Nature is Our Greatest Teacher: Lessons from atop an 8,263-Foot Volcano

“Deep in the forest I stroll to hear the wisdom of my soul.” ~Angie Weiland-Crosby

In October 2021, my partner and I embarked on a journey to summit Mt. St. Helens, an 8,263-foot active volcano in Washington State.

We have hiked thousands of miles across the United States, Costa Rica, and Mexico, but this was our first attempt at a summit hike. I was bubbling with excitement and nervousness!

Mt. St. Helen’s greeted us with grace and gentleness. The sky was clear, the views of Mt. Adams to the east were stunning, and the temperature was moderate.

We were chatting and climbing with a sense of ease and joy, grateful to be hiking over the packed snow, which is relatively easy to walk on.

We enjoyed the tracks left by hikers ahead of us.

We stopped to refill our water bottles in a mountain stream.

It was all smooth sailing at first.

As soon as we reached 7,500 ft, that gentleness was replaced with fierceness.

We were suddenly bombarded with 50mph winds, pelting snow and ice on our exposed faces, and nearly zero visibility.

We tried to traverse a little bit further, as we were only 800 feet from the summit. I thought, “We’re so close, we have to make it!”

When the pelting snow and ice became too much to bear, we took a short refuge behind an outcropping. We put on warmer clothes, gloves, and goggles, and then assessed the situation. (Images of Into Thin Air were reeling through my brain!)

We quickly made the decision to turn around and begin the descent to calmer, warmer, and safer conditions. We met other hikers who had made the same decision. I was disappointed, but also grateful, because time and time again, mother nature shares her wisdom with us.

During my Mt. St. Helen’s adventure, and during numerous other journeys into the wild, nature has taught me the importance of…

1. Humility

We are part of the natural world. We did not come into it, we came out of it, and, at the same time, there are forces far more powerful than us out there in the wilds. Those forces are scary and beautiful. Invigorating and potentially dangerous. Humbling and empowering.

The natural world offers us boundless opportunities for realizing and practicing humility. When navigating our day to day lives, our problems seem so acute and so important. And they are important, because they are our experience of the world. However, when we zoom out from the minutiae of our lives, we are offered a different perspective.

We are reminded of our sheer physical smallness. We are reminded of the paradox that we are both important and unimportant. And this truth is not depressing, it is liberating. Nature reminds us that we are not the center of the universe, and that it’s all really not that serious.

During my Mt. St. Helen’s journey, humility was essential for survival. I knew I was no match for the powerful winds. I thought I had a plan and was in control of my day, but mother nature demoted my ego and reminded me how little control I really have, both on the mountain that day and in my daily life.

Practicing humility and releasing control does not mean we stop taking action toward our goals, but rather that we learn to steer the ship with the current, not against it. We learn to adjust and pivot and be in partnership with forces outside of ourselves.

I practice humility when navigating roadblocks and challenges in my life. For example, in my business, every time I reach a new milestone, I celebrate it first. Then, I view it as a portal into learning something new and perfecting my craft.

Humility prevents me from becoming complacent and from thinking I have all the answers. The more I learn and know, the more I learn that I don’t know. And what a beautiful experience it is to be a forever student of the universe.

2. Intuitive Discernment

I didn’t let fear guide me on that summit hike; rather, I stayed calm, listened to my intuition and my body, and quickly discerned the potential danger ahead.

These two words, “intuitive” and “discernment,” might seem at odds with each other, but I have found the combination of intuition and logic to be powerful.

Intuition stems partly from past experiences, allowing us to act quickly, when necessary, to keep ourselves safe, whereas logic can help us determine the best steps to do so. To make wise decisions, we need to both listen to our gut and analyze the facts.

On Mt. St. Helen’s, my intuition was telling me to turn around. I allowed space for this to come through, and I took a few moments to also think logically about what to do. It was from this space that we made the safe decision to turn around.

Similarly, in my professional world, my intuition is guiding me toward writing more. I am also using discernment to list all of the past evidence that writing is the path for me. In other words, I am combining intuition and logic, and I’ve found that this combination offers great alignment among all parts of me.

3. Impermanence

Seasons, weather, circumstances, and emotions are all temporary. It’s all in flux. When we can accept this, and release attachments to people, events, and outcomes, then we can begin to discover inner peace. When we accept impermanence, we open ourselves to gratitude and presence.

This isn’t always easy. We tend to define ourselves in relation to other people and our roles, and we often interpret endings as failures. But every ending brings with it lessons and new beginnings.

And the beauty of embracing impermanence is that this reminds us that everything eventually ends—including times of struggle.

My partner and I plan to summit Mt. St. Helen’s again this year. Who knows what the volcano will have in store for us in a few months, but whatever it is, I know it will be in service to me.

In my day-to-day life, last winter, I found myself in a dark place, but I trusted that this space was temporary, and that proved to be true. Now, as now the seasons have changed, I am feeling grounded and light. I am savoring it, and I know that other challenges and hardships will come my way. I am open to it all, knowing none of it will last forever.

So my invitation to you is to deepen your relationship with the earth. Go outside. Sink your bare feet into the grass. Dig your hands into the soil. Let the sun kiss your face. Breathe. Open your heart to the wisdom of our earth.

About Teresa Towey

Teresa Towey is a coach and mentor for women. Teresa curates individual and group spaces to guide you in breaking free from societal expectations about what you “should” do, so you start doing what you want, and are free to express the most wild and creative parts of you. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram. Use this link to schedule a free consult call!

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