Melissa Todd: Step away from the mountain and sit quietly alone

Melissa would rather tackle the ironing than a mountain

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

So said Pascal, and you must admit the old French fella had a point. There’d be a lot less war, obesity, pollution, gang warfare, adultery, knife crime, beer pong, if we all learned to be content just to be. You’re alive, right now! Breathing and plotting, under this sky, by this sea! Isn’t that amazing enough, without wishing for anything more?

But no, of course not. We’re all discontented, want want wanting, non-stop.

In particular, we see mountains, and we want to climb them. Because they’re there, we say, as if that were a reason. You know what else is there? Difficult novels, piles of ironing, fractious elderly relatives, lonely and bored, with endless anecdotes and no audience. But no, we pick the mountains, because they look better on Instagram, and we’re idiots. We all want to be heroes, although not the kind of heroes who do difficult things quietly, without complaint or fuss. Oh no. The kind that climb mountains.

A friend of mine climbed Kilimanjaro last year. She’s super healthy, young and lean enough to make you loathe her. And yet she was horribly ill while there, and worse when she came back, with headaches, nausea, dizziness, fainting spells. She’s taken months off work and kilos of pills to counter her symptoms, burdening the NHS and her employer, a school filled with underprivileged kids who lived for her lessons. All because she couldn’t look at a mountain and think, ooh, what a pretty mountain; that reminds me, I must buy a Toblerone. No, she thought she’d spend five grand wrecking her health instead.

The desire to set goals, challenge oneself to ever greater achievements, appears central to the human condition (not mine, thank goodness. I like to lie about reading). But even if you do achieve those goals, make that million, walk the world, climb the mountain, you’re bound to get the urge to do something even more outrageous next week.

That’s the trouble with trying to prove yourself: you don’t stay proved. The rush doesn’t last. If you felt  you had to scale a mountain, I doubt achieving it will really help. No one else cares, you know: only you care, and at heart you won’t stop doubting yourself, however many mountains you climb.

Instead, learn from the Buddhists: still your nagging mind by ignoring it. Quieten the whiny panicking voice that says you’re not good enough, you’ll never amount to anything, by sitting and staring at a wall. Harder than it sounds. A true act of heroism, in fact.

Then go and do something nice for someone else. At sea level.

What do you think? Have you taken on an extreme challenge for charity? Want to share a different view? Send us your column of up to 500 words to [email protected] and we will publish the most informative response. 


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