On May 29th, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa-mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first confirmed climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
After the expedition, Sir Hillary is noted for saying, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
I love this quote because the process of becoming a better man is a lot like climbing mountains. Quite simply, it’s a long way to the top, and we must overcome ourselves every step of the way to make it to the summit.
The conditions along the journey can range from downright serene and peaceful, to unforgivingly intense and deadly. Often, there are stretches of predictable effort, with open vistas where you can continue with strong determination, yet relax into each earned step.
Sometimes you only have a brief moment to make a decision to determine the outcome of your life, and perhaps the lives of others.
Every step of the way the mountain teaches you who you really are, in body, emotions, and mind. The act of climbing the mountain will illuminate how you treat yourself, it will reveal the truth of what you think of yourself, it will reveal whether you truly know yourself. It is ‘you’ that you climb. All the while the mountain is simply there, still, and quiet.
You train for the challenge of climbing a real mountain. You pay attention to all your actions, and have respect for the mountain as the supreme teacher. Those who are humble, attentive, strong, and clear, often make it to the summit and return to tell their tales.
Many fail to reach the summit. Many turn back defeated by a section of the climb, from the place inside they could not move past. Some make it to the summit, yet do not return to the base. In fact, most mountaineering deaths happen on the descent, not the ascent.
The truth is, you cannot avoid seeing and feeling the mountain.
It's always there, always standing tall, solid, grand in its stillness, and majestic in its reach to the sky as it communes with the stars.
Now, how does this relate to becoming a better man?
Because becoming a better man comes from climbing the mountain within. Like it or not, sooner or later, no matter how long you may try and avoid it, eventually you will be called to look inside and face the mountain within YOU.
So what is that mountain inside? It is the place in you that knows YOU are stronger, more rooted, more peaceful, more wise, more “awake”, more connected, more spiritual, more aligned, more alive, more expressed, than you allow yourself to be.
Seeing the truth and scale of your full potential, compared to mediocrity of mere existence, can be daunting indeed.
This is why many men (and women) never even turn to face the mountain within themselves.
In fact, many more do not even look at the mountain, ever. They resolutely deny its existence altogether.
“I will come again and conquer you, because as a mountain you can’t grow, but as a human I can.” - Sir Edmund Hillary
This quote summarizes what it means to commit to be being a better man; you come back again and again and climb the mountain within you, to see who you are this time. Did you grow? Who are you now? Do you know yourself? Do you trust yourself? Do you have what it takes? How can you BE better?
It is an extraordinary thing to meet a “better man” because they are the ones committed to the never-ending process of personal growth. They know there is no such thing as being ‘done’, there is only the commitment to the process, the commitment to the climb.
A number of years ago I was in a course where the instructor asked us to take ten minutes and write about what we were committed to.
Feeling proud and boastful, I began filling the paper with all the things I thought I was committed to, like ‘saving the planet’, my health, being of service, creating peace on earth, my friends, my family, making a difference, etc. You get the picture. My sheet was filled with all these oh so impressive things I was committed to. I was ready to share and look good in front of this group! Maybe even impress a few women. Yep, you get how strategic my presentation of myself was.
Then the instructor stopped us, and said, ‘ok. Here’s the deal: What you are committed to is actually what you do on a daily basis. It’s what do you every day, without fail. If you look there you will find out what you are really committed to.”
Then she assigned us five minutes to write what we were really committed to.
Oh boy. So much for saving the whales and the rainforest. Or creating peace on earth. Or even my friends or family. I decided to be really truthful and look within all of my actions to see really what I was committed to every day. What did I do without fail every day.
It was to having a cup of coffee.
Yep. Without fail, the thing that tied every day together, that I was committed to without fail, was my commitment to having a cup of coffee.
It was like looking at my personal hypocrisy with an electron microscope. No way to deny what was being revealed to me.
This is when I really got the difference between saying “I’m committed”, and BEING COMMITTED. That woke me up more than a coffee ever could.
On that day, I knew that I had not yet committed to climbing the mountain of me in any way.
In fact, I had developed ten thousand ways of looking good and pretending, being a character in a movie, having my picture taken with the mountain in the background, and the truth was the truth, represented by a cup of coffee.
So in that moment, I committed to turn and face my mountain. I won’t lie, it was daunting at first. I had never seen anything so steep and formidable, so vast and grand, Yet, I also saw that only by climbing that mountain within would I ever know myself and be free to live as me.
