7 Lessons We Can Learn From Going into the Wilderness
I’m having my Cheryl Strayed moment after time spent backpacking with lady friends in Big Sur.
Because after a few years of coping, I know by now that I’m hard-pressed to find a better reset button than heading into nature and I’m usually going to come out of the experience with a little more insight into the nuances of my personal journey.
Life has been nuts for me lately, truth be told. I had had one hell of a week. I’ve been unnecessarily bickering with my boyfriend, falling behind and feeling inadequate in work, having drama in friendships and feeling disconnected from my family. This year of growth is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Frequent anxiety attacks and feelings of irrational overwhelm and worry have been wearing me down.
I’ve found myself throwing my healthy routines out the window and all to often turning to my tried and true numbing tactics to suppress all the feelings. Tons of coffee, too much wine, fatty comfort foods and Netflix sessions had replaced my dialed in rhythm.
So a few days ago, I hopped into a car with my bestie in Orange County and took off up the freeway to Molly’s house. Waiting for us there were two of Molly’s local friends and a car with a tank of gas.
We were embarking on (what I have decided is the first annual) Ladies Backpacking Trip. This adventure seemed like something of a miracle already. We pulled it off at the absolute last minute – because something told each of us that we needed to make it happen. Five women going off the grid for 3 days, exploring Big Sur and trekking to the Sykes Hot Springs that lie 10 miles into the Ventana Wilderness was the agenda.
When you’re walking for six hours in a day, you’re granted the luxury of precious time to think. And I had a lot of thinkin’ to do – about my health as of late, about how I want my career to move forward, the habits in my life that contribute to my wellness (and lack thereof), about what I want the next steps to be in my relationship, about what I’m sorry for and who deserves an apology, about self-worth and confidence and integrity and motivation.
I had forced myself into a situation where I’d have to face the feelings and issues that I’ve been so carefully avoiding feeling lately.
And I chewed on a few things while I sat quietly with my heart:
Life will go on even when we’re off the grid. In complete seriousness, lately I’ve been extra resentful of my cell phone. I hate seeing it light up, fearful that someone needs something from me, that there’s been a disaster or – worse- that I’ve fucked something up. This is, certainly, the anxiety talking but I’ve been grateful for the Do Not Disturb feature. So I had guessed I would be perfectly happy to set into airplane mode for a weekend and honor my introverted side that needed a break from the notifications.
But, I’d left a few real world loose ends untied that made me nervous and had a family health situation going on that I felt guilty about ignoring. It was difficult for me to push the button and to trust that it would all work itself out while I was doing my thing.
Guess what? When I turned the phone back on at the end of our excursion, everything had indeed been fine. Everything and everyone had taken care of itself. So maybe space between our worry and what we think needs to be immediate is a grace we can grant ourselves a little more often.
Silence holds almost every answer, including how to actually process the feelings we are scared of. Do I need to elaborate on this one? I will anyway.
I’m a big talker. I enjoy sitting down with a confidante and hashing out everything that’s on my mind, going through potential scenarios and weighing options in detail. Sometimes this means a lot of talking and a little less action (but that’s an essay for another day), and sometimes it means that all of my talking is muffling the sounds of my intuition.
Feelings really are hard. Extra hard for the sensitives among us. So much of the illness we experience is because we aren’t equipped to process these feelings in a healthy way. Yet, if I know one thing about feelings it’s that they only get harder and harder when we push them away and they only get easier if we acknowledge them by giving space and air.
We should all begin to tune into our bodies more often, looking and listening for subtle messages that it sends. I was thinking about this notion as we were about 9 miles into our first day. Anyone who has spent extended amounts of time on their feet knows that it’s key to pay attention for the signs of a “hot spot” coming up. One blister can ruin a trip and so it’s crucial to drop everything and take care of the rub on the spot, giving it a little TLC as soon as the heated sensation flares up.
So why don’t we do that in our day-to-day lives? Or, why don’t I, at least?
How awesome is the human body, you know? More than just for a potential blister, these amazing vessels are constantly alerting us to what needs attention. A stomach ache that always sets in before you have a meeting with one specific client, slight headaches when we consume caffeine, a pain in our lower back from sitting too long without a break – these messages are sent from the same place that clues us into a hot spot and we must, must, must be more willing to drop everything and take care of ourselves on the spot. It’s crucial.
Preparedness is key. I’ve been backpacking now for about 4 years. Ever since I moved to California and decided to impress my boyfriend by being outdoorsy, I was hooked. Now? Now backpacking is kind of my own thing, a hobby I’ve come to deeply enjoy.
And through trial and error, I know that when you’re carrying 30 pounds on your back for hours at a time, slogging through forests and up a mountain into the remote wilderness, you must be extremely prepared.
And isn’t that a huge parallel in adulting? It is for me at least, lately, and has been a huge lesson for me in the past years as I’ve become independent. Order, preparedness and strategy allow me ease. I can’t think of a single aspect of life that wouldn’t improve if I took the time and care to prepare thoroughly. And, now that I’m mulling this one over more, I realize that the anxiety I’m feeling lately likely has a connection to feeling unprepared, reactive and chaotic.
We really don’t need much in order to survive (and thrive). One of my absolute favorite aspects of backpacking is discovering how little we actually need in order to live – and then making those items top priority. Water. Food to eat. A way to have a fire. A place to sleep and clothing to protect from the elements. And maybe a pen and paper for good measure. That is is, people. That is it. The rest is icing.
There is magic where women gather. I have not laughed and loved so hard in far too long. I was reminded of what I’ve long known: gathering around each other with no intention other than to connect, share and enjoy fellow women in their authenticity is critical to our wholeness. We have so, so much to learn from one another and so, so much to give one another that we must take this seriously.
We must respect that there is no bond so strong or valuable as the one we have with our tribal women. We must make an effort to create this space, to lift each other up in love and let the magic happen.
Nature heals. Do I feel “healed”? No. But I feel a whole hell of a lot closer to my healing than I did before this adventure. When we connect to the earth, we connect to our most original selves. We can begin to feel our essence again and this, my friends, must not be taken for granted.
We can’t escape to the wilderness every weekend to reset (not yet, anyway), so I’m going to make an effort to bring more these principles into my everyday life by going off the grid even if it’s just for an actual lunch hour. By tuning into my intuition and paying more careful attention to my body’s communication with my mind. By holding space for silence and letting the answers that I’m chasing come to me as they wish. By honoring myself with the gift of preparedness. By focusing on what I actually need and being grateful for the icing in life, those creature comforts and the luxuries that deserve appreciation. By remembering my need for a tribal connection and nurturing my female friendships more regularly. And by carving space into every damn day in order to connect with nature in a longer walk through the park with my dog, an afternoon writing at the beach or a simple, beautiful moment allowing the moonlight to kiss my face at night.
Consider the reset button pushed.
Title photo credit to fellow backpacking badass Malia Mattox.