For my 30th birthday, I wanted to do something unique. Something adventurous, peaceful, and a tad bit uncomfortable.
I know what you’re thinking, and no, I did not visit an Austrian sauna. (Although, this will come into play, in a surprising form, in this post.) Instead, my family sent me to Fügen, Austria, a quaint ski village in Tirol – alone – per my requested birthday gift. It was a strange request coming from me as I have a difficult time being alone. People give me energy and joy. Being alone has the opposite effect.
But I wanted to begin my 30th in a prayerful posture of silence, a skill and concept I know little about, and felt it was vital to use this trip to start understanding its sacred purpose. So, with my Bean Boots on and Whovian journal in hand, I spent two and a half days trudging through powdered sugar-snow, alone— and in silence.
For the first time in my blog’s history, I invite you into the pages of my journal. The following excerpts are from Day 2 in my Whovian journal which accompanied me nearly every moment of my trip. Because I tend to write a lot, I’ve divided the blog posts into parts.
January 10th, 2019
I forgot what it’s like to sleep past 7 in the morning. Glorious, of course. I’m glad the inn knows that somewhere there are exhausted parents who haven’t been allowed to oversleep in years and would much prefer to have the opportunity to eat breakfast at 10:00 instead of 7:15. For this, I am thankful.
Since I have never skied in my life and learning to ski costs as much as my rent, I’m not entirely sure what to do today. My gut feeling is to head back up the same hill I hiked yesterday in hopes of discovering something new. I stopped much sooner than the length of the trail and would like to attempt to see where it ends. I don’t believe I’ll go back into town, but who knows. I’m also considering taking a gondola up the mountain to see people ski – something I’ve also never done. Hopefully, I won’t stick out too severely among all of the skiers in their ski and snowboarding gear. I have no equipment – just my snow boots and borrowed snow pants. It’s fine. People come here to relax all the time, right?
I found mountain sheep! They don’t seem to like me.
I’ve followed the trail to its end which has led me to a small wooden barn at the top of a snow-covered hill (I see you, Stevie). And, off to the side is a large group of mountain sheep with little bells around their necks. The sheep gathered together and ran away from me as one organism as if they’d never seen another human before. Surely people trek up this way somewhat often aside from their caretaker. Or maybe they have a hard time trusting new people. Huh. Didn’t think I’d ever find something in common with mountain sheep, but, here I am, relating to four-legged snow dwellers. I feel you, sheep!
Is talking to sheep a sign I’ve been out in the cold too long?
I’ve since moved away from the mountain sheep into a snowbank further down the hill. There isn’t a soul in sight. It’s snowing heavily, and the flakes are thick enough to prevent me from seeing the town below or the caps of the mountains above. Contemplative prayer is still something I’m trying to get my head around especially because I often feel so disconnected from myself. My brain is always buzzing with something. I narrate my life. I live and write in exact unison, and I’ve never known how to turn the writing – planning – wondering part off for even just a moment to experience intentional silence. Even now as I journal, I have the next 4 to 5 sentences ready to go, already written, preplanned and edited for the lines and spaces to come. The buzz is so familiar – I wouldn’t know what to do if I was able to quiet it.
The other day, Will and I watched a show in which the main character was in crisis, and we could hear what he was thinking. He was thinking terrible things about himself, putting himself down for being unable to make the right decisions. The entire episode was a window into the mind of the character, and his mind never stopped talking. While we watched, Will asked me if this is what it sounded like in my mind on an everyday basis because I often comment on how my mind never stops, even when I’m sleeping. I said the main character and I were similar in being unable to stop thinking, but we’re different in that, most of the time, I’m not thinking about myself. I’m making specific, detailed contingency plans.
He asked for an example.
I said, “Well, for instance, I’m the person to run to in an emergency because I’ve already imagined and prepared for the said emergency, so I have a plan in place. So for example, if we were on the U-Bahn, and the U-Bahn derailed between Donaumarina and Donaustadtbrücke and plummeted into the Danube, it would be wise for you to follow me because I already know what I would do if that ever happened.”
Will was silent for several seconds. I think he knows I go through “what-if” scenarios, but I don’t think he realized to what degree I plan. I plan to the nth degree. That’s all I’ve ever known to do.
“That’s what you think about when you cross the bridge? Every time?”
There’s a song I’ve recently fallen in love with written specifically for people like me: People who are afraid and dread the unknown. I love it because he so perfectly verbalizes my tendencies and brain function. He begins by describing what should be this amazing dream of being carried by angels up to Heaven, but he can’t focus on the beauty to come because he can only look down, studying the distance between the ground and his feet. He mentions emergency exits and being so tired of being afraid and wondering what it would be like to stop carrying all of this fear.
I get that.
I want to put it all down. I want to sit and exist and envelop the beauty of this moment. This mountain. This snow. This silence. What would it be like to appreciate the unknown of the next hour and the following year? To experience perfect rest in the loving care of my God’s arms because He has me and my family and the world, and it will be redeemed, and I’ll see colors I never knew existed and know a love more profound than I’ve ever known because He knows me and I’ll finally, finally be home.
And yet, emergency exits.
The distance below.
What if the angels let go?
I feel like having one story about Austrian nudity is one too many in the first place, but now, I have a second. Is this an accomplishment or…? So, briefly, I was out in the cold for hours. After my journaling session on the hill, I took a gondola up the mountain to watch people ski.
(Side note: I was the only person not in ski gear, and it was, in fact, very obvious. But I did enjoy a bowl full of hot spaghetti and watched a bunch of tiny kids and old ladies ski and snowboard without fear, so, that was an impressive experience. )
When I came back, I went to the indoor pool. I considered swimming for about a second, but after surveying the room and seeing only “ski bros,” I picked a chair that faced away from the bros and toward the scenic mountains. It was beautiful. So there I am, reading along, minding my own business when a dude walks outside in his towel. I think, “Weird,” but nothing else, UNTIL, he took OFF his towel and began rubbing snow all over himself. It’s important to note that this was taking place directly in front of my window. So in a matter of like, five minutes, I went from casually admiring the snowy mountains to being visually disturbed by a man’s naked everything. All I wanted was to read!