It has now been over ten years of climbing, and each step along the way has been both humbling and rewarding. The summit is still high above me, and always will be, that is where it should be.
It takes commitment to climb your mountain.
Over time a puppy becomes a dog, a kitten becomes a cat, and a boy become a man.
But what we are talking about here is becoming a ‘better man’ (and woman), and that doesn't just happen.
Right now, if you were to write down what you are committed to every day, just like my oh-so-very-wise instructor had me do ten years ago, what is on your piece of paper?
Today in addition to a number of simpler items, my paper has things like:
Open my heart to Love, more every day.
Be loving to myself and others, in every moment.
Do my daily practices.
Act with kindness to all I meet.
Walk in peace.
Wear no armor, and wield no weapon
Trust in the unfolding universe and my rightful place and part in it.
Contribute to making the world a better place for ALL.
These may seem simple, and yet I am humbled every day by this climb, and my recommitting to the climb, each and every day.
To do this every day, without fail, is truly climbing a mountain.
Just like how I had to learn to walk on mountains on my first glacial mountaineering trip in 2001, I am learning what it means, and what it takes, to truly open my heart each day, especially in situations where it is far easier to close my heart.
The same goes with putting down the sword of righteousness, and taking off the armor of judgement...when my ancient fear-driven instincts are to raise the sword and sow a path of destruction, walking in the world with no weapon and no armor is a commitment.
The same goes for caring for myself, each and everyday, when I would previously be harsh and tough on myself, caring for my needs last, and denying myself from a lack of self-worth.
To watching my words. To watching my thoughts. To watching my actions, and like an intentional step up the face of the slope, placing each of them deliberately and carefully on the face, so I can rise further yet up the slope of my own awakening and actualization, harming no one, including myself.
How easy is it to speak ill of someone - another driver - in traffic, or after seeing or hearing the latest news? Too easy. What discipline does it take to live in the world in a relaxed way only speaking positive words and thinking loving and compassionate words? Much.
On the mountain within, are powerful places where you will meet yourself, and that is why you do it. You are asking yourself the deep questions, as a path of growth, to show yourself who you really are:
Do you truly love yourself? Where do you not? Do you respect life? Where do you not? All life? Are you willing to learn? Where are you not? Are you willing to be humble? Are you willing to Love? Why not? Where are you afraid to love? Truly love from a place of being in service to love versus taking what you want when you want it? Do you stand for human dignity? Where have you failed to stand? Do you live in right relation - acting with honor and integrity, truth and compassion, accountability and grace - with your loved ones? Your friends? Your neighbors? Strangers? Your countrymen and women? All people? Where do you not? Do you do no harm? Cause no suffering to self or other? Who have you harmed? Have you asked for forgiveness from them, from yourself? Why not? What will it take? And upon asking yourself so many of these questions and more, you may even ask, 'who am I really'?
And each step you climb, you will have more of an answer.
On my climb I have been brought to my knees ten thousand times in shame, rage, and disgrace at my smallness and pettiness, my self-centered arrogance, and a thousand other avoidant behaviors in my being, all while the mountain within stood, still and vast, looking at me with cosmic benevolence, attention, and awareness.
And after allowing what needed to pass to pass, listening and learning to what was being shown to me, integrating the teachings, in the stillness and silence of witnessing myself born anew ever so incrementally, I stood back up, I stand back up, and continue up the mountain. Each time stronger, cleaner, clearer, more aligned, more real, more true, and more alive.
We all get to choose whether to climb our mountain within, or whether to turn back and head to the comfort of mediocrity and denial of the truth of who we came here to be. It’s not often a choice made with local TV news hanging around. It’s a choice you make in the quiet, by yourself, on the side of the mountain; Continue up, or head down?
The mountain in each of us is vast. It’s beyond words.
That is the gift we are given, that is what it teaches: We are vast, beyond words. And in order to call forth, harness, shape, wield, and exercise vast power and our real capacity to lead, manifest, shape, create, and alter reality, we must know ourselves, first and foremost.
Once you commit to climb the mountain within, and begin climbing, you will never see the world the same way again. Or yourself. How can you, when you now feel what it is to be a better man, and know that your very evolution is the climb.
So what is on your paper?
What are your REALLY committed to?
The mountain within is there.
Will you turn to face it?
Will you being the climb?