29 Oct

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One of the unavoidable rituals performed to begin any expedition to the Himalayas is Puja. It is the crucial moment of the expedition, although majority of foreigners coming to Nepal to climb the Himalayan peaks would disagree. The fact is that they do not share, nor feel the energy the ritual creates and do not realize how it is vital for team harmony, especially for the relationship between the Sherpa and expedition members. On one hand, during the ceremony the thoughts of most climbers are directed towards the summit, with everyone praying to God of their faith for successful expedition; success in this context means reaching the top at all costs, and going home alive. It should be pointed out that everybody thinks only of himself, and barely considers important what happens to the others. Nowhere else does ego threaten to break a man to such an extent as it does in such expeditions.

On the other hand, Sherpa have a different approach. They apologize in advance to the mountain for the fact that they are about to hurt it with sharp spikes of the crampons and ice axes, for disrupting its harmony by their arrival; they ask for peace and tranquility among the members of the team of which they are part of and beg the mountain for forgiveness for their intrusion. The climb to the top of the mountain and the achievement of the goal are never mentioned. Conquering the peak comes as a natural consequence of this way of thinking rather than become the only purpose for which we gather at the foot of the mountain. During the ceremony the dominant expression on the faces of climbers is the one of concern, while the Sherpa appear to be calm and even cheerful at some moments. Their calmness affects everyone present, and if a cup of Chang is drunk we all become united and connected.

That sense of community penetrates deep into the souls of the most notorious ego maniacs and eventually creates a sense of team spirit. Naturally, there are those who are incurable and to whom the saying “Whoever seeks only the goal shall feel void when he reaches it and the one who seeks the path shall carry the goal inside at all times” will always remain unclear. Namely, it is true that the stronger the desire to reach the goal the greater the void when the goal is reached. And then this hollowness, this gap requires a new goal, and the circle keeps going around. With no end and no luck …

It is the fears we bring with us to the Himalayas that are the chief reason for this situation; particularly the fear of expedition failing, which actually means fear of failure to reach the summit. Interestingly enough, the fear of failure the climbers feel is much stronger and overwhelming than for example a fear of death or injury. Determined focus on the top of the mountain often tends to obscure our perception of the objective dangers to which we are exposed, making the subjective sense of security much more powerful than it should be. The absurdity of this situation is amplified by the fact that people generally go on major expeditions with the idea of getting rid of their own fears. However, only a few manage to overcome them.

Why is this the case?

People are simply afraid of passing a part of their energy, mental strength, skills and emotions onto others, or selflessly giving themselves for the benefit of the team. They think that by giving part of themselves to the others they will become weaker and will lose that little self-confidence that they still have. On the contrary!. The more you give the more you have. The energy of the team comes back and we are overwhelmed by the feeling of unbounded confidence when we know that we are not alone in the icy wasteland. In real life situations this feeling is usually just a fantasy, because we find it difficult to defeat our own ego that keeps us shackled by our own fears. It is for this reason that most members of the expedition return home with the same “burden” they brought to the Himalayas; while the Himalayas remain standing where they have been for thousands of years as silent observers of our internal struggles.

There is also a belief that mountains change us and help us become better people. I suppose this has a foundation in the idea that extreme conditions generate extreme efforts and sacrifices, when our masks fall revealing the essence of our being to the others. However, experience teaches me that only a small number of people fundamentally change, while most people are only good actors. It seems more and more to me that mountains do not have the power to heal but only to make diagnosis. Neither sport that we do, nor extreme conditions that we experience can make us a better people if it is not our desire to become so or if our souls do not already carry the seed of our goodness within themselves. Expeditions can only show our true colors as the Himalayas and the people who live there are only a mirror which reflects it all. It is upon us to gather the strength and courage to accept what we see. It is a beginning of the road, the beginning of change for the better. Our success on this path depends on how much we are willing to be true to ourselves.

Whatever the outcome may be one thing is certain: Who dares, wins … always

Dragan Jaćimović
Extreme Summit Team

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