I don’t remember ever seeing a sunrise. I’ve been awake at sunrise — usually some form of still awake — but I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed it outside of the paintings and movie scenes it has inspired: the elusive sunrise…
And it’s one of the only things in this world we have access to for free every single day. The way I see it, I’ve missed 12,226 sunrises across my entire lifetime. But not on this day.
Our excursion was to begin at 2:30 a.m. and so we debated napping for a few hours and possibly waking up exhausted or staying up all night and possibly being exhausted anyway.
We compromised, each sleeping about one hour before our alarms would rip us from our beds, too disoriented to be excited.
But there was excitement. Crammed just beneath our zombie shells only the surprisingly chilly air could crack through once we were expelled from our van into the parking area two hours later.
We were fully in the adventure by now, and we didn’t know what to expect.
Our group of six and another of equal size were herded into a circle by three guides, who told us their names and explained that one would walk ahead of us, one would walk in the middle, and one would walk behind us.
They would march us up, as if for crimes we’d committed, to the very top, and we had no choice but to follow orders. After all, Mt. Batur belonged to them and we were at their mercy.
There’s something almost menacing about a mile-high mountain in the middle of the night with no moon. It felt instinctive to avert my eyes whenever I’d notice its pitch blackness towering just to the right of us, as we wrapped around our path of loose sand between rows of tall trees and vegetable plants.
And then, before we knew it, the path opened wide and we were standing at the foot of the volcano, dumbfounded.
Although the moon was absent, the sky was incredibly clear and so served as a mirror — the stars sprawled across it the way the volcanic rock was sprawled across the trails up Mt. Batur.
And up our collective path, a long strand of lights — the flashlights of hikers ahead of us — illuminated the way, like the souls of the enlightened ascending to a common summit. The mountain suddenly clearly sacred.
The hike up would take two full hours, and because we relied entirely on the light of our flashlights (I actually relied on that of my hiking partner) and because the path was narrow, and because we weren’t seasoned at this, every single step mattered.
This was one of those experiences in which you have to be entirely present. Deliberate. Every rock you step onto, the amount of weight you place, the position of your hand for support — it all counted. You gauge the most secure steps amid the large embedded rocks, climb them, and then turn to the person behind you to see if you can offer your hand.
For 120 minutes, aside from our lovely guides’ occasional advice on how to negotiate certain points, we climbed in complete silence. We lifted ourselves above our to-do lists, above our mobile phones, internet access, and small talk, and the brisk air washed through not only our lungs but our entire bodies, purifying us, preparing us for the peak of it all.
What happens when there aren’t visible mountains or an ocean in the distance from behind which the sun can rise? I wondered. I was new to all this, gazing out over the clouds beneath us, blocking our view of the ground below, once we reached the top. Waiting, waiting, waiting…
And then: “There it is,” my hiking partner pointed it out to me, as he positioned his camera to steal this image my mind could hardly understand.
The sun began lifting through the center of the thick cloud layer, like awareness rising out of the mental chatter about things gone seemingly wrong — the yolk of an egg, a birth of sorts.
We imagine the sun comes out each morning from its nightly hiding place beneath the horizon, behind the mountains, but we have it all wrong.
It is us whose backs are turned toward the sun during what seems like abandonment by light. It is we who reset so we can begin again and whose mouths will still gape whenever we are willing to open our eyes in time to roll forward toward this blazing, bursting centerpiece of the Milky Way.
As my eyes were open then, awestruck by the great executor of day, unable to turn from it.
After tea and breakfast, after exploring Batur’s craters and caverns, and after warming our hands over the pockets of steam we found rising from holes in this active volcano, we began making our way back down, a greater guide shedding fresh light on our path.
We were like new, and we had the whole day ahead of us — this whole life. And we sensed we would somehow get this chance over and over again: to climb our mountains with intention. To reset ourselves. To descend our mountains with new perspective.
After all, this precise moment was — is — always the beginning of everything else. It is the catapult for all moments to come.