**This post is written by Team Seestar’s trailmate, Spirit**
Spirituality can be a scary word. Ghosts, gods, gurus, ohmmmmm my! And what does it mean to say “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual?” From my own experience, bringing up Spirituality in a conversation either sparks an instant connection and understanding, triggers the fight or flight response, or inspires the palms to be brought together in front of the heart while mockingly chanting “Ohmmmmmm”.
I have to admit that although humorous and often light-hearted, the final kind of response hits a sore sport within me. Upon a little reflection, I realized my defensiveness arises to protect my uncertainty. With a name like Spirit and a piece of paper that says “Certified Yoga Instructor,” I better have a clear and sophisticated understanding of the meaning of spirituality, no? Ahhh, too much pressure…time to run and hide! But the universe had other plans, she confronted me with the perfect opportunity to dive into the challenge of defining spirituality, or more specifically, my own spirituality.
Hiking along the trail one day, I ran into a thru-hiker, Tate. We began to talk about our intentions for hiking the trail and of course I mentioned that my main focus is spiritual growth. After a short, uncomfortable pause he said, “I guess I don’t consider myself spiritual, I’m not even quite sure what it means…” Eeek! Flight or fight response triggered! He flew ahead and I froze and fell behind. Once he was out of sight, I could breathe with ease again, but I felt disappointed that the conversation had to end in such an abrupt way. For the next hour, “spirituality” kept spinning around in my head, but everytime I tried to pin it down, it would dissolve or transform into something completely different. This is too hard to define! The task seemed so daunting because I didn’t want to be wrong or leave anything out. Spirituality is something so personal, how could I possibly understand what it means to each person? Oh….I guess I don’t have to do that, phew!
How about this: What does spirituality mean to me?
The gates opened and the ideas began to flow, materialize and burst from within. Right when my ideas began to settle and I was feeling satisfied with my conclusion I ran into Tate again. He was resting on a bridge, unknowingly waiting for my revelation. I sat down next to him, words filling my mouth ready to launch out and fill the space around us. But, at the same time, good ol’ Doubt began to creep its way onto the bridge with us and I became shy about sharing my reflection. Finally, the words couldn’t take it anymore and pierced through the silence.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about spirituality since we talked this morning, would you like to hear what I came up with?”
Spirituality According to Spirit
1. Acknowledging Your Purpose: Whether you believe it’s god-given, dharma, or whatever the heck you what it to be, having a sense of purpose is a huge part of spirituality. Your intentions in life create your reality.
Imagine 3 hikers:
Hiker #1, Purpose: Trying to beat the fastest record for completing the trail
Hiker #2, Purpose: Develop meaningful connections and friendships with other hikers
Hiker #3: Purpose: Sustain herself on foraging and resources from the surrouding natural environment as much as possible.
Within the same day and the same terrain, these hikers will have 3 completely different experiences because of their personal intentions. Hiker #1 may experience the thrill and fluidity of flying freely through the enivornment, completely in tune with his body. While Hiker #1 and #3 may have passed her by, Hiker #2 stopped to talk to a woman along the trail to learn that she herself hiked the trail 40 years ago and reads some of her entries from her journal to the inspired Hiker #2. Finally, Hiker #3 spent the day filling bags of blueberries, strawberries and mulberries that the other hikers breezed by without second glance. Each hiker walked the same path on the same day, but engaged with different aspects of the trail. . Our intentions filter the stimuli around us and draw us towards certain experiences. Our intentions kindle our internal fire, motivate us, inspire us and give us a sense of purpose.
I met a hiker named Scribbles. While thru-hiking the AT Scribbles is also working a project for his university. If I remember correctly, Scribbles is exploring how intention changes a space. How would you experience a space differently when the intention is simply going from point A to point B versus simply wandering or exploring an area with no destination in mind?
