For my birthday this year, I treated myself to a weekend of a half marathon in beautiful Indian Valley, followed by a seven mile hike up the face of Grizzly Mountain in Genesee Valley. It was a weekend I will never forget– one filled with camaraderie, celebration, challenge, and most importantly, feeling a true connection to people and place.
Wired for connection
I love running and racing in beautiful places. There is the exhilaration of being alone with the land, the sunrise, there is the thrill of crossing the finish line and knowing I’d given it my all. My favorite time of a race thought is the starting line. Everyone is lined up together. We are a pack. We start out running together in the early morning and there are a few moments when we are truly all running together. What a thrill! So much collective energy and a deep sense of belonging that comes, perhaps, from our pack-hunting past.
We are wired to be connected to other people and to the land. Although my husband thinks I’m crazy for choosing in my free time to run 13.1 miles and then hike straight up the face of a mountain, the reward is a sense of deep connection to other people who share my values and connection to a place in this world that is very important to me. And of course, the reward of setting a goal and achieving it.
Values are stronger than actions
Runners come in all shapes and sizes, and in this Running with the Bears race, even species. Men, women, older, younger, and some dogs (or bear defenders) all lined up and ran together. Runners are truly some of the nicest people. There is encouragement on the course, support and shared celebration. More than our outward lifestyles or appearances, we are connected by the love of running. Tapping into this connection and shared passion makes all other differences shift to the background instead of standing center stage.
On the mountain too, I saw stark differences in my hiking companions soften and recede as we climbed. Grizzly mountain is a special place, a place my father and his friend (and now me) feel deeply connected to. Although in outward appearances and lifestyle, the two create a stark contrast, they are connected by a common love and respect for that mountain.
In Holistic Management, we learn how to unwind deeply held values from actions. Our Holistic Management teacher, Byron Shelton, drew a black line on a white board. He asked us to talk about our goals in life (a somewhat vague assignment). As we talked, he wrote some of our comments above the line and some of them below the line.
We were curious. What determined what went above the line and what went below the line?
As the exercise progressed, the class began to see the pattern. On the top, values were listed, on the bottom, actions. Holistic Management, and specifically the process of creating the Holistic Context for the whole under management, is the first time I’d began to unwind values from actions.
Why is it important to do this? It is vital to a Holistic Context because values connect people and actions divide people. For example, a parent might be driven by the value of deeply loving their child and wanting them to have every opportunity in the world, to take the action of pushing their child to go to college. What if the child doesn’t want to go to college? Friction. Sometimes lifelong friction. The action of going to college is understood as inseparable from the value of love and wanting what is best for our children. But they are not the same. When values are separated from actions and then the values are expressed and a wide array of options in terms of how to act on and express those values are presented to the decision makers (in this case parent and child), then friction naturally disappears. In this example, one option of pursuing opportunity would be to attend college, but there may be many others. This framework allows for creativity to enter the process (a tool we all have and don’t use enough) and allows people to connect to one another. Starting the conversation with the expressed value will unite the decision makers (or people in the conversation). If actions, or a proposed course of action, is the context for the conversation, argument will ensue. We’ve all been there.
It sounds so simple. But try it. When I did, it was amazing to feel the shift as defensiveness and argument turned to collaboration and creative discussion. “I think,” became, “what if.” This is the power of Holistic Management. It is the process of creating completely different results (better, more productive, more rich and full-of-life results) by shifting management alone. Expensive inputs are not needed. It is accessible to everyone. How liberating. How empowering.
The places that connect us
We started hiking at 6 am. We parked along Grizzly Creek Road, grabbed our gear and headed out. We hopped across boulders in the creek and then climbed straight up. There were no trails. The mountain was so steep that trees grew horizontal first and then vertical. By sunrise we were through the steepest part and stopped to eat and drink. I listened to my dad and our long-time family friend talk about their past adventures on Grizzly. My dad hunted deer on the mountain. He was with his older brother and father when he shot his first deer there. We went to the spot. My grandfather packed the deer on his back because my father was too little (at 12 years old) to carry it. My dad said he remembers thinking how strong his dad was, “for an old man.” At that time, my grandfather was 37. I wondered how many generations of my family, of fathers and children, had hunted those mountains above Genesee and Indian Valley. Not a hunter myself, I wasn’t part of this tradition. But I began to understand it. My dad fought forest fires on the mountain as a timber faller. One was when I was a newborn at home.
Our long-time friend and neighbor, Bill, who hiked with us that day was a hang glider, a hiker. He’d spent his honeymoon hiking and camping on Grizzly. For his birthday each year he climbs up the mountain. As I listened to Bill and my dad talk about their adventures on this mountain, I smiled to myself. Bill, with his veggie sandwich and ponytail, and my dad with his camo vest and gatorade, could not be more different. Hang glider. Hunter. Rancher. Vegetarian. Short hair. Long hair. But here we sat, together, friends. United on this trip by a deep love of this mountain.
We climbed across the avalanche shoots, which were so brushy that it was like jumping on a springboard bed. We walked on top of the brush and it felt bouncy under my weight. Bill stepped on a ground bee’s nest once and we had to run. But otherwise we kept an even pace, stopping to take in the view when we needed to rest and share more stories. We grazed on thimble berries growing near a waterfall. We took a selfie at the summit and soaked our tired feet (and Bill swam!) in the punchbowl ( a deep, but small pool formed naturally and filled with melted snow) near the end of the hike. Bill and Dad showed me a virgin stand of red fir. As we stood among the towering giants, still and quiet, yet vibrant in their coats of bright green moss, dad said, “you won’t find any stumps here.” We talked about plant species and deer (or elk?) droppings, listened for birds, trying to identify them by their calls. We never saw a trail. We never saw evidence of other people.
And that, I realized, was the magic of that mountain. It was their sacred place. Where they could be completely disconnected from other humans and fully connected to the land and themselves. They both abhorred the idea of putting anymore trails or roads on the mountain. They were connected by a common value of holding that mountain to be sacred. And I understood it completely. In the presence of those old, old trees, or stepping across boulders on the clean, clear Grizzly Creek, drinking from a waterfall high on the mountain, eating sweet Thimbleberries (everything in nature tastes better, we decided) and dipping in the cool punchbowl, I could feel the power of that place. And in that context, all our outward differences seemed as small and insignificant as the houses and roads we saw far below us on the valley floor.