I’m not a player of sports or a sports fan; it’s not my thing. I do, however, relish in watching and cheering my kids on when they play, because, it’s about them, not the ball, the game or winning.
I’m not competitive, not in the classical sense. I don’t have the drive, the desire to win, to be better than someone else.
Winning has been a pointless quest from my perspective — a fleeting, uncomfortable, shaky platform of glory. I can’t ignore the reality – there’s a loss on the other end. I find myself looking to that side, my heart cracking a bit. If I watch a game (other than my daughters’ games), I cheer for the underdog.
I do enjoy physical pursuits that challenge my endurance and discipline. I become determined to reach a potential that eludes me, moving further and further away as I get stronger — mentally, physically and emotionally. I prefer linear-ish activities. When I was younger, it was running. Now, it’s swimming, walking and hiking.
It keeps me motivated to set lofty goals, such as, in a year and a half, for my 40th birthday, I’m entertaining the idea of trekking to South Base Camp on Mount Everest, elevation 17, 500 feet. It’s something I’ve gotten in my head after seeing her with my own eyes and trekking in Bhutan, sleeping above the clouds. I know it’s a possibility; it’s within reach. Since I can remember, Everest has piqued my curiosity, even though she’s been a distant, hazy mound documentaries are made of, and only egomaniacal mountaineers with a death wish attempt to summit.
Mountains and Judaism have a strange symmetry in my life – my parents played the role of Sherpa for both. I was carted along as a child to synagogue every Shabbat and on holidays, just as I was on camping/climbing trips growing up. There are even images of my mom nursing me (6-weeks-old) on a rock in Yosemite National Park. I went through the motions – keeping kosher, attending Jewish day school and going on two trips to Israel. But, just like Everest, Judaism was a hazy mound I’d admire yet not attempt to know intimately. They were both out of my league, so I thought.
Last night, I went to a lecture led by a local Rabbi: “Jewish Wisdom on Actualizing Your Unique Life Potential.”
Towards the end of his insightful talk, he mentioned Sir Edmund Hillary. Specifically, what he declared after his first failed attempt to summit the greatest cathedral in the world: “I will come again and conquer you because as a mountain you can’t grow, but as a human I can.”
While we are alive, we are capable of reaching past the clouds, when we recognize and hone the innate, G-d given talents and strengths we have.
The mountain doesn’t move or grow; it’s just there. The same goes for life and our spiritual identity – it’s there, we are born into it, it’s engrained in us, and it’s up to us to grow and decide what our potential, our Everest will be, and then climb it because no one else can climb it for us. Therefore, winning becomes inconsequential when I understand that there’s no one I need to be other than myself, and there’s no one to compete with other than myself.
As the crowd settled down and everyone took their seats, I saw someone sitting five seats away whom I’ve known for many, many years. After the lecture, I went up to her and we started chatting. We discovered that we are in similar place on the mountain of Judaism – looking up.
“I don’t remember being taught this way — the prayers are filled with gratitude and mindfulness. Do you remember it being this way?” She asked.
I shook my head, “No, because I wasn’t ready yet. Judaism is like Everest — It’s always been there — the prayers, the portions, the laws – they’ve remained the same. It’s that we’ve grown and now we’re prepared to learn, to pray, to accept the wisdoms. We are coming to the mountain seeing it with fresh eyes, with the ability to understand because of our life experiences and the maturity we’ve accrued. Now we can climb.”
Every lap I’ve swam, every step on the rocky terrain I’ve hiked and every morning, I’ve sat typing away. Every yoga class I’ve taught and learned in. Every path I’ve taken that led me further and further away from who I am has somehow, miraculously, led me back to the base of the mountain where I belong. I’ve been preparing, unknowingly for this time in my life.
A world-travelling student of mine tried to dissuade me from my Everest dream: “Why not go somewhere where you reach a place with a view? With something to look out on?”
It’s not the view; it’s the trek that I’m going for.
It is our actions that fulfill our potential. The view is the same as winning a sports game; it’s temporary. As Sir Edmund Hillary says: “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
It’s not what the prayer brings to me; it’s what I bring to the prayer. It’s not what the mountain brings to me; it’s what I bring to the mountain. It is not what life brings to me; it’s what I bring to life.
Our summit is at an elevation as high as we are willing to climb. And just like Sir Edmund Hillary, we can ascend to the heavens while we’re alive on Earth, when we have faith in ourselves and in that which we cannot see, yet.