For more than a year I have put off writing a post about last year’s ski trip to France’s Three Valleys. The truth is, the trip left such a bad taste in my mouth that I could not put into articulate, non-anger-filled words the histoire. This is not to say I did not talk about the trip, and, if you’ve seen me in person in the last year I probably grumbled for many minutes to you, making you instantly regret your friendly questions.
One of my new year’s resolutions is to stop complaining – about people, about work, about the weather. Another is to live more mindfully. While “mindful” living is a hot psychology term at the moment and incredibly ambiguous I am working to translate it in my life into a concept of non-expectation of other’s thoughts and actions or of results and experiences.
I am a very anxious person. As a young child I recall waking my parents up with my fears that if our house burned down and I died that I would have done nothing with my life and only have regrets. I was, perhaps, six. As I have gotten older this awareness of death and living life to the fullest has grown. It is not a fear of death, but, rather a fear of not living and not feeling that causes my restlessness. In truth, it is largely what drives my desire to travel, live and adventure all over the globe. Too often, however, I place too many expectations for legendary awesomeness on my adventures. When realities always fall short of the experiences I built up in my head, I become disappointed and angst-ridden.
Oftentimes, I place even higher expectations on the people around me. Unfortunately, like experiences, people rarely meet my expectations of them, which leaves me with heartache. In the year before we left Atlanta for Europe the failure of the people around me to live up to what I considered minimum behavioral standards for associates, friends, and family members caused me extreme unease on four distinct, ugly occasions. I was left asking myself why my expectations of adult behavior, a sense of obligation, and loyalty were not met, becoming angry, vulgar, and passive aggressive. I left Atlanta with the hope that we would meet interesting new people in Europe.
This brings me back to last year’s ski trip. I had previously enjoyed organizing and hosting ski trips for our friends and family for several seasons around the small, but quaint Maggie Valley ski area in the Carolinas. The trips were fun and spirits high, and I looked forward to a similar experience in the Alps for our group of ten. I envisioned everyone loving skiing, or at least acting cooperatively about it, a rollicking apres ski time in the jacuzzi and sauna each night, and long, meaningful talks by the fire with our diverse, international crowd. What I also expected, self-centeredly so, was a pat on the back, a thank you for a meticulously planned and well-organized trip or at least an acknowledgment of time spent. When none of those expectations were met, when no appreciation whatsoever was shown, I became upset, embarrassing both myself and the Frenchman as I thought of the wasted time and energy to plan a could-have-been-should-have-been-fabulous ski holiday.
The last few months we have been talking about my anxiety and how I too easily let disappointments in other people’s actions ruin adventures. With the resolution to be more mindful I seek to bring to each adventure fewer hopes and pre-conceived predictions and, to, rather, experience the time in the moment instead of regretting events that did not pass. When it comes to others mindfulness is more difficult as I seek to detach my own requirement for respect from an expectation that it will be given. Instead of becoming angry when thanks is not given or when an apology is not proffered I seek to simply accept when it is not and then choose to either continue to associate with a person or not.
This does not mean, of course, that I choose to accept disrespectful, ungrateful, negative people into my life as there is little chance I will continue to associate or even engage with someone who willfully wrongs me or another. That’s another aspect of the mindfulness – realizing when being in someone’s presence makes me anxious and distraught. Thus, being mindful also means that I may end up forcing myself to associate with fewer people but not because I made them feel less about themselves because of their own lack of good character. I feel I am making progress in this regard, finally admitting to the Frenchman that I truly simply do not like someone ‘s personality and spirit whereas I had previously always reacted to their failures to act in the way I wanted with buried fury.
It also means accepting that my experiences need only be mine and mine alone. Others may have different experience or desires and that’s okay. This does not mean I have to be friends with someone who does not share the common interest of skiing with me but it does mean I seek to not become anxious if someone decides skiing is not for him. This is a difficult one for me as forcing others to do what I want and becoming stressed when they do not is deeply-rooted in my nature.
The hard part now is accepting the opportunities to enjoy the moment of skiing in the Three Valleys that were missed and the memories thereof are shrouded in a dark fog of negative emotion for the skiing in the Three Valleys was extraordinary. The pistes were wide and open to the sky, the powder deep, and the lines short. Though we did have fun – the two of us skiing each day together, apart from the rest of the group – our beer and hot wine breaks were punctuated with grousing. And, while we did enjoy spending time with some of the other people on the trip, an air of agitation still hung over everyone.
This year, we went skiing just the two of us and had a lovely time though still plagued by car-related anxiety and frustrations with long lines. I would say that next year’s ski trip will be the year, but, then again, that would be getting my expectations too high.