Outdoor Challenge: #1 of 12?

After my hike this past June and the realization of its benefits to my mind, body and soul, I decided that I want to be outside more. I don’t just mean in my backyard. I want to experience the elements: wrestle with them, enjoy them, care for them and be nurtured by them. But wanting that and doing that are two very different things. I have a long list of great ideas that slowly (or quickly) sank and thus disappeared in the quicksand called “everyday life”.  I knew that just wanting to do this wouldn’t create change. I had to come up with a goal and get some accountability. My friend who had taken me on that fateful hike was in the middle of a goal she had set for herself.  In 2017, she and her husband determined that they would spend one night outside each month for the entire year. While we hiked, she talked about how the first half of the year had gone. These weren’t just a series of six overnights thus far, but an unfolding story that was taking a year to tell.

Within a week following that hike, I decided I want to do the same, only with my daughter who was going to begin her senior year of high school. I had the summer to plan. If we started in September, we would get 12 overnights in before she left for college. One year, 12 overnights, her last year at home – this could be good for us as individuals, and as mother and daughter. I thought the idea was both brilliant and ambitious. I was excited and I was nervous. I texted my daughter.

Me: “What do you think of doing one overnight, outdoor excursion each month starting in Sept, including winter months? It will be tough but I think it will be a great experience for both of us. We would be able to get 12 in before you go off to college.”

Her: “YES!”

When she responds in all caps, she is excited. I didn’t ask her why she said yes. I think I was avoiding delving into any details that might cause either of us to change our minds. She was excited. I was excited. That was all the buy-in I needed. I began to share my plan with others, starting with my husband. He was surprised yet supportive. He was excited to participate with us on some of our trips.

I started researching equipment, locations, and backpacking know-how. People were supportive, enthusiastic, and even awed by what we were taking on. And it didn’t take me long to think perhaps I had bit more than I could chew. But I kept coming back to this idea of having one year left with my daughter before she leaves home. I have been through this with my oldest child. While his dependency didn’t end the day he left for school, starting college changed things and rightly so. I know that her departure will be a big deal. In feeling overwhelmed by both how quickly August will arrive and the goal I had set, I didn’t want to lose the forest for the trees. Even if we have three great outdoor adventures, that would be something worth celebrating. But neither do I want to miss the forest because of the trees. I decided I will do my best to plan and execute 12 outdoor adventures for us, from September 2017 through August 2018.

This past weekend, we did our first overnight outside. We didn’t venture far. We camped with my husband along with some friends. The planning and carrying out took time and effort. I have had many, many, many moments in this process where I thought to myself, “11 more times???” But we did it. And I think we can do it 11 more times. Some things will get easier. But even so, it will still take time and effort, which is why it probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t keep coming back to this goal. The idea of one trip per month would have become one trip every other month. Winter trips would have probably been cut out altogether. “How much would we enjoy in this cold anyway?” I would tell myself. (I have been down the road of The Best Of Intentions Blvd far too many times.) However the point isn’t weighing pros and cons and choosing the more reasonable option. The point is a year-long, unfolding experience for me to have with my nearly grown daughter; an experience that will be as good for her soul as it will be for mine as long as I remain attentive to our souls in the process.

In our overnight this past weekend, I woke up in the middle of the night. Our tent was near a creek and I heard something cross the water. I suspect it was a deer. I smiled and thought, “This is where I want to be, need to be every now and then.” To be in the elements and part of the elements felt good and life-giving. Lying between my husband and daughter, I felt love for them and an appreciation for their willingness to be next to me in this adventure.

Maybe my goal is too ambitious or maybe it is right on target. Only time will tell. But the point isn’t the destination, of saying at the end of 12 months that we did 12 overnights. The point is the journey towards next August. The point is the journey I will be taking with my nearly grown daughter. It will be hard and it will be rewarding. I believe it just might be life-changing for both of us. Time will tell.

Mind, Matter & Hurricanes

This summer, a good friend of mine took me out for a day hike on the Appalachian Trail. The experience was somewhat challenging and totally exhilarating. In the midst of a very busy time in my life, I was reminded of how time spent outside was so good for my mind, body and soul. What normally takes effort – recalibrating the mind to a sustainable pace; broadening my perspective beyond my problems; connecting with something larger than myself – seems to occur naturally and without mental effort when out in nature. It’s like the physical challenge of navigating a natural environment helps reset my mind to what is healthy and natural and sustainable. Maybe that is because the environments we build tend to be unrealistic, unsustainable, and unhealthy…

Perhaps a counterintuitive idea to consider in light of recent events. Two major hurricanes devastated parts of the US, putting nature’s power on full display. People lost their homes and all of their belongings. Some are without food and water. Others lost their lives. Maybe what differs between physical challenges and the mental ones is that the physical challenges are straightforward. The line between life and death is clear. But when we delve into our minds, the line between life and death blurs. What aids in our wellbeing can be ignored. What kills us – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – does so slowly, and without notice at first. And by the time we do notice, we might be too numb to change anything. Or too deep in denial. Or too entrenched in what we have always done and perhaps will always do. To help someone devastated by a hurricane is much easier to navigate than to help a person who is overcome with anxiety or depression. Identifying excess in nature is not debated, while we rarely agree on how much is too much when it comes to our own excesses. Physical malnourishment is significantly easier to recognize and address than spiritual malnourishment. The mind cannot cover up signs of under eating. But the mind can be quite good at hiding the signs of a dying soul. As human beings we rise to the occasion in the wake of a natural disaster. And on a daily basis we cause great destruction to ourselves and others through our thoughts, attitudes, and opinions.

I know not everyone responds to nature as I do. And I don’t believe that being outside equals healthiness. But there is something about the natural world, however that might be experienced, that differs from the world we tend to create.  And that might be worth pondering for awhile. Maybe we have taken the expression “mind over matter” too far. In our admiration for the power of one’s mind, have we forgotten the limits and sometimes the destructiveness it also holds? I am beginning to see, deeply see, what it means to find the answer beyond my own self. The mind is a wonderful gift. And the mind has its limits. Finding that space where mind and matter intersect seems to be where I find my whole self.