So now you have this awesome intention or sense of purpose, and then…..? Take action! This is often the more difficult step for me. I know what I want, but I need to speak up about and do it! For some reason, even if I know something brings me joy and fulfillment, I can still easily ignore that desire or stuff it away…but, not for long. For me, when I continue to hide from my desires and intentions, a fire starts to build up inside. First, I experience an inkling of discomfort, then irritabilitiy, frustration, and finally full blown anger. What’s interesting is that most people around me aren’t even aware of this anger that’s boiling and bubbling inside because I mastered maintaining a calm and contained external demeanor. I’m still working on finding healthy ways to express this anger; at home I would scream into my pillow or in my car, make crazy noises or try out weird laughs, or flail wildly to disperse the energy. The best cure for this anger is to live my intentions and to fulfill my purpose, to act!
I try to look at all emotions as messengers, what is my anger telling me about my current situation? What purpose does it serve? If I remove the label “anger” what I feel inside is a fire, a fuel, a warmth, an energy, a yearning to act. Just what I need after denying my self-expression. When the anger messenger is not heard, he surrounds me, coloring whatever I see. My hike becomes a hating hike: I hate these rocks, I hate this weather, I hate these gnats, I hate my pack, I hate this catepillar, everything sucks! The funny thing is, when I am at peace and expressing myself genuinely, I begin to love everything I see, even including the gnats!
The best intention I’ve heard so far for hiking the AT was from a hiker and trail angel, Snakeman (introduced in Saffron’s post): “I hike to walk off my anger and to learn to laugh again”
3. No FOMO
Two friends and fellow thru-hikers, Pippa and Minna, introduced me to a new term, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I immediately understood this term because it is something that I do ALL THE TIME. It is often difficult for me to make decisions because I don’t want to miss out on what I don’t choose. This kind of mindset always leaves me in a liminal space, all of the possibilities pulling me in different directions like a human tug-o-war. It’s not sustainable and eventually I’ll be pulled apart. Also, with FOMO comes a lack a presence. It’s hard to be in the moment when you’re thinking of all the other moments you’re missing out on. Drifting place to place in an overwhelming fog, never allowing myself to settle and the fog to clear.
I had a dream recently, that ever so kindly emphasized the amount of FOMO I was indulging in. A woman was giving her dog many treats. Each time the dog approached a treat, the woman would pull out another. The dog was too distracted by each new treat that he never actually ate any of them. Sounds like this little pup was wanting it all, but at the same time experiencing little…sounds too familiar.
So what is the opposite of FOMO? Contentment. Gratitude. Single-Minded Focus. A practice in progress…
4. Slowing Down and Creating Space
Many days have gone by on the trail without much pause or stillness. The result: feelings of overwhelm, spaciness, forgetfulness. Everything is moving so fast there is little time to marinate, savor, soak and absorb the experince and everything becomes a big blur. I am shaken up like a snow globe and cannot see what’s behind the whirl of white. In this flurry it’s almost impossible to feel clarity or awareness.
The contrast of experiencing life in clarity and in fog is quite mind blowing. The moments I have allowed myself to meditate, play in a stream, bask in the sun, or make afternoon tea, I felt alive, refreshed, restored, and at peace. No destination in mind, no rush.
5. Letting Go and Allowing the Cycles
People change, the environment changes, moods change, relationships change. Change is the only constant. Even though I try to hold on sometimes, I’ve experienced that it is much easier to embrace and accept this fluidity then to cling. This is one of the most beautiful, but also ungrounding aspects of the trail. Everchanging.
A wonderful hiker Wayfarer, shared with me a short excerpt from Aldo Leopold. In his own beautiful words, he described nature as an artist. An artist of temporality. Each moment a new painting, sculpture, design, and symphony. In order to see nautre’s art you must stay present to capture every moment, which also means you must immediately let go of the past. Furthermore, does nature create for an audience and for praise? Or does it create for the pure joy of the act?
6. Trust the Process
Spirituality is a process. We are always evolving and changing. Sometimes we feel lost, sometimes we feel found. No matter what happens, trust the process, trust yourself.
“Great Spirit for brother
let me be the mountain under
which he climbs to discover
his process now that’s progress”
What does spirituality mean to you?
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