Shift Your Vision – Lesson from a Hike to Lake Serene

I took this photo of one of the amazing waterfalls on the way to Lake Serene, I adjusted the exposure on my Nikon D60 SLR to capture the silky smooth nature of the water rushing over this granite slab.

I went on what turnout out to be an incredible hike yesterday, though at times I felt pretty miserable. I headed to Lake Serene, a wonderful hike in the Cascade Mountains about 90 minutes from Seattle. Just drive east on Rt 2 towards Steven’s Pass. Head 7 miles past the hamlet of Gold Bar and turn right on Mt Index Rd (a well-maintained dirt road) and you’ll come to the trail-head.

It is a 7-8 mile hike round-trip, with the first part fairly flat to rolling along small rises in the hills. You’ll cross streams (great fun!) with an optional spur taking you to Bridle Falls (a 1 mile round-trip hike straight up the side of the mountain!). The final 2 miles to Lake Serene are a steady and steep climb, all the way to an epic looking alpine lake. On a nice day you can see the 3000 foot granite cliffs rising from the far side of the lake like an ancient amphitheater. It is totally surreal! Here is a photo panorama I took last year on a clear day:

Photo panorama composed from 10 individual pics of Lake Serene on clear day last year.

Yesterday however, the weather did not cooperate. It was very cold at the start (40 degrees) and the rain began to pick up from a mist to a steady downpour. My supposedly rain-proof coat gave up and quickly became soaked through all the way! My pants were pretty useless too, so I zipped off the bottom portion and just hiked in shorts (people looked at me like I was crazy!). In fact, I resolved to hike “barefoot” using my Vibram’s, and everyone I passed on the trail asked me about them. It was pretty funny since most people were wearing intense hiking gear, with gaiters, poles, and full water-proof regalia…and here I was with a small day-pack, no shoes and shorts!

I did this entire hike in my Vibram Five-Fingers, felt like I was walking barefoot! Yes, I got tons of questions from other hikers on the trail :).

The trail was full of large puddles and at times was flowing with running water. After a few hundred yards I stopped trying to step around the puddles and just tramped right through them. These Vibram’s are meant for walking through streams while kayaking, and work incredibly well. Over time my feet have gotten used to the rocks and roots, and I only winced a few times when I stepped on something sharp poking through. I relished the chance to dunk my legs in streams mid-calf while other hiker tentatively tip-toed across rocks trying not to get their shoes wet! The sense of absolutely freedom that comes from just going right through mud, water and not worrying about the conditions is so amazingly cool.

Self-portrait!

I eventually made it to the summit, where the weather was much colder, the streams were frigid and it actually was snowing! My feet were cold but surprisingly not as cold as I thought. In fact, my hands were far colder than my toes!!!! I eventually reached Lake Serene, and this time, instead of seeing an epic amphitheater fit for the gods, was greeted by a misty fog-drenched lake, half-covered with snow. The granite columns were invisible. My arrival was also welcomed by the sound of periodic “ka-booms” in the far distance, followed by low-rumbles that grew to deafening roars. Indeed, avalanches on the far side of the lake were happening every few minutes! I could hear the rush of the snow, but due to the fog could not see a thing. It’s neat how when one of our senses gets cut off, the others are so much more in tune. Luckily, my position at the water’s edge surrounded by flat earth and large trees made me very safe from direct hit by an avalanche.

Lake Serene this time around, covered in snow with the sound of avalanches rumbling through the natural amphitheater every few minutes!

On my way down from the lake, I began to get colder and ridiculously hungry. I had plenty of food and water with me, but due to the cold, was hesitant to take a break and eat like I should have. As I descended the mountain, I was laser focused on the trail right in front of me. I wasn’t looking around. I was day-dreaming and not very present. I was out in this pristine wilderness but not soaking it in, I was in my own bubble. I might as well have been in a shopping mall or lounging in my apartment, I was that oblivious.

