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I used to seek change outside myself: a new promotion or job, home, country to explore, a new relationship. I also channeled my restless nature in physical exertion and a full diary. I was goal-driven, and achievement-focused. As long as I was busy, all was well. To slow down made me painfully aware of the discontent that trailed me like a twinge.

I started climbing mountains as a hobby. In the outdoors, my mind slowed and I would return to my sea-level life fresh and recharged. Over time, I wanted to commit to my mountaineering passion as a way of life. So I quit my well-paid job, pension and thriving network of London friends.

I followed the seasons from one hemisphere to another – Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, New Zealand. Eight months into my new life, the unimaginable happened: I was starting to get as stressed out chasing my dream as the rat race from which I’d escaped. The movement, planning and physical endurance came at a price. There were always more summits to scale as rungs to climb – no neat finishing line when the effort and struggle stopped. And I was terrified of heights.

I had to take a good look at the inner mountain that had driven me for so long. Summits had inspired a peak experience. The high I felt was always followed by, “what now?” I had swapped the values of a career ladder for one at altitude and nothing had really changed. I was the same restless me – whatever my external reinvention. I was trapped in a crash and burn cycle – the drive to be more, do more.

I faced the feeling I most wanted to avoid. Restlessness. What was its wisdom trying to tell me? Behind its signature ‘twinge’ lurked fear: having to prove something to myself time and again. Who would I be without the story I had to do something important? What if I never did anything again? Was I enough as I am? I’d forgotten to enjoy this moment, now. Experience made life meaningful – not the giddy ascension to a future time, promising peace and contentment. Success and fulfillment are not the same.

I stopped moving and welcomed the full force of my restlessness. I channelled it into my creativity. I started writing, exploring the world through storytelling. The inspiration from all the mountains of my travels lives on. I tell stories, and support others to rewrite their own. We all have the power to change our story, transforming past hurts and wants into the living wisdom they are. We can become the change we seek. Diving into our creativity is rich medicine – so often disguised (as it was for me) as discontent or restlessness. It is a tool to thrive in life’s uncertainty. Real lasting change often happens in small steps over time.

Feelings are the language of soul calling us home – to embody our full-blooded human nature. To ignore them is to be cut off from the neck down. I’ve changed the story that the answer is ‘out there,’ anywhere but ‘here’. I am what I seek. Now I relish ordinary life as the adventure it is: out with my dog, among neighbours, enjoying the culture around me. We are all storytellers, making sense of the grit – and gift – of being human. I don’t have to climb a mountain or travel anywhere to remember that. And when I forget – again – there is a map to reset my inner compass: the way up is down.

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Author & former BBC Journalist Mags MacKean has drawn inspiration from mountains - quitting her career to scale some of the highest peaks in the world. "Meetings On The Edge, A High-level Escape From Office Routine", charts her hapless adventures, a crippling fear of heights - and the realisation how lasting change can't be external. Transferring the goal-driven values of a sea-level office life for an adrenaline-fuelled quest proved a short-lived high. In her latest book, The Upside Down Mountain, Mags turns her attention to the opposite direction: earth-bound, and how the journey of descent is an unlikely route to lasting fulfilment. She has immersed with shamans in the Amazon, Andes and South Africa. Mags is an inspirational speaker who supports individuals to develop their creative voice and vision, and guides life-changing journeys, including to Peru's ancient heartland. She lives in the city of Bristol, UK

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This Post Has 11 Comments

    1. Thank you Anne. And acting in a place of centred impulse yields more joy-filled results. The destination is only another moment in the unending journey

  1. i have been thinking lately about how ambition is actually a good thing. I have always been so based dealing with the truth of myself and doing my best where I am. Then i realized that other people do things they want to do – they have a dream and they take the steps to make it happen- people like you Mags. i think the way you lived was correct – you climbed every mountain and had outward success. I am expereincing a different restlessness in that i want to actually climb a mountain now and be successful and ambitious. Something that shows on the outside but that is true to me. To read your article was interesting timing and it makes me feel like maybe my inner work has been really important. Thank you!

    1. Good to hear that this is a reminder for you Anne. Increasingly, I welcome a rich mix of feelings: and no longer invest so much in the ‘peak experience’ – as if any other more subtle state is ‘less than’…Hi Pj! It’s a balance isn’t it – the inner and outer – and sometimes there’s a gulf between the dream and lived experience or reality. Following the heart and channelling restlessness is essentially positive. In my case, over time, I noticed the dream-chasing was becoming an escape. And I had to ask, “escape from what?” Thank you for responding 🙂

  2. Thanks Mags, great insight. I’ve had a similar feeling of restlessness, probably trying to understand where I am, what I was doing and where I was going rather than seeking the next peak or goal. I was thinking of travelling the world to seek out new experiences over the next decade and may still do this, but for insight and to share knowledge rather than tick a box. I agree with you that the truth is not out there, its in here and I also feel my calling me to my homeland (New Zealand) to fulfil the destiny that awaits

    1. Enjoy following your calling Henare to open your wings to new places and their people. The tug of ancestral land and homeland can be so strong. How wonderful to know it’s not if but when…I love New Zealand and all her wild contrasts. The kauri trees of the North Island are extraordinary; I have such great memories and the wild west coast of the South Island…Best for your journey to come, Mags

  3. Thank you for your story. How rich one become with the wonderful experiences and take it as a self reflection. You inspire me, thank you again:)

    1. Great reminder Is, thank you. Yes, everything is a mirror. And knowing what reflections inspire us is wisdom indeed X

  4. To me restlessness is curiosity. But I am still and curious because sometimes I try to think like a rock. I’ve spent over 4 billion years sitting still on this planet. Latterly I became covered in moss. But what is Life? Then I was crushed with a sledgehammer and turned into metal. Well, that’s beyond me. I am still and curious because sometimes I think like a dog. My lamp posts and trees both grow out of the soil. Nothing is man-made. I am still and curious because sometimes I think about space. We are intelligent Life. There is very intelligent Life out there. I think they have cured all ills, banished death and can see God. We can feel, think, meditate and explore ourselves in this World and Space. We are standing still in awe and climbing the rocky mountains where air and gasps meet. Understanding yourself or the Universe means looking outwards and looking inwards. The Universe made us, to give itself a mirror and a mind. We will build it again, when it ends, so long as we remain curious.

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