Our birthdays have an undeniable place of importance in our lives. Celebrated with fanfare or quietly passed by, they’re loaded with expectation. Some people like to deny it, claiming that their birthday holds no significance, just another day they say, but that statement drips with a self-aware acknowledgement. Our birthdays have a particular and elevated position in the timeline of our lives. If you’re a birthday denier, phooey. If you live in a society where the calendar drives decisions then every year—like it or not—you have to deal with your birthday. Our birthdays are significant as a consistent and ever-present gauge for self-assessment and personal condemnation. These are critical days and they can easily be overthought, overwrought, and overanalyzed.
Today was/is my birthday. Well and good right? What did I have to worry about? You’re going to look through these photos, read through this story and quite possibly think, “That’s how I want to spend my birthday.” I was a penitent at the foot of a grand and exotic mountain range, awaiting what would prove to be an outstanding adventure and experience. Above me Mt. Ushba, with its temple-shaped peak, sparkled in refracted sunlight, a geological Parthenon in the clouds. Around me a light wind played through the valley and the bells of cows and coos of chickens floated staccato over the static rushing roar of the nearby river. Simple beauty.
But it was at this moment that I was struck with a case of the Ws: who, what, where, when, how and most importantly why? The treacherous minions of doubt and anxiety. I wasn’t surprised they found me, even in this place. They had been unleashed by news of my birthday. The Ws stir up the kind of existential anxiety that blocks out the sun and rains on parades. We’re talking about emotional paralysis. But what was the issue? Ostensibly things were going my way right? Turns out it wasn’t that it wasn’t beautiful or that I wasn’t grateful for the opportunity. It was the converse, the why me was the result of feeling inadequate to my fortune, a feeling of being spoiled, of being gifted something I was not yet worthy of; namely, being given the opportunity to ride/push/drag my bicycle through some of the most beautiful mountains that I have ever seen. Maybe I am the only one who thinks this way, but I doubt that. Decision anxiety, information overload, etc, etc.—itd can be debilitating.
“But time waits for no man, and Tazer is basically time incarnate.”
Today we’ve planned a ride-to-hike that will take us up to a glacier, so we have to get going. I am not one to spoil everyone’s fun on account of my own fruitless contemplation. And as we set out these thoughts continued to plague me. We biked. Daniel’s bike broke, we fixed it. We crossed a couple roaring rivers, climbed what was once a jeep track, talked with some Georgian Rangers, and then hiked up the side of a mountain and onto a glacier. It groaned, rocks slid, the wind blew and time, the passage of time, the awareness of the passage of time, discretely disappeared. Not in an, “Oh shit it’s night time already,” kinda way (although there was a little of that) but more in a, “Time, what’s time?” kinda way. You know that in-the-moment moment that diffuses consciousness, like your brain just got out of prison? Here in the chilling deadly comfort of a glacier I found myself reclining in the lap of a glacial erratic watching the clouds breathe over the tops of mountains while butterflies did their thing and my friends cackled at some version of an off-color joke. Doubt, anxiety, et al. had retreated, vanished. It was me and the moment, immediate awareness was at full volume.
Later, when we are down the mountain, this question about being worthy no longer weighed on me. Gone was judgment and criticism. There was no call for reasoning, perhaps that’s because there is truly no need for it. Because all of this is unreasonable, this whole show, doesn’t need to make sense because it won’t, it can’t. This demand for immediacy, for unfiltered experience is hardwired deep into our brains, somewhere in the lizard part right next to the heart beat controls. Over the course of our evolution we’ve buried it because reasoning/planning/expectation has proved to be highly beneficial, and while burying this primitive has given us all sort of great things like dental hygiene and a life expectancy longer than that of a domesticated dog, it also fetters our ability to have an immediate and visceral experience of the world. We are oriented to believe that there is too much at stake. And to continue to live the lifestyle that we’ve created there probably is, but when we get there, when we return to the primitive—the picking-fleas-off-each-other’s-back, stone knives, raw meat state of mind—we upend the hegemony of the modern mind. And this is why I was here–conscious, sub-conscious, unconscious–whatever was guiding me knew what it was doing.
“I am not saying you need to go out and drag your bike over a hill to find a moment of nirvana, I am not even saying you need to go out and drag your bike over a hill. I’m saying that for a time I found inner peace and it was good.”