Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. One year on, I’m only just started understanding some of the lessons I learnt. I’ve begun to realise that while important on the mountain, these lessons resonate with other aspects of my life too.
- “Pole, Pole”
If you’ve ever climbed Kilimanjaro, the words Pole, Pole, Swahili for “Slowly, Slowly”, will be forever be engrained in your memory. On the mountain, the words make sure you take your time as you climb, conserving energy and aiding acclimatisation. Off the mountain, they keep you grounded and mindful as you focus on each step and not the end goal.
- Your biggest competitor is yourself.
Altitude affects different people differently. In our group, some of the fittest people on the ground were left almost incapacitated, while some others were left completely unaffected by the elevation. So really, it doesn’t make sense to compete with anyone else. You’re going to feel the weight of your rucksack cutting into your shoulders, your feet will be blistered and bleeding, you will be hot and cold simultaneously, you will be filthy, tired, hungry and sick. And you will want to give up. The only way to get anywhere in life is to overcome that voice in your head telling that you can’t.
- Adversity brings out the truth.
When the going gets tough, some will leave you behind while others will rise to the occasion despite their own problems.
- Know when to stop.
While perseverance and stubbornness are great, you must also know where to draw the line. Altitude sickness can quickly turn dangerous, whether in the form of pneumonia or a cerebral edema. Knowing your body and knowing when to stop can be the difference between life and death. Off the mountain this means understanding your limitations and reaching a balance between knowing when to push yourself and when to call it a day.
- How small we really are.
We all know that we are infinitesimally small compared to most of nature’s other creations. However, knowing is one thing, experiencing is another. One of my favourite memories from the climb was the night before we summited. We all stood in silence by a sheer rock face, the clouds several hundred meters below us, illuminated by light from below, petty things from the material world melted away and in that moment, we were struck with the realisation of how truly insignificant we are in the greater cosmos.
- It’s okay to ask for help.
Those who know me will chuckle when they read this as it’s a lesson I’m still struggling to learn, but the truth is, stubbornness and pride only lead to more suffering for yourself. As we descended the mountain, I slipped on scree and hurt my knee, despite numerous offers of help from the guides, I refused to be carried down, or even give up my pack. I saw this then as a show of strength, I see it now as a show of weakness. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, being unable to look past your ego does.
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