The most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done is backpack in the Rocky Mountains for about two weeks in raw conditions with energetic youngsters 30 years younger than me.
There was extreme heat, snow, arduous hauling of everything we needed on our backs — and uncertainty every day. Add in elevations above 10,000 feet, and this flatlander was challenged like never before.
Harrowing enough to have survived it once, I naturally went back for a second helping five years later. Once with each son.
Among other wonderful things these Boy Scout tests in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains introduced me to was the self-affirming exercise called “Roses, thorns and buds.”
Each night on the trail, in darkness rarely warmed by a campfire, it was important to look back at the day behind us, as well as to the one ahead of us. Challenges overcome and joys to anticipate, tempered by thoughts about what might not have gone as well as we liked.
How does it work? Each person cites a “rose” — a personal highlight of the day — and then a “thorn” — something that was disappointing or didn’t go as planned (no names allowed if individuals are involved). Then, a “bud” for something that is hopefully anticipated.
In the achy darkness, where blisters might be cooling or equilibrium gradually coming back to normal, life seemed to get better every night we played this “game” before going to bed. There were natural wonders to recall. Pride in overcoming personal fears such as crossing high over raging rivers, balancing on a long, narrow log that would have freaked out “regular” people at home. Satisfaction in seeing undersized colleagues as well as larger friends.
It might have taken a little while to get started at first, but the process always produced beneficial results once the first few ideas were aired.
Comfort was also surprisingly realized by airing grievances and perceived hardships. This was where we were reminded each day that no one is alone, there are some things we can’t control and that everything — everything — is temporary.
The forward-looking “buds” gave hope and optimism a chance, leaving us on a high note. Every day we were reminded that there is always something to look forward to, even if it is just a less painful day. Better is, after all, better.
It seems these trying times we are now experiencing present a perfect opportunity to start recognizing our daily roses, thorns and buds. It can be central to our getting through pandemic conditions, and beyond.
I encourage holding daily rounds of “Roses, thorns and buds,” in a group or individually. Mindfulness is something that grows with practice and it breeds gratefulness and spirit.
These uncharted COVID-19 days are physically and emotionally taxing, with plenty of uncertainty. Fears and anxieties can overtake us, if we let them. And that’s true, no matter what your job title is or where you work or live.
Conquer the mountains day by day. Lighten the backpack that might be dragging you or colleagues down. Find satisfaction in accomplishments achieved, and come to terms with what hasn’t necessarily gone your way. And give yourself something to look forward to. Each of these is possible, every day.
There is not a light at the end of the tunnel. There are many lights, if only we look for them.
Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.