I have always lived with the subconscious belief (that bubbles to the surface daily) that my body’s purpose was basic: to carry my mind and maybe to be aesthetically pleasing. I believed that my body held no strength, no real power or control – those attributes belonged to my mind, and they did not reside in my tangible world. My body is merely a vehicle. I discredited my body over and over, despite achieving a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, being on the varsity rowing team in high school, and generally being healthy and strong. I convinced myself that my body had no business calling itself athletic or even capable. I shied away from shows of physical activity as much as possible, afraid of putting myself in danger of failure in front of others, further compounding my embarrassment and convincing myself of my lack of ability.

That first hike that we completed as a group – climbing up to the Great Wall of China to spend an incredible evening watching the best sunset of my life, basking under the full moon, and seeing a gorgeous shooting star – began to break down an internal wall that I had built as a defense against failure. I broke down that lack of belief in myself and my ability.

I cried in uncontrollable bursts of sobs full of anxiety and embarrassment, my legs shook, and I went slowly, sometimes pushing myself along on my backside.

I breathed, I spoke to myself quietly of my ability in order to inspire perseverance, and I held on to the words and company of Parker and Sarah to get me up and down the mountain. My body was slightly weakened by a cold, but that wasn’t it; my mind had allowed thoughts of inadequacy to creep in, telling me that my body was not made for this, that I should not be here. Step by step, encouragement by encouragement, I went along, and I finished. In the immediate aftermath of the hike, my mind was reeling and I could not reflect or find any serious growth in the experience. I could not take serious pride in the accomplishment. With a few weeks between me and the hike, with other physical experiences under my belt since then, I can say I have grown, I have begun to chip away at my mental block.

Over this trip, being okay with being dirty, sweaty, unwashed, exhausted, have made me understand my body so much better, to know that for all my fears of inadequacy and shortcoming, below my facade of make up and clothes and words, underneath my germophobia and need to feel clean, there lies a strong, capable body. A beautifully powerful body, that hurts and aches and sometimes smells a bit weird. But most importantly, a body that does not define its limits without testing them, and never ever gives up without a fight.

I still have challenges to go, and I write this with the hope that it will inspire me to push myself to overcome an unfounded fear.