What Makes You Sweat?

A Journal Excerpt

I’m writing this at the end of my three-day hiking trip, staring at Sun-God mountain near Pemberton. I’m amazed I made it to the top.

To be honest, my hiking trip was out of my comfort zone. I’m strong, athletic and I have done some major hiking before, but I’d never encountered bushwacking and wayfinding like this trek. I had to heavily rely on my friend Jonathan (who’s a total pro) to guide our way.

There was a learning curve to traversing the diverse landscape. I’m a fast learner but I was quickly met with difficulty. There was definitely some embarrassment at how frustrating I found the steep terrain.

There were many moments where motivation and confidence were low. On a number of occasions, I wondered whether I would have to turn around.

The trip was supposed to be a bit of a retreat for prayer, meditation, and reflection, but I never needed to formally pray. During each step of the hike, my body was speaking prayers requesting help and courage.

I am very confident in a variety of situations at home, at work, and in social situations, but all of that confidence vanished in the backcountry. Most of my life skills were worthless against the mountains and there was no opportunity to “fake it til’ you make it.”

In a unique moment, I was truly vulnerable. I was exposed. I had no choice but to be humbled.

If I had tried to “fake it” up on Sun God, Mother Nature would have killed me. My trip up Sun God and Seven O’Clock gave me a taste of what St. Paul calls “eternal power.” It tasted like danger, vulnerability, and survival.

“Ever since the world was created it has been possible to see the qualities of God that are not seen. I’m talking about his eternal power and about the fact that he is God. Those things can be seen in what he has made.”

You can’t mess with nature, she’ll win every time. She’s a tough mother.

And if it wasn’t for my friend and guide, Jonathan, I would’ve been eaten alive by the mountains. The whole experience gave me a glimpse into my finiteness, my mortality.

Walt Whitman writes in Song of Myself, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” In my moment, I felt the reverse. I felt small, mortal, and finite. When you’re isolated in the wilderness, it’s really hard to be the focus of the universe.

On the trip, I read a lot of Thomas Merton. He talks about “real selves” and “false selves.” Our false selves are our ego-identity, our self-centred desires, and our pride. On the other hand, real selves are a mystery that belong to God.

False selves are like masks we wear and show the world. In my context, my home, my work, and my social life, I’ve developed a mask that fits pretty well — it gets the job done.

In the wilderness of British Columbia, the mask I’ve fabricated is worthless. There were very few teacher tips, public speaking prowess, or social flair that would aid me here. The mountains expose my false self for what it’s worth.

“The man who sweats under his mask, whose role makes him itch with discomfort, who hates the division in himself, is already beginning to be free. But God help the man if all he wants is the mask the other man is wearing, just because the other one does not seem to be sweating or itching” — Thomas Merton

Realizing my mask was sweating was the first step to freedom, to accept my real self.

Merton goes on to say that if we truly want freedom we need to renounce false selves. St. Paul actually says they should be executed. It’s the next step to finding peace in a chaotic world with chaotic selves that need to be sanctified.

We need to sweat and feel the heat of our false selves. This hike made me itch and sweat for my real self.

What makes you sweat?