Climbing Mountains & 120 Day Challenges

Mount Everest

During the last half of December, I became obsessed with mountains. Maybe it was because mountains were on my Vision Board for 2010 or that my dad and I were reading The Skull Mantra a mystery novel by Eliot Pattison set in Tibet, but for whatever reason I became a little loco for everything related to mountain climbing.

I re-read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer and devoured Ed Viesturs No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World's 14 Highest Peaks. I downloaded every Mount Everest movie and documentary I could find on Netflix and watched Touching the Void for the first time -- a harrowing account of a climbing disaster in the Andes.

What was this hunger all about? What was I searching for? Even my husband began to look at me warily as I developed a bit of an obsessive glaze over my eyes.

heart speak day 108, beth hemmila

I'm still not sure, but I do know the metaphor for ascending and descending a mountain touches my heart. And for some reason I felt a weird sort of kinship with the stories of these mountaineers. Hey, don't ask me to go climb a mountain though!!! I'm not that rugged :)

heart speak day 120, beth hemmila

In December, I was finishing up my second 120 Day Challenge of Heart Speak drawings, and at some point it began to feel like I was climbing a mountain.

If you ever do a 120 Day Challenge, be sure to do two and if possible back to back. The first one was awe inspiring, but the second challenge was the meat and bones of the teaching. I suppose that idea can be applied to any goal you take on -- make sure you do it twice for good measure.

By the end of my second 120 Day Challenge, I started to fully understand the process. The first 60 days is walking up to the mountain and preparing yourself for the climb. You're building skill and fortitude. Day 60 to Day 90 you are climbing this mountain, one tiny step at a time and are just exhausted and beat down. This is when you build your endurance and faith. Day 90 you reach a sort of peak -- a pinnacle experience or breakthrough moment. And from Day 90 to Day 120 you take on the most important task of all -- descending the mountain.

The great American mountaineer Ed Viesturs's says it best Getting up is optional. Getting down is mandatory.”

So much of our focus in life is making it to the top of something that rarely we leave energy or room for understanding the importance of the descent. During this second 120 Day Challenge I came to the understanding that the descent is what the journey is all about. How you behave, the decisions you make, and the way you choose to perceive your path down the mountain is the meaning you are looking for in your personal quest.

In the documentary Frontline: Storm over Everest, filmmaker and mountain climber David Breashears sums up what I think the metaphor of a mountain must mean for me and others who wish to explore unknown places in their soul. The point of climbing is how the mountain changes you and what you chose to do with it.

I thought after each of my 120 Day Challenges there would be this incredible tangible habit that would continue on. I know it sounds nutty, but I actually thought I would cure myself of being a lazy yoga practitioner and artist. At 120 Days I would BE YOGA and BE DRAWING. Boy did I have a good laugh at myself when I quit drawing on day 121! :)

I think I may have misunderstood the concept of becoming the new habit at 120 days. For goodness sake, the great yogis believe that only after 1000 days do you even have mastery of the habit. I seemed to have deleted that tidbit from my grand plan.

The sense I have now of this 120 Day process is less tangible and more like dark matter. It's there but I can't always physically perceive it. I can take a week off practicing yoga and still BE YOGA. It's in my blood flow and my muscle memory. It's always in the back of my mind, and when I reach for a dish from the top shelf, yoga is weaving its way through my life.

The same with drawing and being creative. Though I may not draw a picture today, there may be one formulating in my head. More importantly, my muscles have changed how they respond to pencil and paper. There is no hesitation, no fear, and no judgment. I created a personal language with my Heart Speak drawings that spoke to my yearning for mark making, and now I have 120 doodles to draw from in my future.

I'm not totally certain I've fully grasped what the metaphor of the mountain means to me, but what I do know is that climbing the mountain can be so individually engrossing and isolating, and now I see how the real work begins as I come down and extend myself out into the world.

For a wonderful way to celebrate the mountains that literally or metaphorically inhabit your life, I thought you'd like a peek at the new Fells collection by Jennifer Sarkilahti, jewelry designer of Odette New York. Here are two little mountain peaks for your ears.

Terrain Stack Ring, Odette NY:
sterling silver and bronze mountain range

And a lovely mountain range for your finger :)

May you always climb your mountains with grace and fortitude!


  1. Totally crushing on that mountain ring. And I love the thoughtful message you impart. Climbing that mountain (whatever your mountain might be) might be tough but it doesn't end because get to the top. There is always another peak, another ridge. The challenge and the journey are sometimes the most important part.
    Enjoy the day!

  2. First, I totally love the art on Day 120. Wish I had that on my wall. Second, I love when people post links to books -- I'm on Goodreads.com and have a huge list of books in my "To Read" pile thanks to suggestions like yours!

    My husband went through a period of reading a ton of Everest and other taller-than-life mountain books. The best I've done is Sorak-san in Korea and my knees were literally shaking -- I guess it wasn't for me! But oh the view!

  3. Erin, I thought of you when I saw that mountain ring from Jennifer at Odette NY. I think it needs to be on your finger :)

    Pretty Things, thanks so much for enjoying my drawing! Oh my gosh, I have such a long list of to read books it scares me so I have to keep some blinders on!! What fun to hear your husband went through the mountain book phase. I'm with you...I'll watch from below.

    Glad you liked the post, Jennifer! Many thanks for sharing your beauty with the world.


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