“Mum, I want to climb Mount Everest.”
These were the words uttered from the back seat by my seven-year-old son, Che, a while back.
“Well, you better start training.” I smiled back with one eyebrow raised.
If I’m honest, at the time I took it with a grain of salt. Like most kids, Che didn’t like long walks in the forest and definitely not up hills. So I thought this might be a throw away comment with no true intention behind it.
How wrong I was. That one line has become a turning point for Che.
Since his declaration we’ve climbed a few nearby "mountains" together, and there hasn’t been one word of complaint from him. Instead he’s often been trotting up ahead telling me to hurry up.
His enthusiasm and determination are teaching me some important lessons.
Note that I didn’t write "achievement," "success," or "productivity." I happen to have a bone to pick with those words. In fact, I’m sick to death of hearing them. It seems we’re living in a time obsessed with these ideals.
I feel that in the midst of all this pushing to become the best version of ourselves in the most efficient and profitable manner, we’ve lost sight of the importance of being and contentment.
Instead we’re all rush, rush, rush… Push, push, push…
And for what? Depression, anxiety, stress, aggression, jealousy, burnout, crisis, shame, feelings of inadequacy and insignificance.
So for a while now I’ve been growing increasingly rebellious towards the ideals of success and productivity. Which resulted in me swinging back in the opposite direction and coasting for a while with no direction, ambition, structure or goals.
And you know what?
It made me miserable.
I’d wake up in the morning with no sense of purpose. It wasn’t depression exactly, it was more a feeling of aimless indolence. Ever get that? I felt like I was dying, and I realized it was because I wasn’t growing.
Nature may not care about success and productivity, but nature is always growing.
And just like nature, once Che set his intention to climb Mount Everest he transformed from a kid that loathed walking, into a keen hiker – literally from one sentence to another.
Psychotherapist Linda Buzzell, M.A. says the pressure and fast pace of life is causing a range of psychological and physical illnesses in the patients she sees, and recommends reconnecting with nature and the natural rhythms of our bodies.
On the morning we were due to climb a nearby mountain, the weather was miserable. Rain, wind, and dark grey storm clouds. I thought for sure Che would be upset.
I peeked out the window and said it looked like a good day to light the fire, eat soup, and watch movies. I thought he’d be into that for sure, but instead he said, “Yup, it’s a good day to put on a jacket and go walking in the rain.” Totally matter of fact without a hint of doubt. I was surprised.
So we got ready, dropped his brother at a friend’s house, and headed out in the horrible weather to climb a mountain. During the entire drive there I was still thinking he’d renege and we’d turn around and go home. But never at any moment did his conviction wane.
We arrived at the beginning of the track, rugged up in rain jackets, and gazed at the steep climb ahead of us. Che went running off down the track into the bushland with me in his wake. It felt great to be outside, surrounded by nature, breathing in the fresh air – rich with the perfume of eucalyptus.
The rain had intensified the colors of the forest and little birds were flittering around us, enjoying the rejuvenating shower and the droplets that sparkled on the tips of leaves like diamonds.
If it had been my decision, I would have been put off by the rain and stayed home. It made me think about conviction and how easily I can be swayed from my commitment to a goal, a plan, or a dream.
When things are easy and conditions are perfect, commitment is easy, almost automatic. But it's in the times of challenge and adversity that commitment can truly be seen. Research shows that commitment is stronger when something is valued at the outset.
At one point during our walk Che commented that the birds were good at jumping from branch to branch. I told him they were made for the forest. He went skipping up the path ahead shouting over his shoulder that he was made for the forest, too.
In that moment I looked around and knew I was also made for the forest.
I was happy, he was happy, the birds were happy.
Happiness is a universal human obsession. Unfortunately, our quest for it often brings misery and loneliness – the very opposite of that which we seek.
In times of loneliness, stress and isolation it’s comforting to know that we can always go outside into the forest and connect with earth and trees and our own hearts. And it was pretty wonderful to slow down and step out of the daily duties of mothering to connect and be with my child.
We're lucky to live in the relative affluence of the West with the many choices available to us. We're privileged to have food, clean water, and not live in a war zone. Definitely lucky.
But the unfortunate reality is that these choices often make us miserable. Rather than bringing freedom, they bring confusion. Many of us end up chasing complex dreams and lusting after expensive possessions in the pursuit of joy.
The truth is, joy is found in simple things. Like spending a day walking in the rain with a seven-year-old. Like reaching the top of a mountain after a strenuous climb. Like breathing in a lungful of crisp, clean air. Like a little hand helping me climb over boulders. Like sweeping wet hair back from my eyes and feeling rain drops on my face.
Like sharing a simple picnic with my determined little Everest explorer, perched on top of the world, in the rain, feeling impossibly alive and full of love and wonder.
Enjoying quality time with our children doesn’t have to be a complex, busy event with flashing lights and neon signs. And happiness for both children and parents is found in those incidental moments between the rush and push of schedules, appointments and obligations.