My own personal via negativa involves focus – and perhaps fixation – on what I have not done rather than on what I have done. Failure to do what I said I was going to do has been a frequent theme. But the solution to that is easy: don’t say but merely do. Case in point, climbing Prospect Mountain. For a decade, ever since my second knee operation, I have told myself, on birthdays and other occasions, that I ought to essay the mountain one last time, as a lead-in to posting this 2006 essay.
Even on the final appointed day, I wrote in my journal, “Still don’t know whether I will climb Prospect Mt. today, but have definitely changed my aim. Rather than setting out determined to get to the lookout one last time, I’d be setting out on a nice Sunday hike, to see how far I feel like going.”
The next day, I reported: “Well, I made it up the mountain, and back down again, without doing myself a mischief. There aren’t too many 72-year-olds who could do the same. My approach made all the difference, not starting out on a make-or-break mission, nor making the mountain a bigger thing than it is. I’ve been talking about it for years, and putting it off, but now it’s done and dusted.
“Couldn’t have made it without CE’s walking stick, useful going up and essential coming down. Dawdled around the reservoir, taking pictures with my phone, but then stashing it until I reached the top and took a few more. [Here’s some to set the scene:]
“At my first respite, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it to the top, but surprisingly once I got going after that, I just kept going up, taking only a few short breathers. With a steady pace, I climbed more easily than I remember doing decades ago, when I would attack the incline and then be forced to stop for breath.
“When I had gone up the steepest part, there seemed no way to turn back now, though the final stretch up to the lookout is always longer than one expects. I was aware that going down was going to be as hard on the legs as going up, but kept pushing beyond my range of confidence.
“Quite spent by the time I reached the lookout, I was very glad that someone had installed a bench, onto which I plopped to take in the view:
“In a few minutes, I felt quite relieved, but realized I would need to get going down before dark descended.
“So I made it up the mountain and down again, but I can’t say I saw much beyond ten steps ahead of me on the trail, or thought about much besides whether I was going to make it there and back, or not. At a minimum, it will give me a reason to re-read ‘Climbing Prospect.’ I thought often of my passage about capering down the mountain, as I was picking my way down with a cane.”
Through the following days, I was quite astounded to feel no physical repercussions from the unwonted exertion. And psychologically, I definitely felt younger than I did before going up, 72 years be damned. Just give me enough time, and I will check off every significant item on my to-do list, as the inessential falls away and I focus on what truly needs to be done.
[Let me end with a plug for another blog of mine that has a new lease on life – Cinema Salon, where my daily filmlog is compiled periodically into composite reviews.]