One of the hardest things to learn is that everyone has a different viewpoint, and have different strengths and weaknesses, and responds differently to inputs. That some people are better at certain things than others, and one is best served to focus on building out strengths in areas that come naturally to you. Finding out what that is, though, might take you a while.
I had a tough time as a kid, and later as a young adult.
My father was an atheist and a liberal. He was also widely traveled, as was my mom. She was more conservative, but also not completely on board with the company line. Which was determined by the NP government and the Dutch Reformed Church in insular, isolated 80s South Africa. This was the time of change that I grew up in. At school, I clearly remember being told that Billy Joel and Morten Harkett from A-ha were in league with the devil. And that watching the Care Bears? Well, I might as well pledge my soul to Satan.
I soldiered on, though. Went to church. Sang the hymns. Joined prayer groups. As South Africa changed, other, more charismatic churches popped up, and I tried a bunch of them.
You see, I wanted to taste the juice. That wonderful peace and contentment that many of my friends experienced from having a good relationship with the source. Or God, their maker, whatever you want to call he/she/they (gender-neutral descriptors are probably best these days). They were happy, they were no longer searching, they had landed in a wonderful community and belief structure that I, for the life of me, could just not tap into.
I just wasn’t feeling it.
Well into my mid-20s, I kept on looking. I wanted to commune with the higher power. I wanted to smile with my eyes closed, knowing that a benevolent force is directing traffic. I wanted to hear the message that it’s all going to be ok, that your life has value even if you aren’t like everyone else. I wanted it all to make sense.
The answer came to me in an unexpected way, in an incredible place, doing a very unreligious thing.
The Inca Trail is a four or five-day hike that takes you to the lost city of Machu Pichhu in the Andean high mountains of Peru. The hike mostly takes you over successive passes between 3000m and 4200m, and it is hard. But spectacular. You pass ancient Inca Ruins all the way, and you are educated on the magnificent cultural heritage of these progressive people. The hike culminates in the Sun Gate which overlooks the lost city.
Most people think Machu Picchu would be the highlight. I can tell you that they’re wrong.
You see, on day 3 of the hike, you camp just above Phuyupatamarca. You are nestled atop a mountain pass, with the “City Above the Clouds” right beneath you. These ancient Inca ruins are spectacular in their own right, but I didn’t get the name. Not at first.
We had an early dinner, then I went to go sit on a small mound at the back of the campsite, and watched the sun go down over the distant mountains. It had been a hard day’s walking, and I was enjoying an ice-cold beer. And a cigarette, mind you. I was still smoking in my mid-20s.
As the sun set, and the temperature dropped, clouds spilled over the valley. They came roaring up from the distant mountains, covering the lush plantations way below. The golden and orange colours danced on the misty tapestry, and one or two turrets peaked out from the ruins right below.
I was mesmerized. When the sun set, I just sat there. It took me a while to snap out of it. I finished my beer (and cigarette, they last quite a while at altitude). And I reflected.
I reflected on feeling utterly and completely connected. To the world, to nature, to my fellow humans, to creation. To my maker.
And I had an epiphany. I realized that THIS was my church. These mountains were my cathedral, the sky was my dome, the symphony of sight and sound that was the magic of sunrise and sunset and rain and storm and snow and wind…those were my hymns and my sermon.
This was my place of worship.
I came home from Peru, and for the first time in my life, I felt complete peace. I would never need to go unlock my spirituality in four walls again – rather, I would dedicate the rest of my life to go to my temple, the majestic mountains. These days, I also make it my mission to spread the word. Going for a long walk is ALWAYS a good idea.
It sort of explains why I now live against the slopes of Table Mountain, and every day you will see me walk those roads with my dog.
I’m a mountain guy, you see. Walking the trails, getting my feet to ground is where I connect with the source, where I have the time to switch off, to think, to relax, to plan or none of these or all of these. I have buddies who find this space by going out to the desert, where the endless sky and the vastness of creation feed their souls. Other friends of mine need water: the ocean, surfing, boating, diving.
But it’s kinda cool. I have found my Sweet Spot. And I respect anyone else who has found theirs, through whichever medium they have come to it. I would love to live in a world that celebrates differences, that embraces varying belief systems, and that rejects judgement and intolerance.
Have you found your Sweet Spot?