Month: January 2019

#1 Reason / A Pilgrimage

forest-sunbeams-trees-sunlight-70365  I hesitate to call this journey a pilgrimage. There is the adventure and challenge aspect, along with hopes and expectations of friendship and trail community.  Yet most assuredly there is a spiritual significance to this hike. When I first started planning,  my hopes were to duplicate what what I’d experienced on shorter ventures into the wilderness areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. On those trips I felt a closeness with nature and a sense of my place in creation. The natural world,  revealing itself explained how perfectly everything fit together. There was an order amongst the chaos and I was a part of it. In that I was humbled and peaceful at the same time.

Two years ago my thoughts focused on my expectations, hopes, and ambitions. Today I simply want to open myself to receiving whatever messages and meanings God has planned for me. What I hear and see is what is meant for me.norway-mountain-sky-blue Deliberately walking for days and months in and among creation opens a conversation within oneself, beginning as random thoughts that turn into questions. Questions which require an answer.  Being open to listening develops a pathway for inspiration and growth in faith and spirit. I don’t see myself as much seeking something, more like just being present and accepting of all that transpires. The end result may or may not provide answers or direction, but the effort is not wasted. My spiritual journey will continue far beyond the trail.

Let me explain what this hike is not. It is not true suffering. I am willingly foregoing the daily comforts surrounding me, with the intention to develop a deeper appreciation for each one of them. It is not penance seeking absolution. A hike is not needed for that. It is also not survival. The purpose is not to develop the ability to live off the land with no need for community. Without others there is no need for me.  Because it is deliberate and intentional, it is voluntary. That means I can go home at anytime. So what is it?

I spoke earlier of a conversation. A conversation has two sides. One side has to listen. I am mindfully going  with an open ear. The experience could at times be good or bad. How I respond or change is unknown. Yet I am thankful for the opportunity.  I openly expect to be humbled yet have faith that it will make me stronger. What I hear and see, is what is meant for me. Two people will take the same hike and yet have an entirely different experience. That is why the phrase (“Hike your own hike”) is so relevant. I don’t think I’ll come away a smarter or better person. I simply seek the conversation. I must be open to whatever happens. Listening mindfully, understanding that it is meant for me and me alone. In doing so I have a chance to respond. Become an active part of the conversation. What that conversation looks like is part of the adventure! The journey continues…pexels-photo-1690355




# 2 Mindfullness


Before I get into this I would like to say that Mindfulness is a very broad topic and has many levels in which it is taught and practiced. I am a beginner and my views and statements reflect my limited experience. Mindfulness began as part of the teachings of the Buddha centuries ago. In the United States its history starts in the 1970’s when Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a stress reduction program based on a type of Buddhist meditation. There is an ongoing debate between those who see Buddhism as a philosophy and those that consider it a religion. I am not attempting to or desiring to answer those questions. I am of the opinion that stopping to smell the roses has become more difficult as the flow of information increases. And it’s not just the speed but so much of that information is useless, mindless, and banal. I hope to develop mindfulness to keep me on point, in hopes of realizing all the gifts and potential God has bestowed upon me. This was suppose to be a simple disclaimer of my limited experience, but is turning into the blog itself. . I guess I better get started. The Journey continues…with a few of my thoughts on mindfulness and an example from my life and what it has to do with my hike.

The human brain is a multi tasking marvel. It processes and evaluates the past, present, and future simultaneously. Often we have difficulty slowing it down to concentrate and focus clearly on the task at hand, the present moment. Mindfulness attempts to give us a tool to discard the distractions which cloud and negatively characterize our thought process. Mindfulness doesn’t require an emptying the mind of all thoughts but by deliberately and intentionally coming back to the present moment the focus becomes not on the problem itself but our relationship to the problems. This process is work like any other exercise program. Right away you will see how eager the mind wants to wander to anywhere but the present. To escape the clutter and distraction for a few minutes can be beneficial for our thought process and physical health. I will list some links to a few videos on this subject at the bottom of the post.

Our lives are shortchanged in many ways. Distractions permeate everyday life. To the point they thwart our ability to experience each day in fullness and vitality. In conversations we often aren’t fully present. Our minds are thinking about yesterday or off into the weekend ahead. We allow these distractions to pull us away to the past or to an imagined future. The present moments meantime tick away with little inspiration or purpose. Life is meant to be lived. Deliberately and intentionally. Even the small moments present an opportunity for a fuller relationship to others and to the world around us. Being awake and aware let’s us see the needs of others, enabling us to provide support and care. Being present internally helps us to see and understand ourselves, our concerns and worries. Freeing up wasted energy to develop a positive outlook and a loving spirit. That is living!

