When I was planning my visit to Switzerland, I had visions of cloudless blue skies, wildflowers carpeting the valleys and hillsides, vistas of the Swiss Alps.
I traveled to Switzerland after spending just over one week in warm, sunny, and dry Provence, France, which to me was divine. I enjoyed a picturesque train ride showcasing the many peaks and green valleys and hillsides of Switzerland. The closer I got to my destination, the darker and more ominous the skies above.
When I stepped off the cable car in Gimmelwald, the air was warm, but it was overcast and the mountain peaks were obscured. The friendly Barnaby from England checked me in to Pension Gimmelwald and I remember asking him, “is the weather usually like this?” He said, “yesterday, we were melting up here.” I prodded, “do the clouds usually clear?” I don’t remember his answer or if he had one, but that evening it did clear up, which was very exciting to me.
Gimmelwald – after the clearing
When I went to bed, the skies were clear. A waxing and almost full moon rose just over the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. Sometime around 5:00 am I woke to the sounds of booming thunder and pouring rain. I slept a few more hours, hoping it might clear.
The weather was ok after breakfast – cloudy, but not ominous; decent enough visibility so I could see across the valley and make out some rugged formations below the cloud ceiling. I enjoyed a cloudy, yet thankfully rain free, hike from Gimmelwald to Chilchbalm, a dramatic glacier bowl. The clouds started to stir and at one point, the clouds lifted just enough so I could momentarily begin to make out the peaks above the glacier bowl. As I headed back, it started to sprinkle. During lunch the rain set in. I stayed inside the rest of the day.
As expected, according to the weather forecast from the friendly pension staff, things were still gloomy the next day. My trusty travel guide writer, Rick Steves, recommended if it were a cloudy day, to head down to the Lauterbrunnen Valley to take in all the waterfalls. I did just that. I call this valley the Yosemite of Switzerland. It is a giant U-shaped valley carved out by a massive glacier during one of the ice ages and a multitude of waterfalls cascade down the valley walls.
Clouds hugged the valley walls, but the scenery was still very majestic. I was aware that I felt disappointment that the scenery was obscured by the clouds, but I paused and mindfully chose to stay present, to allow my experience to be moment by moment and let got of expectation.
present moment: finding a 4 leaf clover
I felt a sense of gratitude that I had a mindfulness practice that enabled me to be with and embrace what is, to more deeply appreciate the beauty of each moment. As I made my way down the valley, the clouds grew darker and started to express themselves: rain.
Later that afternoon the weather shifted: the clouds broke, the vast blue sky emerged, and the radiant sun dried things out. Of all my moments in Switzerland, this may have been my hallelujah moment. I was sitting under cover of the eave of the town church when the sun broke through the clouds.
hallelujah! here comes the light
I bolted out into the light. As I took in and was warmed by the bright light filling the valley, I could practically hear angels singing “hallelujah” from the heavens.
hallelujah moment – Lauterbrunnen Valley
In a moment of inspiration, I took a cable car up to the west rim of the valley for a gentle hike back to Gimmelwald. Though still somewhat obstructed by clouds, the views of the mountain peaks across the valley were exciting and energizing. But…it didn’t last. About 20 minutes into my 1.5 hour hike, the clouds closed up and drew in and it started to rain.
As I walked with my head down, eyes focused on the path that I strained to make out in the dense clouds, a voice from my past played in my mind, “I’ll never be good enough for you.” I knew this voice. I remembered when these words were spoken to me. This was one of the many incredibly hurtful things said to me by “my person” at the end of our relationship, when he finally, after 10 years, decided to “get real.” Something about being in less than perfect conditions, on a vacation dreamt up from hope and expectation, brought this memory from the deep recesses of my mind.
After I got back to Seattle and my mind cleared and I transitioned out of travel mode, I was able to take a closer look at this moment and dig deeper into the issue that surfaced: perfection. I was triggered by a less than perfect, less than ideal situation which brought up a memory of a time where the words spoken made me feel that anything that is less than perfect is not good enough for me. I am sensitive to this notion of “perfection” because I have high standards and strive for excellence and have a tendency to influence outcomes instead of letting things emerge.
Even though I had enough presence of mind and spirit to recognize I was in less than ideal weather conditions and instead chose to practice mindfulness, I clearly was not immune to the “imperfections” of wet, gloomy weather and cloudy skies when my heart desired sweeping vistas and hallelujah moments.
I think everyone can identify things in their lives that they want to be perfect: a new purchase, a dinner prepared for special guests, our hair for a special occasion, the family holiday photo, a party that we host, the restaurant chosen for our birthday dinner, the colors we are painting in our new house, the weather on a special day, our vacation. Where does our need, or more specifically our propensity, for perfection come from? Some of it is rooted in a desire for excellence. This can be a positive thing. It keeps us striving to do better, to improve, to grow. Some of our desire for perfection is fed by the idealism created through culture and media. This can set us up for disappoint.
Much of our compulsion toward perfection comes from a place of inflexibility within us. We have a tendency to hold on to an ideal or expectation and have an inability or a difficult time letting go and adapting to unforeseen or unimagined circumstances, to unexpected outcomes. We have a difficult time accepting and feeling contented with things just as they are and this leaves us feeling let down, disappointed, disgruntled. We see what is not perfect. We do not feel happy or content with what is.
I pondered this: Why is it that some people see more perfection and beauty and some people see more imperfection or flaws? I believe that the lens through which we see and experience the world is shaped by our life experiences, by how light or heavy those experiences. If we had loving, nurturing parents and a childhood of stability, we probably see our experiences through a brighter lens. If we had a tumultuous childhood filled with strife and instability, we probably see the world through a darker lens. Our experiences shape our pattern of thinking. I believe this “not good enough” mentality is rooted in hard wired negative thoughts patterns which develop during difficult times or unhealthy situations or relationships. Without the ability or mindfulness it takes to begin to rewire our thought patterns (our neural pathways) and let more light and beauty filter in through our lens, we get stuck seeing imperfection where in fact so much perfection exists.
As one who has lived through heavy and painful experiences and had a very tumultuous childhood, I know how hard it can be to let the light come in, to see the vast beauty and perfection that surrounds us. How do we do it? We cultivate. We get out our gardening tools and plant seeds. We plant gratitude, peace, love. We nurture new growth. We begin to see the blossoms of contentment, happiness, joy emerge in our lives and fill our being. We become less rigid and more flexible. We soften. We begin to feel and see the love and beauty that exist all around us and in us all the time.
What is perhaps most illuminating about my hallelujah moment, when I stepped out from under the eave of the church in Switzerland, is that the Universe gave me this very important message: come out of the darkness and into the light; let the light fill your heart and warm your spirit, allow yourself to feel love, allow yourself to be love and you will see clearly and without obstruction, the infinite beauty that surrounds you in all its perfection.