October is perhaps the greatest possible hiking month of them all . . . the leaves, the crispness in the air, the return of your favorite layers and autumn flavored treats. And yet, this October I managed only one great escape; a measly urban adventure just blocks away from my downtown home.
Why all this trail avoidance? Well, this year, the shift in seasons also brought with it the long enduring storm know as GRADUATE SCHOOL. While already working full-time in a clinical practice, I had the great idea that now would be an excellent opportunity to finally pursue the master’s degree I’ve dreamed of for years. Last month I officially embarked on this grad school journey, which truly will be a great adventure in itself. Needless to say, with full-time work and full-time school, I’m full-time swamped. The days of far away drives and weekends spent in awe are gone, and I’m definitely feeling the growing pains.
I’ve neglected the commitment I made to the trails, and in a whole lot of ways, I’ve neglected myself too. For a class assignment this week, I was required to complete a personality test. This test was designed to show the strengths and learning preferences each test taker possesses. The results of this assessment by far determined that I am a nature-based learner, and that I learn best through the incorporation of outdoor activities . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . especially hiking! And yet, there I was- tethered down to my computer, learning these things that I already so innately know to be true, rather than rolling my boots through a crunchy leaf-covered path with the autumn sun warming my heart.
This strength in nature, also came with a strong tendency away from “strength in numbers;" reaffirming instead my inclination towards meditation, reflection, and mindfulness practices. This is no surprise, especially since hiking for me has such a strong mindfulness component. The trail has always been my teacher; constantly introducing my senses, systems, and thoughts to new information and experiences. It has always been my trusted colleague; able to hear me rehash the day, an encounter, a presentation, or an inspired thought, all without judgment or constraint. Over time, the trail has also become my microscope; allowing me to strip away the macro excess and focus minutely on the importance of an innovative idea, the details of a relationship, and the finely pointed direction of my life’s journey.
Even as I write this, I have an urge of guilt for not spending this time more wisely; for not embracing the last bits of autumn that is otherwise sweeping me by, and even more so, for not focusing my written attention towards the next grad school assignment that will be due in just a few short days. And yet, the irony of ironies is that this upcoming assignment is on the topic of the fundamental importance of PLAY. Yes, PLAY; that very thing that I have held myself back from for this entire month, and the very thing that often gets pushed aside whenever we become pinched for time or resources.
So the assignment I have decided to give myself for next month, is to break free from theory and cognitive pursuits and get back to the practice of full-living adventure. I need to play. I need to be in the great outdoors. And based on my assessment, it looks like I may be able to learn even more because of it! Of course I will continue to work and study, these components cannot be shut out of life either. But rather than living in extremes, I will aim to invite more balance into each week, and more play into each day.
Comment below to share how you build adventure into your busy week.
1 month, 2 states & 7 solo hikes in on my 52 Hike Challenge Adventure! It has been a whirlwind of a month; with a whole lot of change and even a few trails I did not anticipate exploring. Looking back on just the past few weeks makes me wonder what it will be like to reflect on the entire year's process. Guess we'll find out soon enough . . . 45 more to go!
Wow, what a week! The Adventure has begun and there is so much to say, so much to share, so much to write! But, as the irony of all ironies would have it, I am just a few days away from venturing off into total, off the grid meditation retreat silence. Yep, you heard it, a whole entire week of pure practice and not one. single. word.
Meditation has always held a strong presence in my hiking life, and much more so on solo adventures in particular. Often times my practice takes the form of a formal, seated meditation in some deeply shaded off shoot from the path, but most often, my practice is simply that of bringing my full attention to the present; the smell of the sage brush, the crunch of the sand, the sole of my foot as it presses down into the winding trail.
And yet, there is really nothing simple about it. Practicing mindful awareness requires effort, sometimes a great deal of it. This effort dares you to escape the endless stimuli of your earbuds, your iTunes, your Fitbit, and that app that you can't possible leave home without. Even more, it dares you to escape the hold of the queen of all delusions; your very own thoughts.
Your thoughts. How many have you had today? How many have you had just while reading this last sentence? And how many of them are actually true? It is the mind's job to produce thoughts. That's what the mind does, and clearly, for most of us, the mind is working very, very well. Our thoughts are not an enemy to be blamed or demonized though. Our thoughts are invitations to practice. Our thoughts are the tool we can use to better our practice. And our thoughts, by their very existence, are our practice.
The next time you find yourself in the great outdoors, try this: Move your body into an upright, comfortable seated position, arms resting down in your lap. With eyes closed, breathe in the experience of the world around you. Pause for a moment here. Notice the temperature of the air as it enters your nostrils and travels down into your lungs. As you exhale, notice your body's gentle release; feeling supported by the earth beneath you. Now guide your awareness towards your ears, your consciousness of sound. Notice any sounds that are present around you. Pause for a moment with recognition of each of these sounds; notice the wind, notice the birds, notice the leaves.
Notice the to-do list streaming though your mind. Then notice how this is an invitation to return your attention back to your breath. Notice the judgment seeping in, "Am I doing this right?" Then notice how this is an invitation to return to your awareness of the sounds. Recognize each passing thought, without judgment, as a gentle nudge back into your practice. When your meditation is complete, gently reopen the eyes.
If a seated meditation feels too vulnerable, especially while outdoors on a solo hike, you may choose to adapt this practice by keeping eyes cast down. Alternatively, a walking meditation may even be more preferred.
To explore this option, begin by gently slowing your pace, guiding your attention inwards, towards each intentional breath. Mentally pause here, creating space for greater awareness. Observe the mechanics of each step the body takes. Feel, again, the sensation of each purposeful breath. Pausing here, notice the color of the soil. Notice the soil on your boots. Feel the sun, the wind, the rain literally pour down upon you. Know that you are vast.
Of course, no hike will entirely, or even mostly, be one of pure, mindful meditation. Aim for moments, glimpses into the present. If it helps, develop a marker that will prompt your attention. For example, every time you take a sip of water, begin a new walking meditation. Perhaps stop along the trail for a seated practice as well, or don't. Meditation is about looking within to identify what is really right for you.
And maybe after trying this practice out for a while, you too will put down the devices and stop measuring yourself in thoughts. When we're hiking in the present moment, it's not ever about how far or how fast we can get ourselves "there." It is only ever about being right, exactly here.
Almost exactly 5 years ago today, I hiked my first and only Colorado 14er. The hike was amazing, the company was incredible, and yet somehow, time did not stand still. Five years. Just think for a moment all that has crossed your path in the last 5 years. All of the shifts in work, in family, in self that have taken place. Five whole years. Somewhere along the way of trudging and surviving my way through these last 5 years, I managed to completely misplace the smiling, daring woman in this picture. I think I've found her again though, or at least I'm hot on her trail, and am ready to welcome her back just in time for this; my very own personal adventure in Oneyearland.
This next year will be the start of a new chapter, one in which I will be ushering in an attitude of trust and thriving, and a spirit of community. To help me on this path, I will be completing the "52 Hikes Challenge," while also serving alongside an amazing sisterhood of "Hike Like a Woman" Ambassadors. I invite you to follow along on my adventure, or even join me by creating and sharing an adventure of your own. Where have you been in the last 5 years? Where do you want to go in this next one? The choice is yours, and your adventure is waiting.
Welcome to Oneyearland, adventure on!
At Adventures in Oneyearland, you don't need to be a pro to have a passion for the great outdoors, all you need is a plan to get you there.