Excerpted from Insight into a Bright Mind: A Neuroscientist's Personal Stories of Unique Thinking, by Nicole A. Tetreault, PhD,
Gifted Unlimited LLC, 2021.
I was at the peak of the mountain Kalinchowk in Nepal when I made a commitment to complete this book, to rewrite, reinvent, and rebirth the story I planned to tell. I was on a five-day trek with my meditation group and we had silently hiked up the mountain. On this particular day, my meditation teacher, Raven Lee, asked me to surrender. Her words were, “Be still, be silent, and allow for the space.” I am very good at doing and distracting myself, I was born to move and born to hike. I ascended the mountain alone, my footprints imprinting in the mountain dust, and the clouds slowly moving toward the peak of mountain.
One month prior to my trek, my publisher, James T. Webb, was on a sandy beach in Mexico when he suffered a heart attack and died. A gaping hole the size of the galaxy filled the center of my chest. In my grief, climbing a mountain seemed like a natural course to finding a new path.
For me, on that mountain, to be still was like trying to tie down a cheetah. Although Raven was not talking about physical stillness—she was talking about stillness in the mind. But my mind raced in forty thousand directions, trying to make sense of it all and intellectualize the loss of my friend and the realization that I would have to find a new home for my book.
The silence Raven described was not the act of speaking; she was talking about the inner dialogue and chatter that needed to be silenced. Meditation practice centers on clearing the mind through silence and stillness. Once that is achieved, the mind experiences spaciousness. The spaciousness is similar to the incubation period in creativity, where one releases the “thinking” mind by taking a break, and the unconscious mind swoops in and naturally makes the spontaneous connections.
During the five-day journey we walked through a damp forest. Our clothing was drenched from the humidity. We slipped and slid in the mud, and each step was a search for solid footing. Our local guides took us through the forest, circling the tracks of the wild cows. We were lost, far from home, and our muscles ached. At some point, leeches attacked all but two of us. I was not one of the lucky two. Two leeches attached at the core of my belly button and my friend Patil pulled them from my belly. The leeches attached so fiercely to my flesh that their fang marks are still visible on my skin. Leeches’ parasitic nature is facilitated by the anesthetic properties of their saliva. Their prey does not initially feel the bite, giving the leech time to feast on its prey’s blood before being discovered. We were outnumbered by the leeches. This was their forest, after all. We were visitors, lost, and off course, and the leeches were living as they do in the forest. Disgusting as it was, the leech attack was a minor annoyance because our greater concern was making it through the forest alive.
Our bodies were wrecked, and we longed for our basecamp. This trek felt far from a meditation retreat until our sage guide, Raven, asked, “When we have a weak body, is our mind weak?” We all replied, “Yes.” And we all failed—most likely we were exhausted, not paying attention and trying to get out of the forest and make it to safety. Nevertheless, Raven said, “No, no, no, weak body, strong mind,” meaning that through our suffering and pain we needed to cultivate a strong mind, adapt, and never give up.
Resilience is the process of recovering quickly from difficulties. The practice of resilience applies the principles to mentally and emotionally recover in response to a crisis and return to a balanced state. For me, walking through the damp forest so far away from home was a way to rebalance. I learned that through pain I had the ability to recover and move on. Pain is a transient state, just as experiencing joy is fleeting.
Nothing, not anything, is permanent and the more we can awaken to the flow of impermanence the sooner we can be liberated to take another step forward and climb another mountain. I could tell you about the resilience research and the science behind not giving up, but instead I wish to share that if I can get up and rebalance from trauma, so can you. We are not prisoners of our pain, and when we realize that, we can transform our mind and the stories we tell ourselves so that we are free. You can get up and try again. And again.
And as reluctant as I initially was to accept the healing processes of silence and stillness, that is exactly what I needed. I needed to embrace self-soothing, like a Ferberized baby that eventually surrenders. When I walked to my edge and softened, that is when the spaciousness arrived. I realized it was never about the book, it was about the loss of my dear friend and mentor. At the top of the mountain in the silence, as the clouds released drops of rain, I understood it didn’t matter to anyone but me whether I wrote this book. Simply, if I wanted to write the book, I needed to write the book for me, because the topic is meaningful and valuable to me. I knew I would find a new publisher, I knew that it was a matter of time. It has taken me time, silence, hiking through faraway forests, meditating, kicking and screaming like a recalcitrant newborn baby.
No one, not anyone, will hand you anything—you have to want it, you have to make it happen. And as I said, if I can do it, so can you.
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” —Steve Prefontaine
From Insight into a Bright Mind, A Neuroscientist's Personal Stories of Unique Thinking!
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Listen to Matters of Resilience here read by the author on "Artists with Em Podcast: Nicole Tetreault - Insight into a Bright Mind!"
Photos by the author.