Datin Catherine Lai is comfortable with her own company but she has recently found a great companion – trekking! She discovers how the beauty of nature continues to unfold along her spiritual trail.
It wasn’t difficult to conclude that the owner of this house, that I have just stepped into, loves nature, even if it means just to have a 180 view of lush green surroundings from her vast dining and living area.
Well, that is her reference point too when Datin Catherine Lai speaks about her feelings for nature. “My love for nature? Look at my house!” Glass panels, from ceiling to floor, give an expansive view of the green and looks down to a garden below.
The area is comfortably bathed in natural light and creates a space that is suitable for meditation and quiet contemplation.
Being one with nature, for Catherine, is like being in love all over again. And spurred by the teachings of Buddhism, this staunch practising Buddhist has traded heels for hiking shoes in search of beautiful green environments in the mountains.
Trekking has given her a renewed sense of freedom to discover the world again especially after recovering from a skiing injury more than 10 years ago.
“Then I started nordic walking with a group of friends. Holding on to my pole, I realised I could actually have an extra pair of hands for support.
“From young I have always been a competitive and active sports person. Sometimes I would push my limits to the extreme. But I gave that a break owing to pressing work commitment and my injury from skiing.”
Catherine has left all that behind the moment she picked up the poles and set on her treks. And she has not stopped since.
Trekking is the fourth most popular activity in outdoor adventures around the globe. More than 50 million people have hit trails from simple ground level ones to up mountains. This surge in popularity has been attributed largely to the movie “Wild” which chronicled the lone journey of Cheryl Strayed’s hike that covered 1,770 km.
Besides this, outdoors enthusiasts seeking reasons to this trend feel that millennials and the next generations are more into buying experiences now than materialistic goods.
“When I held my poles, I said ‘wow’ and started on simple trails on flat terrain. After a while, I felt I could and also wanted to scale more difficult terrains.” For a moment she was lost for words in trying to explain the mind numbing but invigorating experience of hiking to the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal.
“Standing at a certain level on the mountain and seeing the cloud passing through me, surrounded by these beautiful mountains around me I cried. (I)didn’t feel Catherine Lai anymore. I feel that I am part of the mountain, part of the cloud and part of the world. In any religion, when they say: you feel God and that’s how this is like.
“Trekking also relates to my spiritual practice because it’s about nature our spiritual teacher also walked the forest dwellings and he did it without poles and sneakers but just slippers. I get to do present moment walking – which means walk and be mindful of my present moment and at the same time I get to train for my trekking adventures.
“During buddha’s time when they sleep in the forest they have a lot of fear, anger and all kinds of defilement comes to mind.
“And that resonates with me when I am hiking. During my last hike to annapurna base camp in the Himalayas…7 days of walking from 5 to 11 hours a day. What goes through my mind during the walk?” Catherine laughs before continuing “Anger, Netflix, food, everything. But all this while, the body is obediently walking and not complaining other than aches and pains.
“A million things will tell you to stop, take a flight home, watch netflix, indulge yourself in massage and you would ask, what you are doing this for. Why?
“The seven day journey and the recollection of all these difficulties, seeing the people there and experiencing the culture, this is something money can’t buy. Then, the body will quietly obey the mind to focus on yours steps to carry on walking.”
Although the trip eventually turned out well, Catherine admits that she didn’t put in enough effort to train for the trek to Annapurna. Besides walking 5 to 6 hours a day, the training should include a disciplined routine.
She believes that with sufficient training the body would know how to react and this would help to reduce a lot of fear along the way. And it is fear that could prevent one from experiencing nature and life.
Of course, without a doubt the reward for every hiker trekking up a mountain is the great expanse of the scenery that she faces at the end of the trek. Catherine assures that no award winning National Geographic photo could come close to capturing the beauty of the scenery.
“When I was standing looking at the Himalaya mountain, I told myself if I die now I would die so happy!” Promising herself to work harder for the next trail.
Siks Mikah travels frequently & believes that humility opens doors inward and outward.