Our Real Work: Jess Ryan, MS

Coaching and consulting. Something's calling. It's your life.

What Backpacks, Mice, and Friends Can Teach You About Breaking Through


“Gahhhh. This sucks.”

How many times have you said that? Flat tire. Lost job. Ex-partner. A mouse dies in the wall…in the middle of summer…and you just have to let it smell. Or something much, much bigger.

Sometimes things are just hard. And they suck. In fact, if you are living an examined, deeply-lived life, parts will definitely suck.

The good news: 1) nothing lasts forever and 2) on the other side of the suck is the gift.

In my household we call these moments (or decades) in life “down-throughs”.

Sometimes you just have to break down to break through.

Besides finding a new babysitter and the smell of a dead mouse for an indeterminate amount of time, nothing puts me into a down-through faster than backpacking; strapping 50 pounds and everything I need to survive onto my person and hiking away from civilization into wilderness.

backpacking picIt’s crazy uncomfortable. It bruises my hips, my knees swell up, and I have to deal with whatever elements nature dishes out with minimal modern convenience. At some point, I usually lose it. I think I’m going to die. I’m not sure I can make it back. Full on breakdown.

Yet, I choose to do this. Because on the other side, and even amidst the discomfort, is natural beauty so pure it takes my breath away, a connection to the pulse of something much bigger than myself, and space for the truth of my soul to speak. Places (literally and metaphorically) that can’t be experienced in any other way.

I’m not going to lie, an element of discomfort is involved in getting there. Imagine putting on a heavy-ass pack, getting annoyed because it’s uncomfortable, and only hiking 15 yards. It might be a lovely place to stop, but the perspective isn’t going to change much.

That’s often what happens in our culture. We don’t go through the discomfort. We don’t feel feelings. We don’t change our stories, beliefs, or patterns. We don’t value mental, emotional, and spiritual health as much as we value the external. We distract ourselves with to-do lists, work, shopping, and tv. We hold on to hurts. We don’t forgive. We stew and keep re-telling the same stories of betrayal, lack, and worry.

We’re human. It’s a natural response to avoid discomfort and hold onto what we know in the face of unfamiliar territory. A primal part of our brains believes that the known is safer than the unknown (it’s just trying to keep us alive). But, at some point, it needs an update.

I can honestly tell you, the things you haven’t seen, the parts of yourself you haven’t met, and the pure beauty of your spirit are miracles. Absolute miracles.

I want you to see and experience that for yourself.

My most recent backpacking support crew last week.

The breakthrough part requires you to keep going through the discomfort of the breakdown. Breaking down outdated patterns, thoughts, beliefs, wounds, relationships, and stories.

So, I’m going to ask you to get uncomfortable. Put on the metaphorical pack and go somewhere you’ve never been. Ask the hard questions. Do the deep personal work. Feel an unfamiliar feeling. Start a new practice.

And there’s no need to go it alone. In fact, I highly recommend support. Work with a legit healer, counselor, shaman or life coach.

Others have gone before you. Even if it seems like uncharted territory, someone has blazed this trail before. Let them walk with you.

As the old adage goes, the darkest moment happens right before the dawn.

In the comments, I’d love to hear what breakthroughs came out of your breakdowns. I’m sure your fellow readers could use your inspiration!


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