Here is an extreme example of how mindfulness could have been helpful in changing my life. The most important moments we have are the present. The past as they say is past. However the truth is, we often we carry it with us. The negative associations become anchors holding us back. Mindfulness can help us to let go of those feelings and attend to the present moment without reservations.

I grew up in a somewhat unstable home. I had two things in my favor, brothers and sisters who cared for each other and a safe accessible community. Not a bad environment,  just one where the future of our family wasn’t assured. I was young and had no understanding of the reasons nor the effects all this had on my decisions. I simply got through it. Seemingly I left it all behind. Once in the working world and modestly in control of my basic needs, a degree of security replaced my early fears. I held fast to my new found stability. Life was good. At the time I was looking forward not at the past. But in fact I was really living day to day the past feelings were below the surface. What really would have secured some stability in my life was a college degree. That would require a roll of the dice I wasn’t prepared to make. I simply wasn’t willing or able to risk losing the little bit of security that I had achieved. It meant I was not going to chase a college degree. To do so would require getting beyond those fears that in my mind were long since left behind. Because they hadn’t truly been left behind, I couldn’t visualize the real possibilities and the potential benefit. They had become an anchor. An anchor can do two things. It can keep you secure or hold you back. I used it both ways. My fear and doubt both became the anchor holding me back and at the same time I feared the unsettling changes which would be required. The anchor would keep me from drifting back to what I feared most. Instability. The past unconsciously controlled how I thought and thus my present actions.

Mindfullness, when developed through practice allows us to view hidden issues almost as if we are looking at ourselves from the outside.Once free of judgement and the emotions that shape our thought process, we can move forward. That is why mindfulness is so important. It allows us to make positive changes and choices by letting go of the past. Freed of our self judgement our thoughts become just that, our thoughts. They don’t define us and by coming back to the present in a mindful way we reestablish our true identity and purpose. No need to replay the past or wish for a future happiness. Understanding the present situation allows us to make that next step intentionally.

The routine and nature of modern life can lead to complacency and apathy, robbing us of precious moments in time. We can’t restore time, but a deliberate awareness of the present can restore life. I have heard it said “We have not one but two lives. The second one begins when we realize we only have one life”

Part 2

What does this have to do with my hike? I think that it goes without saying that at 63 I’d like to maximize my enjoyment and be fully present for each day going forward. Hiking is naturally mindful. Each step requires an alert body and mind. In life or on the trail very few paths are on perfect ground. A loose rock, a root, wet leaves all can spell disaster. A fall potentially can take you off the trail. Awareness of changing weather conditions is often important. Sounds of wildlife in the area can keep unintended interactions with bears or other potentially dangerous animals. Also though the Appalachian Trail is pretty well-marked mistakes in direction are often possible. Awareness of changes in trail direction is a must. Aches and pains need monitoring. Adjustments to stride or equipment can minimize the toll on the body. At the same time, when fatigued the mind tends to wander. While hiking, deliberately returning the mind to the present is an exercise performed over and over for hours a day. mindfulness becomes an important part of each day.

I can also say I have experienced a curious effect when these three elements come together. There is something about the step step step cadence, left right left combined with the feel of the ground beneath my feet and the natural world around me that stimulates my thoughts. When physical and mental tiredness sets in, my mind wanders. It’s as if the brain relaxes, resistance ceases and out pours thoughts and ideas previously hidden. Many times with more clarity and inspiration. Hiking is a sure-fire method whenever I am having trouble with solving problems or jump starting the thought process.

The 2,200 mile journey should provide sufficient opportunity to make mindfulness part of my daily life. I look forward to experiencing every minute of every day. I challenge myself to being mindful through the joyful moments of a sunrise, a beautiful mountaintop, a miserable cold rainy day or a parched dry throat while pushing up a steep incline on a hot sunny day. The goal will be to find a happiness, a peaceful mind predicated, not on a future time which may never happen, unchained from a negative past experience, but based on the present moment with a faith that when that future arrives it comes with the promise of purpose and fellowship. Thanks be to God.

Three links that speak on mindfulness

What is mindfulness explained by Science Guy  Youtube

Using Mindfulness to choose Love over Fear Dr.Narveen Dosanjh MD  Youtube