Suddenly, I turned a corner in the trail and came to a small vantage point. I was still laser-focused on the muddiness of the trail ahead, not enjoying the environment. This lovely woman was standing just aside from the trail and greeted me with a big smile. It was enough to get me to stop for a moment. She said a few words and seemed incredibly relaxed and enjoying the moment. I just stood there, still feeling cold, hungry and staring at my mud-soaked feet.

Suddenly, I saw her zip open her back and pull something out. It was a camera! She turned to one side and pointed across the valley, saying “check that out.” Turning my gaze I saw an epic waterfall, one of the biggest I’ve seen in a long time, pouring off the top of the mountain, spraying mist everywhere. In this instant I went from feeling cold and anxious to feeling totally calm and happy. A small shift in my vision made all the distance. I pulled out me own camera to capture the moment (check it out below….).

A small in vision led me to notice this amazing vantage of a roaring waterfall! The picture really doesn't do it justice. It's spectacular.

In the end, the hike was remarkable. I didn’t get the view of Lake Serene that I hoped for, but a small shift in my vision allowed me to see the bigger scenery that was there, and come away with a pleasant experience despite the conditions! If such a small shift in focus could have such a profound affect on a single walk in the woods, imagine how we can use such small shifts in our vision to make every day amazing!

Using Jedi mind power to support a fallen tree!
There is beauty all around, we just need to stop and notice.

The Secret to Personal Transformation

(reading time for this post = ~5 minutes)

Transformation is something we witness. It is not something we do.

There you have it. I did not make you read this entire post to discover the secret, you just read it. However, I hope you will take a few minutes to read on.

This concept, though counter-intuitive – is the fundamental key to transforming any aspect of your life. We may use all our skill, energy and effort to make a positive change in our lives – attending workshops, learning new skills, cultivating mentors and relationships – effectively trying to make transformation happen; but if we are not present enough to witness the change, it is all for nothing.

Trying to force transformation to happen is like trying to swim upstream against a swift current. It can be draining on many levels, with no guarantee of success.

This does not mean that focus, drive and committed activity aren’t super important. They absolutely are. The point is simply that, after doing all those things – the transformation that we are seeking is out of our control. There are far too many factors for us to consider. All we can do it prepare ourselves so when the insight, awareness and deep change happens – that we are open to it.

It is like a farmer who works tirelessly to grow food; by weeding, plowing the fields, enriching the soil, planting seeds, watering, mulching and preparing the environment as best as possible so that tiny little seeds have the chance they need to grow to their fullest potential.

In the same way, all the effort that we put into our own personal development is simply to create fertile ground in which transformation can take root and blossom.

Consider that right now, as you read this post – that your body is changing. It is happening whether you want it to or not. At a cellular level, our bodies are transforming constantly. In fact, the very brain that you are using right now is completely different from the mind you had 12 months ago. Every cell has been transformed – old cells broken down to make way for new growth.

We have new skin generated every month, new organs every year, new bones every few years. In fact, our entire body – from head to toe – completely changes every 7-10 years. This is a scientific fact. Transformation is happening whether we know it or not. All we need to do is bear witness to the process.

In the same way our physical body is transforming, so is our being at mental, spiritual and emotional levels. We are constantly taking in new information, new experiences and new relationships that are transforming our model of the world.

While we might not know exactly which new experience will lead us to a breakthrough, by being present to more moments in our lives, we can witness how our experiences are impacting our body, mind and spirit – for better or worse – and then cultivate those things that are positive agents of change.

So the secret to personal growth and transformation is to cultivate that silent witness of present-moment awareness – that will help you see (really see) yourself change and help you cultivate those things that help you grow into your fullest potential.

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Randy Pausch, a long-time Professor at Carnegie Mellon recently passed away. This video. from his last lecture at the university a few month ago, is a powerful reminder of how precious every moment is in life. It’s well worth watching, a few times.