Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Unexpected Epiphany At Cinque Terre

Because I've just been to Cinque Terre, one of the items on my bucket list, and one of the primary reasons for coming to Italy, I really should be doing the usual routine - which is me writing about the details of the trip. Maybe starting it off on how I spent my one day off from the Shanti House to explore the 5 villages with my fellow work exchange volunteer, Shanty... How we woke up at 4:30 am to make sure to catch the 6 am bus to the train station... How we hiked one village to the next, Amazing Race style... Showing you guys one beautiful photo after another... etc... blah blah blah.

Not this time though. This time, I'd like to share a short story from our hike, that is more significant and impactful (is that even a word?) than anything else I've experienced on this trip so far.


When Shanty and I got to Monterosso, the first of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre, we went to the information center to get a map and figure out the best routes to take to explore. We were told that the most beautiful, yet most difficult hike, was the first hike from Monterosso to Vernazza. It would take us 2 hours to make the journey, but the views are spectacular, the lady said. 

The beach at Monterosso
I've done a few hikes in the past, but not enough to call myself a hiker. 3 kilometers in 2 hours didn't really sound so bad though. How difficult could that be, we thought. So Shanty and I just went for it!

10 minutes in, already I felt the pangs of regret. 3 kilometers horizontally, yeah, but that doesn't include the vertical ascend! For half an hour or so, all we did was climb... climb... climb...
To the Angelenos... if you think the Santa Monica stairs is an ass whooper, try hiking up the Cinque Terre!! Jeezas. I knew it was going to include a fair bit of climbing - it *is* a mountain after all... but not to that extent! Those stairs just wouldn't quit! I'm not asthmatic, but I was gasping for an inhaler!

"Why the fuck did we do this?"

I asked Shanty, in between wheezes. My sides hurt, my legs were sore, I was sweating like a fat kid in a candy store. I felt like I was thrown into a marathon that I did not prepare for. I was running on pure adrenaline and even that was almost exhausted too!

I wanted to turn back. Seriously, I did. I was so tired, I wanted to cry like a baby. And I'm supposed to be athletic!!! All I wanted was to go back down, jump in the ocean and let the salt water drown my salty tears.

But just when I was about to tell Shanty how I felt... almost miraculously... a guy appears about 30 steps above us and said, "You're almost there! Keep going!"

"REALLY?" I yelled back, incredulously.

"Yeah! See that point where my friend is? That's the top! You're so close! Keep going!"

Dio Mio.

"I love you!" I said to the complete stranger. He laughed - but I meant it. I really did feel genuine love for him.

Fueled by encouragement, Shanty and I pushed on with vigor and revitalized strength... until finally... BOOM! We made it to the top!

View from the hike! :)
As I gasped for air, and with trembling fingers tried to open my water bottle, I remembered Melchizedek, a character from one of my favorite books, The Alchemist. Essentially, he is a symbol of encouragement who appears in different shapes and form to people who are on the verge of pursuing their personal legends but are hindered by doubt. He gives the final push, so to speak.

And it made me realize that - even if climbing up the Cinque Terre stairs isn't exactly my "personal legend", I've met so many Melchizedek's in my life... Significant people, friends and strangers, who help push me forward... 

View from the Hike :)
People who, at the very edge of my despair, and sometimes desperation and doubt... appear out of nowhere to provide encouragement and reassurance.

Like the time when I was swimming in the Malibu waters for the triathlon... when the waves were too strong and I didn't think I could even reach the first buoy... a lifeguard appears beside me out of nowhere just to be able to tell me, "Keep swimming! You can DO this!"

Or the time after I graduated from college, in that period where I didn't really know what to do and every job I applied for seemed hopeless... A friend of mine pushed me to apply at this call center, even if I didn't think I had the qualifications for it, nor did I have the drive to try, having been discouraged from all the recent rejections... She said, "Go for it", and I did... And that job set off a string of events that led me to my life right now... My amazing life that would not have been possible hadn't it been for the training I got from working there, or the incredible life long friendships I've made with my co-workers.

And now, that dude... That wonderful stranger at Cinque Terre, who at my sweaty breaking point, yelled out, "You're almost there," forcing me to muster the remaining ounces of my strength to push on... to be able to see and marvel at the beauty that awaited me at the top...

These reflections made me realize that this is what I want to do with my life. I want to *be* someone's Melchizedek. I want to be able to help, encourage, and inspire people who are on the brink of despair or de-motivation --- to Keep. Moving. Forward. I'd love to be able to make people feel the way I did when the Melchizedek's of my life came to my aid...

Professional Encourager. Spirit Booster. Whatever... I'll come up with a title somehow. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but this is definitely something I'll be working towards. 

You never know how close you are to your goal...
I've met quite a few people on this trip who have a lot of questions about what I did, what I'm doing, and how I'm doing it... I can tell, based on their questions, that these people are on the verge of wanting to make big changes in their lives too... I speak so passionately about taking a leap of faith and following your bliss, I can only hope I'm pushing them towards the right direction by sharing my story.

Not to sound self-serving or pompous, but I LOVE everything in my life right now... Every little sacrifice I had to go through to get to this point now seems so puny compared to the rewards. The point is, I know exactly what it's like, being in a position where you're just so hopeless and lost and desperate... And I know for a fact that once you make a decision to do something about it... to take a plan of action... the Universe just opens doors for you. It just does. It is the law!

Who would have thought that an innocent little day off at Cinque Terre will trigger quite a poignant epiphany from me? It's amazing how things work out sometimes.

After Shanty and I have finished a few hours of hiking, and we were enjoying our packed lunch at the piazza, she asked, "Do you want to do another hike?"
I turned to her and smiled.

"Fuck no."

And I went and bought myself a gelato.

One epiphany a day was enough. :)
Cinque Terre Survivor