There’s a sacred mountain called Arunachala in the Southern Indian town of Tiravvanamalai. Made famous by the great Indian Sage Ramana Maharshi, who called it his home (and his guru), this simple mountain is climbed and circumnavigated every year by tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. Even just being near the mountain is said to bring great blessings.

So there was a mountain calling Christian and I in late 2001. We had met in Kerala and taken the long train ride to Tiravvanamalai; after booking a simple hotel room, we decided to climb the mountain not by the usual route, but by inventing our own route up the back side. We wanted to bushwack our way up Arunachala.

And so we did. We saw lots of trees, lots of monkees, and lots of rocks and lots of dust. And not much else. The whole time we were climbing, I was looking back, remembering the circuitous path we were taking: left at the two trees over there, right at the large rock over there, straight between the rock and tree over there, left through the valley. I probably registered a good 25 turns in all. By the time we reached the summit, I remembered the entire 3-hour climb, and was ready to take us back down the very same way… if need be.

Only, once we reached a certain point, we met up with thousands of other pilgrims. They had taken a veritable super-highway path to the top, replete with different lanes, etc. for passing the slower amblers. We met a few sadhus (holy men) at the top, had a cup of tea, and when it came time to walk back down the mountain, I was about to say something, but then… we simply merged with the super-highway and came down with everyone else.

So why do I bring this story up, today?

I carried those 25 turns all the way up the mountain without the slightest indication that they would be useful at all. My mind had automatically kept tabs, because it wanted to be helpful. If I hadn’t been conscious of its tricks, it would have also caused me to INSIST that we take the same circuitous route down the mountain: Look at all the thinking I’ve put into this!

In any event, I learned a great lesson that day. I had spent that entire climb looking backwards, not forwards, and I learned that we can carry the past with us if we want to, but not only is it heavy and distracting, it also limits our options in the future. The mind is good at holding onto things, but it’s only really confortable when we repeat ourselves.

The funny thing is, once we decide that we’d rather be spontaneous and free, our pasts aren’t going to be of value any more. We’ll allow ourselves to live more in the present moment, and that will become our new definition for “being prepared.”

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