They say dreams are more vivid at high altitudes.
To me that sounds like a load of crap, but my subconscious confirmed it recently when I spent a week in the Swiss Alps. After seven months living in the center of a major European city and traveling once a month to other major European cities, I was looking forward to a week in the mountains away from concrete, traffic and metros, in a place where I could raise myself above cluttered streets and a cluttered mind.
What I found there in those mountains – aside from the most grandiose landscape I’ve ever seen – was indeed a higher level of consciousness and a more extreme range of emotions than I’ve reached in a long time; and it left me tired, despondent and agitated. All week, instead of floating around in my usual and comfortable mass of vague ideas, questions and worries, I found myself either digging for any kind of thought at all in my hollow icy cave of a brain, or desperately trying to flee an avalanche of inexplicable anxieties.
To be clear, it was definitely a relaxing week with little cause for stress – which is perhaps why I was so unnerved by the snowball fight going on inside my head. I was in Verbier on a ski holiday with my adoptive family, and I passed the time playing in the snow, looking after the kids in our chalet, eating good food, sitting by the fire, and reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being. All in all, a very nice way to spend seven days.
Though, being a California girl who’s always followed heat like a house cat moving across the carpet with the afternoon sun, I did feel out of my element in the snow. I tried snowboarding a few times on the baby slopes, and the cold, harsh reminder that I am and will forever be a big sissy hit me as hard as my ass hit the piste. Somehow I thought I’d be able to do it, but I’m just too scared to relinquish any amount of control and really go for it. I finally gave up (hating myself all the more) when the unhygienic Swiss lift operator who didn’t speak English grabbed hold of me for the third or fourth time to offer a boost on the drag lift, and I lost my balance and control and the thing ripped that plastic flying saucer from my crotch yet again. I lay there as that infuriating Swiss mountain boy stood over me shaking his shaggy head with pity that humiliates you in the way that only pity from such a lowly creature can.
We did spend one of the mornings at the village’s indoor swimming pool instead of the baby slopes, and I was able to enjoy water in the state of matter in which I feel much more comfortable, much more natural, much more – if you will – fluid. I closed my eyes, submerged myself, and there, swimming in that dingy community lap pool far past its prime, with the mountains gazing down on me like wise elders, my mind reached a quiet equilibrium. I let my body sail effortlessly through the water as my thoughts balanced calmly between the two opposing forces of all or nothing that challenged me the whole week.
That night I had a dream that looked and felt more real than the conscious world had seemed all week. I was flying. I steadily propelled myself forward using the same strength and ease with which I swim. I’d never been so convinced of coasting naturally through the clouds. When I woke up I thought how odd it is – how poetic – that somehow being higher in the physical, geographical sense means we are lifted up and pushed not only toward the sky, but toward our own elevated subconscious – that misty, clouded place that is always so far out of reach.
I appreciate the mountains for all their inspiring grandeur and humbling might, and bow to their power of challenging me physically, mentally and emotionally while on what was supposed to be a relaxing holiday; but ultimately, I think I’m better off down here, at sea level, where I can swim happily in the steady ebb and flow of my mind.