or begin again or who was celebrated for a while and then forgotten can understand how hard coming down can be.  Anyone who has fought for a relationship or struggled through difficult times just to lose the relationship in the end, can understand how hard coming down can be.  So don’t underestimate or devalue the process of coming down.  Reaching the top and the bottom are both successes.

5. Drop the Rocks

Our son is an avid collector of things on a hike (don’t worry, he almost never removes them completely from the trail).  But when you are hiking in a lava field, filled with lava rocks and your local friends encourage you to take some, you might begin to go a little crazy and fill your pockets with some rather large rocks.  After getting slower and slower and struggling to keep up, we asked our son what the issue was.  He shared that his pants were too heavy and weighted down, and it was making him go slow.  So we gave him the obvious advice-drop the rocks!  How many times in life do we collect things-money, accolades, schedule fillers, possessions, people, obligations that we don’t want?  In life, it is often hard to see the obvious-we’ve got to drop the rocks.  If the things that we are collecting are weighing us down or are unwanted and useless, why not just let them go so that we can move forward more easily?

6. If You Choose the Wrong Path, Try to Find the Positive (But Sometimes You Have to Go Back)

Sometimes our youngest complains incessantly about the path that we are on and how the hike is going, so we recently came up with a game to change the thought process.  We started naming everything that was nice about the trail or the nice things that happened because we chose this trail that wouldn’t have happened if we had chosen another.  And guess what- it worked!  On our hike to the volcano, when we began to regret the incline and length of one of the trails, we all began finding good things about the trail and before long our youngest was the one coming up with the longest list and the complaints stopped.  In life, we make choices and set ourselves on a path.  Sometimes we enjoy the decision and sometimes we regret it.  But there are times that once the choice is made, we have to keep moving down the path.  Those are the times to find the positive and before long we may find that the path wasn’t so bad after all; that it afforded us opportunities and experiences that another path would not have.  Now, having said that, hiking has also taught us that there are times when you just have to admit defeat or a mistake and turn around to find another path.  Turning around isn’t a failure.  You still had some experiences and learned some lessons from the path you were on, it’s just time to accept that you need a new path.

7. Don’t Worry Until You Get There

Sometimes when you are hiking, it is easy to look ahead and begin to worry.  As you hike to a volcano, you can worry about how far away it actually is and how long this will really take, if you will be able to climb up the steep side, if you will feel safe at the top, if you can make it back down, or if you will be too tired or get hurt along the way.  But even though all of those worries were expressed on our hike, none of them happened.  What did happen was time was spent worrying which took away from the time that could have been spent enjoying the scenery and the company of one another.  When you hike, being prepared is great-take water, take food, take first aid, take appropriate clothing for varying conditions, but worrying about what might happen is useless.  If problems arise, you will be able to handle them as they come, make decisions, and adjust.  The same is true in life.  Preparation is always a good idea and can save us a lot of grief and heartache, but worrying before the problem arises just takes away from living our life fully and enjoying it.  If problems come in life, you will be able to adjust and find ways to handle them, so don’t waste time worrying until you get there.

8. Negativity Slows You Down

I don’t know how many times on our hike to the volcano (and many others) our son stopped in the path to complain and have a meltdown over all the things that he felt were difficult or unjust.  But you know what, that just slowed us down.  It didn’t help us get where we were going, it didn’t help us complete the hike, it didn’t remove the things that he was complaining about, and it didn’t help any of us enjoy hiking.  Negativity creeps into all of our lives at times, but is it helping us at all or is it just slowing us down or even preventing us from reaching our goal, experiencing an adventure, appreciating the things around us and living our lives to the fullest?

9. Sometimes You Have to Have People to Encourage You

From time to time on our hikes, one or more of us has begun to feel tired or hungry or like they just can’t continue.  The hike to the volcano was no different.  But we never hike alone, meaning there is always someone to encourage you, to remind you that you can do it, to sit with you when you have to have a break, to help you get going again, to give you a little push or pull to move forward and to stay by your side until you get to the end.  Life is no different.  Everyone gets discouraged along the path sometimes, and if you are alone it is hard to push through.  Having people alongside you on the path can help you know when to pause and when to get going again, and they can encourage and support you.  It’s critical in hiking and in life.

10.  Go Your Own Speed

As I mentioned, our hike to the volcano involved a lot of loose rocks along the path.  Sometimes we could hear someone from behind that was hiking faster than us and the temptation would be to speed up.  But, this posed a risk in that it was much harder to walk safely on the rocks when we were going fast.  Typically, we had to just step aside and let the faster people pass us by.  That meant there were going to be more people at the volcano when we got there, but we could hike more comfortably and not worry about getting hurt.  It’s also tempting in life to try to keep up with others or “get there first,” but that isn’t always what’s best for us.  It’s more important to think about what we need to do and go our own speed.

11. Share the Path

When we are hiking, it is often frustrating to encounter others on the path.  If the path is narrow and they are coming toward us, we have to step to the side or off the path to let them go by or have others stop and wait on us to go by them.  And, sometimes, if people are coming up behind us and we feel pressured because we aren’t fast enough, we have to completely stop and get off the path to let them pass.  But, the trail isn’t just for us, so sharing the path is part of the hike even if it is inconvenient.  Life isn’t just about us either.  We exist with many others, some of who are a part of our life and some who just pass by.  But just like on a trail, we have to share the path.  We can do that by being respectful, considerate and accepting of others, making concessions and compromises, thinking about things from another’s perspective, taking care of the spaces we all share, and being kind.  There are just too many of us on this path of life.  We have to be able to share the path.

12. You Can Do It

Our hike to the volcano was filled with challenges, negativity, complaints, obstacles, frustrations, and uncertainty.  There were many times that we heard the mantra “I can’t, I can’t do it!”  To which we would reply, “You have to.  You have no choice.  You can’t just stop here.  There is nothing to be done but to keep going and get through it.”  And you know what- we did!  We made it to the top and we made it back down.  We have hiked many, many trails over the years- some are short, some are long, some have been in extreme heat, some have been freezing cold, some have been easy, and some have been very challenging, but the one thing they all have in common is that we completed them all.  Because even when you think you can’t, you can.  You can be determined, fix yourself to your goal and push yourself to the end.  Life is just like a hike.  There can be easy times and tough times, there can be obstacles and a million reasons why you think you can’t.  But in the end, you can’t just quit.  You have no choice but to keep going.  You have to decide where you are headed, set a goal, pick a path, commit, work hard, be determined and focused, push yourself or find others to push you, let go of things that slow you down, stop worrying, accept the path for what it is, learn to accept others on the path, enjoy the journey and just go.  You can do it!

 

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