Swamps, Valleys and Other Uncomfortable Places

24 of 45 Moments of Wonder

Many years ago when I was a university student I went on a trip to Colorado. Where we were staying during that trip was nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was beautiful. We would hike each morning to a ridge overlooking the campus and the town of Colorado Springs and the view was breathtaking.

One day while we were hiking to some natural hot springs, as we walked along a narrow pathway, I lost my footing and slipped on the loose gravel. I remember sliding down the side of the mountain and seeing a very steep drop into the raging river below and I was certain I was going in. I could hear my friends both above me on the path and across the river on another hike and climb through these gorgeous mountains.

And then, just as I was certain I was plunging to my death, I stopped. A small rock, sticking out of the ground, stopped my fall and I was able to be rescued.

It is amazing how quickly we can fall from the highest of highs and find ourselves plunging toward the raging river.

I was thinking about how much I love the view from the top of a mountain. It is clear. It is vast. We feel like we have reached the height of life.

And then there are the valley moments. Whether we are just climbing our way to the top of the mountain or we have fallen into the valley, most of us don’t like to be there. There isn’t a lot to see. It can be dark. We are NOT on top of the world.

What do those valley moments look like for you? For me, being caught in the valley often involves me questioning what I should do. It’s a place where I experience self-doubt and I am not always sure of who I am. Too much time in the valley can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety.

But what if those moments in the valley, those times of discomfort, are the times we learn the most and find the solution to what is keeping us from the mountain? Because in the valley, as opposed to on top of the mountain, is where the life is. There is growth. There is nourishment. Yes, we give up the views and the feeling of victory, but in the valley we are cared for and we learn how to appreciate life. We can take that deep nourishing valley time and use it to push ourselves back up the mountain.

Brene Brown, one of my favourite writers and researchers talks about this place of discomfort not as a valley, but as a swamp. Like the valley, the swamp is a place where we may feel stuck and where we are not comfortable, but there is plenty of life in a swamp. She often talks about walking around in the swamp, but not building our home there. We can be in the discomfort, but we don’t have to live in it. I think the same is true for the valley. We can spend time there, learning and growing and being nourished, while longing to get back to that mountain.

Right now I find myself in a valley. I am in a physical valley, unable to walk without pain. I seriously underestimated how painful my recovery would be. This is a time to feel the discomfort but allow for healing and nurturing. I find myself in an emotional valley too, needing to understand some things but not able to find a solution. I will use this time to grow and to learn. I will figure out how to wade through the swamp and how to climb that mountain again. I know that on the other side of discomfort lies the solution.

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