There are things you cannot learn in an hour, thoughts you cannot think in a day and meaning you cannot find at the first fork in the road. There are lessons that you only learn after you walk for days and there is truth that hides deep in the forest.
Stop focussing on the end
On the first day you thought about your job and your money and your schedule. Today you only think about what’s in your pack, what’s in your stomach, and what awaits on the road ahead. Today your mind is clear and calm like the air you breath.
You need to hike for days to really learn what nature has to teach. You need to get lost in the woods before you can discover what can be found there.
When you hike for a couple miles, you can see the end the whole time. It can be hard to be present when your mind remains aware of what comes next. Hiking for a day, it is easy to be consumed by the destination and then by the return. But in doing so, you miss so much.
Let life live itself while you walk away from it for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. It will be there when you get back, still going on like normal. There is time. So much time. The trees know this, but us humans have forgotten. You are your own rhythm, nature is your only clock. You have a map, but that’s different than knowing the way.
Rely on yourself completely
Have you ever been on your own? I mean really out there, alone. When was the last time that you were days away from the world? Have you ever relied on yourself day in and day out?
Most people have never really been alone. We are constantly surrounded by friends and strangers and siblings and systems which humans have created to keep the monstrosity of human society in motion.
Here we have doctors and hospitals, grocery and convenience stores, teachers and parents, cars and buses, phones and televisions. Here a million systems of life support keep us comfortable and enclosed in each of our bubbles.
Out there is danger, discomfort and decisions. Out there there are no directions to follow except the markings on the map and there is no schedule to keep except the turn of the Earth.
Once you leave our human construct behind and spend days hiking into the depths of nature, you learn to rely on yourself. After all, you are the only one around.
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This self-reliance builds a strength and resilience that we desperately lack in our society. So few people make sound decisions and know what they want in life. It is rare to meet someone who says what they mean and means what they say. And it’s rarer still to meet someone who follows through and does it.
Hiking helps your mind slow down
In our daily lives, we are bombarded with stimuli, overloaded with expectations and crushed between schedules. We have a million things to do and never enough time to do them. There is always someone trying harder, doing better, looking prettier, or earning more than you. For so many people today, life is never enough.
That’s not to say that you don’t or can’t live a fulfilling life in our modern world, certainly not. We all strive to and many of us succeed heartily.
But there are very few moments of radio silence in this world. The city never sleeps. There is no serenity.
The experience of hiking for miles and miles until they compile into hours and days and weeks is a catharsis not found any other way. Some chase the runner’s high, but this is the hiker’s high. It is not built on endorphins and activity and challenge. It is built on steady progress and a timeless passage of contemplation with nowhere to be but where you are.
“In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” -John Muir
When you hike for days on end, you achieve a peace of mind that is indescribable and entirely unattainable inside of civilization. Particularly when hiking alone, the hours of thought and motion turn your mind inwards, at first to a cacophony of thought and worry and responsibility and decisions. But day after day, the noise dies down, until it is just the sound of your footsteps.
I imagine it is a lot like what you would experience in a sensory deprivation tank or in a vipassana retreat. When your mind is forced to face its inner dialogue and sift through all the noise, you learn to let go of what you do not need. When you are done, all that is left is your own voice in your head, clearly audible and tangibly focused.
This summer, find a trail through the mountains or across the plains or out into the desert that stretches for miles beyond measure. Find a journey of days or weeks and make time to take it. Go alone or with a friend or a group. Go.
There are things you cannot learn in an hour, thoughts you cannot think in a day and meaning you cannot find at the first fork in the road.
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We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.
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