“Because you get these high-powered plastic surgeons and CEOs, and you know, they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put the ladders in place and 8,000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”
- Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard in the documentary, “180 Degrees South,” talking about climbing Everest
I’ve had the opportunity recently to meet with a spiritual director a few times. I was recently articulating to him that I yearned for what I thought amounted to “a softer heart,” by which I meant a heart that absorbs hard things more easily. I told him a story about what felt like a really hectic few moments with my kids, and I expressed desire to not let a difficult situation fluster my perspective so easily.
He gently probed, “How do you think transformation works?” I bumbled through some answer about putting in the work, making time to reflect, maybe there are some spiritual things I could do to help me change…. I was rambling, grasping a little for something I wanted to be true.
In contrast to his first question, he then said, “How have you experienced transformation?” We paused and he initiated some time for silence. I thought about it. In my experience, inner transformation hasn’t ever really been something I’ve controlled. When the environment is right, when the soul is primed, when the inner parts of me are most moldable, I think it just kind of happens.
My experience of reality seemed to challenge my belief that “putting in the work” was how I produce fruit in myself. I told the spiritual director about Yvon Chouinard’s quote above. I remember the exact scene from the documentary, all of it thick with judgment of “those assholes.” I remember being taken by the “roughing it” mentality. I wanted to be on Yvon’s self-righteous side, too. It seemed obvious: if you want to be changed, you have to carry your crap up the mountain on your own. While I understand the point Yvon was trying to make — the view from the summit won’t likely produce lasting change without the effort/struggle to get there — I think our culture’s “good people put in the work” mentality has been deeply internalized within me.
So that’s how I’ve lived a lot of my life. Sign up for the adventure. Don’t ask for much help. Carry your crap. Work really hard. Maybe you get to enjoy the view from the top. Hope you’re different by the time you head down.
The spiritual director asked me, “How does the Holy Spirit change people?”
We paused again. However the Holy Spirit does it, I have a gut feeling it’s gentle. It’s a gift. It’s through love. It’s humble. It doesn’t puff up the ego.
I respect Yvon talking about mountain climbing. But so often you can’t just put in the effort and fix yourself. It’s not that we’re powerless, but we likely need way more help than we admit most of the time. So why do I act like personal effort is the key ingredient for new fruit?
A few days later I found myself in Parkdale on the Windrush farm looking up at Mount Hood, thinking about mountain climbing and good intentions and effort and sherpas and assholes and how I yearned for a change. It dawned on me that the Holy Spirit is my Holy Sherpa. He’s happy to carry my stuff. I kept getting visions of a smiling, unsuspecting, pure-hearted sherpa offering to help me. I just had to ask and trust him. Trust that by relinquishing control of the process, I could experience change as a gift from this Holy Sherpa.