When I set off for the first time to walk a long distance intentionally, I recognized, that the act of walking – as long as I’m on my own and I have only the idea of walking in mind instead of reaching a location – does something strange to my thoughts. They were different and in a different order.
Meditation in motion
I read some books about meditation. Most of them claimed to talk to an occidental audience. But I always failed when it came to one of those exercises, which invites the reader to let the “thoughts pass by like clouds”. WTF is occidental about that? More and more I got the impression that my inner control mechanisms were completely messed up. The more I wanted a thought to pass by, the more it stuck in my mind.
Hiking is different. First of all there is a body in motion. All senses are switched on. And the thoughts can’t help but coming with the body. They are inspired by the outside world but they are born inside. In my imagination walking empowers the mind to establish new connections.
I’ll try to explain this. Let’s take some pictures and some headlines. Now you select a random picture and a random headline and put them next to each other. What is the likelihood of meaningful context? Experiments prove that it is very high. This doesn’t happen because somebody creates meaning, it’s completely made by the brain. The brain completes the circle of meaning. Because meaning is the brains default setting.
In my opinion, this is what happens while hiking.
There are a lot of effects which reinforce each other while hiking:
Wide spaces in nature create inspiration and distance to small thinking. The monotone movement of walking in combination with slight fatigue acts like a preliminary stage of trance, like a millwheel transporting consistently new thoughts to the surface. And the brain, passive and active simultaneously, closes the gaps between those fields.
Hiking does those things to me. It’s like meditating. Just without the clouds.
Beauty and bond to earth
Today I live in a big city but I grew up in a village with infinite forests and vast greenery. Sometimes I’m really alienated by city values and city people. They are complicated, they think too much about how life has to be instead of living it and a lot of them have problems village people wouldn’t even see. The worst thing about that: I am like that too.
When I’m out in the woods I discover life in its simple way. Trees standing there since hundreds of years don’t giving a shit about moving. Birds singing always the same melody, learned from their parents. The light searching its way through the leaves just to end as a sparkling trace in a lake.
I admire this kind of beauty and I feel connected and inspired to think about myself as a part of this unpretentious and elementary system.
I don’t know exactly what it is, but I think it’s a mixture of felt strength, exhaustion, fresh air, vast landscapes, new connections between synapses and the simplicity of goals that make me feel like that. Sometimes during or at the end of an intense hiking day my endorphins act like a roller coaster. My cheeks are red, my body feels strong, my legs are made of steel. I feel like a tiger. I’m invincible.
Eventually there is nothing more to say than this: I’m happy.
There is still more. Gratitude and freedom. There was a time in which I was convinced that I could never sit in a long distance flight again. Sitting for a long time meant pain for days. And I was afraid of pain. Pain and fear wore me down.
This fear still exists. But it’s different now. It’s rather something like a concern. It became unthreatening and doesn’t stop me from doing things anymore.
Due to a conversation with someone who knows about fears, and who told me essentially, that it is impossible to get rid of them, I promised myself to fight mine. At the time I felt very weak. There was no trust left in this thing called body which was once a part of myself. When I identified my body as the catalyst of my fears I challenged it.
I started running. Slowly but steadily. I convinced my body to do things he didn’t wanted to do. And I don’t know what happened next. But with every step I took there was an inch of freedom coming back. Until I was at a place, where freedom was bigger than fear. I was in peace with my body again.
Therefore I’m grateful. I want to use this reclaimed freedom and I want to feel it. And I want to kick my fear’s ass. I want to show them who’s boss.
How far can I go? And how much freedom can I obtain?
To feel this kind of freedom and to answer those questions – that’s why I hike.
Why do you hike?