There are some things that just don’t live up to the hype.
You know, things that everyone talks about and tells you that you just have to do or visit or eat or else you’re totally missing out. Things like overpriced restaurant meals that you get to the end of and think, “This is so not worth the bill I’m about to cringe over.” Or movies you see expecting to have your mind blown only to leave feeling like you wasted two hours of your life trying to follow a plot you didn’t care about anyway. Or tourist traps that end up being 80% gift shop promotion, 15% battling traffic, and only 5% interesting things to see and learn about.
Yosemite is not one of those places.
No, I took my first trip to Yosemite this past week and I’m still reeling from it. Its enormity is unlike anything I’ve ever been witness to before, to the point where I was constantly questioning if it was real or not. The mountains are so incredible in their height and beauty that it feels like you’ve been transplanted onto a movie set, or been surrounded by painted walls like you are in Disneyland. There were so many moments over just the three days that we were there that made me stop and think, “I can’t believe all of this is real.”
Being present to that kind of beauty is incredibly humbling. Humans have accomplished a great deal of things-medicine, technology, art- and yet all of it pales in comparison to what nature has organically created. No one man carved these mountains from stone. There is no human that can take credit for the beauty that comes from the simplicity of time and water and earth.
Try as we might as humans to dominate this planet, we will never be as mighty as its untamed magnificence.
I thought about this as I sat 5,000 feet above sea level, peering over the edge of a mountain I had just climbed. There is a desperate drive for control that we as a society share seemingly from the moment we gain a conscious awareness of our place in the world. There’s a desire to control how we are perceived by others, to control how “powerful” we are in our social circles, to control how we look and how “beautiful” within the confines of cultural expectation.
When we’re younger we seek control over our identity and how we’re perceived as we struggle to find our place in the world. And then once we get older we struggle to control the aspects of aging deemed unseemly and ugly; like the lines on our faces and the softness of our bodies. And throughout all of this we grip and hold so tightly onto everything that gives us a semblance of control that it oftentimes makes us sick with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even just the simple toxicity of stress.
There’s a reason why one of the main tenants of yoga is nonpossesiveness, or Aparigraha.
The harder we grip and hold on to control, the sicker we become. In Yosemite, I could see this so clearly it was almost as though I could feel it through the vibration of the rock beneath my feet. This land is wild, this land is bigger and greater than human hands could ever create: and the entire planet was once this way. As humans we’ve torn down forests, polluted bodies of water, and even caused the deaths of entire species of animals, all in our quest for control.
And in our bodies this grip slowly strangles us the same way. We starve and punish our bodies in hopes that once they are as “beautiful” as we want them to be, we’ll feel in control. We slave and obsess over grades or wages, thinking that once we have enough money or enough accolades we’ll control our happiness, whether we wanted these achievements for ourself or for those in our ears telling us it’s what we should want. We grip onto who we used to be and how things used to be, thinking that if only we could turn back time things would be better.
But throughout all of this, we’re holding our breath waiting for that moment where we think we should or will be happy, only to find ourselves starving for oxygen and completely oblivious to the beauty we passed by along the way.
The funny thing is, we think this clinging on makes us free, because it makes us feel in control. In reality, all it does is hold us captive to expectation and blind to what lies in front of us if we’re willing to slow down and be in observance of it.
As I peered over the edge of that mountain, I was in awe of my body. Nothing but my body brought me up this high. Nothing but my legs and my breath and the blood in my veins got me up here, above the clouds and the waterfalls and the trees. Nothing but the raw power of the vessel that harbors my soul accomplished this feat.
At the peak of my eating disorder, my first day in the hospital, I remember taking all my clothes off and peering at my body in the bathroom mirror.
There it was: the body I had fought so hard to control. The result of trying to override my human necessities of eating and resting. The bones gaining control over the flesh that once hid them. The body that had tried in its wild defiance to cling onto nourishment, only to be forced to slowly eat itself away as I stood over it victoriously in control, thinking I’d somehow won.
What I remember to this day so vividly is thinking, “And I’m still not fucking happy.”
I wasn’t. My body was thin, I’d relished in the high of self-control for months, and I still wasn’t happy. Worse than that, I was dying. I was festering in an empty shell of a human, once vibrant and flourishing and wild. A body that ate when it was hungry, and stopped when it wasn’t. A body that took on its own unique shape and form as I aged. A body that, like the wildness of Yosemite, was more beautiful in its nature than I could ever carve with my two hands and a heart desperate for control.
It took me years, of course, from that moment of realization to get to a place where I felt truly recovered. But even at my sickest I was a witness to how ill possessiveness makes us. Humans are not at their happiest when they are most “in control.” They are they’re happiest when they find what it means to truly let go. To let go of expectation. To let go of rigidity. To let go of hate for our bodies and appearance simply because their natural form isn’t what society has decided is “beautiful” for the next ten minutes.
I have decided that the spirit of recovery is wildness.
The spirit of recovery is embracing the beauty of our body’s natural form. The spirit of recovery is re-connecting to the natural hunger cues and desires we were born with, so that we can eat for nourishment and pleasure without guilt or shame. The spirit of recovery is relieving ourselves of the burden of controlling every aspect of our lives until we become so ill that we our blind to the beauty we are destroying. The spirit of recovery is realizing that simply being alive is an incredible occurrence, and nothing we ever do will compare to the raw magnificence that is being who you were born to be.
That is being wild.
You were born enough, and you will always be enough, exactly as you are. There is nothing about you that requires change to be worthy of self-love. Yes, we are ever-evolving humans who grow and learn and change, but that worthiness of acceptance and admiration never falters throughout that. Yosemite was born wild and beautiful, and it still is, even if we now have to use laws and designated parking spots to keep it that way now. The circumstances may change over time, but the unfiltered beauty of your existence is unwavering throughout it all.
Recovery is embracing this idea of gratitude for our wild state; embracing that who we are is something to be grateful for, not ashamed of.
I’m still learning this. I’m still learning how to abandon the idea that I’d be happier if I looked or ate or wrote a different way, even if it doesn’t resonate with who I know I was born to be inside. I’m still learning how to travel without over-planning, how to live without expectation of the experience I will have. I’m still learning how to let go of control so that my palms are open to receive all that life has to offer for me.
Yes, I’m still learning how to be wild. But every taste of it is sweeter than the last.