When the CEO of REI, Jerry Stritzke announced he was closing all of his stores for Black Friday to encourage more people to #optoutside and connect with nature, rather than camping outside a department store for hours, he started a revolution.
I decided to #optoutside after a ruthless week of "routine". As Paulo Coelho quotes, "if you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal". Those words resonate with me so much. As a society we are taught to function with routine, schedule and time. Time? What is that? Ekhart Tolle quotes, "people don't realize that now is all there ever is, there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind". As a society, we need to become more aware of our body and mind. But it seems to almost take more effort to bring mindfulness into practice than just going on with our everyday life as structured.
I admit I have a love/hate relationship with social media, for as I have been able to connect with people from all around the world, that I may never have had an opportunity to do so otherwise, it also can drive us to be so consumed with checking people's statuses, photo updates, etc. Everywhere you go, you see people on their phone, in the elevator, bus stop, in line at Starbucks. We do not realize it, but it becomes a habitual act, and in turn we are missing out on the now. The now for us is being consumed by somebody else's now. When I begin to observe physiological changes in myself, almost feeling as though I am being suffocated or stagnant, those are my red flags that I am becoming disconnected with the self and need to disconnect to reconnect.
Anyway, the other day I packed my day pack and headed up to Cleveland National Forest to hike a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail and get lost on the trails alone. Yes, alone.
No I am not crazy, and no I am not afraid. People usually seem to ask "why alone? don't you get scared? I could never do that."
That hesitation and fear, is the fear of self. We live in a codependent world, where someone who goes to the beach, movies, or travels alone gets a "loner" logo stamped on them by a good percentage of the world. Just to clarify, there is a difference in being alone and lonely. It is time spent alone that people get so in their head about, creating fear over what they may find. But on the contrary, when you give yourself that alone time, you tap into a deeper you, which in time reveals your true identity.
As soon as I set foot on the trail, my mind wandered with 20 million thoughts, making me fidgety and restless. "Are you on the right trail?" "It's hot, should you take your shirt off?" "You forgot sunscreen.", "I think your shoelaces need to be retied." The chatter in my head was so excessive it was almost like my mind was trying to find an excuse to turn around and end the hike. I finally began to take notice of my steps and my inhales and exhales to help quiet my mind. I started observing every rock on the dirt path, listening to the crunch of the dried leaves as they crackled underneath my boots, taking note of the whips of fresh air that brushed lightly on my skin and the warmth of the sun.
These were mindful acts to bring myself to the here, the now, the present moment. Glimpses of my past would flow in and out of my mind, or thoughts of what I would do after the hike or tomorrow would try and break my now. It's mind boggling to know how much effort it takes to be in the present, yet so easy to rely on the past or look toward the future. Yet the here, the now, what we can see, feel, and hear in this present moment, is so hard to grip.
Once I cultivated my mind to be present, to observe my surroundings and the intricacies of nature, I was amazed by how much beauty was around me. I unveiled a sense of peace and tranquility within myself. I felt light and free as I walked this endless single track with no one in sight. I felt so small in this massive meadow field. I sang, I smiled at the sun shining on me. There was no judgement out there. I came across an oversized pine tree the size of my head, a big tree that from afar seemed to have been attacked by bullets. As I got closer, I noticed holes filled with acorns, to later know it was the art of survival created by an acorn woodpecker. You miss the art of life if you only walk through it, rather than being in it.
I found this awesome rock boulder and perched myself with this vast view of pine trees and meadow around me, cracked a beer open and had my sandwich. I felt connected with something so deep. The trail just like life presented itself with a fork on the road. With little to no details, decisions have to be made. There was no one to guide me which way to go. I had to make my own decisions, follow that "gut" feeling and continue.
Yes, there were moments I questioned myself. I had calculated a 5-hour hike time and noticed I was getting close to four hours. My mind began to breed self doubt. I had no map (besides a screen shot of the trail on my phone with my battery at 20% and no reception). I admit I panicked. My breath got heavier and faster. I noticed my walk was no longer a steady pace. I gripped on to my pack tighter. My mind began to fire blame for not being fast enough or calculated enough or prepared enough. But that was it. That was the uncomfortable feeling that could take me deeper into darkness or guide me into inner light.
I stopped, took a deep breath and kept walking. I coached myself with the what ifs. The sun will start to set soon, meaning it will get colder- I brought an extra jacket and my headlamp. I had to keep telling myself, as long as I don't cut corners, this trail will lead me to an exit, it will lead me to where I need to be. An hour later I was able to visibly see the road and a relief washed over me.
Finally I arrived back to my car, removed my boots and pack to reveal two huge blisters on my feet, achy calves and tight shoulders.
You may be asking, Why would you want to put yourself through this "adventure of self"? To feel exhausted at the end of it all?
The answer is easy. Because putting myself out of my comfort zone, coming face to face with my own mind and thoughts, is my most valuable tool to a better understanding of myself, to growth, and to learning what moves me.
Everything You Have Ever Wanted, Is On The Other Side Of Fear