Purity at Our Feet: Success on the A.T. and in Life
Our Struggle With Consciousness
I sat, silent, still, meditating. Clearing my mind. Creating empty space. Rising above the noise surrounding me into the hollow sky. Breathing. All I heard was breathing. Breathing.
Then, a sudden pinprick started to emerge in the back of my mind. It started small, barely a whisper of a thought, but it began to grow. A tortuously slow agonizing evolution I was acutely aware of but unable to stop. I began to sink back to earth: a listless unnerving descent. I struggled against it—fought back. But back into my body I descended. This growing tumor of a thought grabbed me by my ankles and forcibly yanked me back to my dreary bedroom: it’s cluttered mess, it’s monotonous four walls and the smell of car exhaust seeping through my open window. My eyes blinked open. My moment of freedom was lost among the crumbling wreckage of my consciousness. Buried back under tons of rubble piercing painfully into the back of my mind. I sighed as I rose stiffly from my spot on the floor. My legs untangled, blood flowed back into my toes, breathing new life; extinguishing the momentary numbness they had slowly grown accustomed to.
My struggle with silence, absolute freedom, and escape is not unique to only me. We’ve all attempted to find a space within the cluttered confines of our minds where we can escape for a few minutes of the silence we dearly long for. Whether its meditation, yoga, hiking, drawing, writing—physical outlets to free our mind and to focus on the spirit only work as long as our focus is true. The second we allow our strength to falter, we break. We fall back to reality. We need conviction of mind, desire and passion for said freedom to truly achieve it, or at least a form of freedom our minds can handle. Even if only momentarily. That hour or even a few minutes of our soul flying above the clouds, our mind becomes devoid of the stress, unhappiness and loneliness we feel very distinctly every day in our lives. The struggle is real. It’s not a product of your mind. It’s a symptom of the society around us, and this impossible situation we’ve been place in. It’s a harsh dark world in which we live, so our minds grasp on to the minuscule fracture of light allowed us and we pull with all of our strength. We pull against our parents, our family, our friends, our bosses and jobs, our government, our god or gods, and our culture. We pull against everything pinning us down, trapping us to our meager existence. We long for more. We search for more. Something deep in our soul—our spirit—cries to be set free. Our ancient ancestors blood courses unwavering through our veins. They survive in us and so we feel a hunger we cannot quite place, a primal pull towards the beginning; our first steps upright moving forwards as humans, the piece of the puzzle that separates yet simultaneously still bonds us to our animal brethren. This feeling gnaws us raw until we feel we’ll perish without release—without flight. It smothers us mentally and spiritually unless we let it free.
It seems I’ve been having a struggle with consciousness lately. My mind is drowning in a dark bottomless freezing lake while my body stands on the distant shoreline, a silent observer. Shaking her head in disappointment, she turns and disappears beyond the tree line into the blending shadows: a phantom among phantoms. My mind left helpless, continuously struggling for air but never fully grasping it and never simply perishing among the darkness.
If you’ve survived thus far in this post, I applaud you. My posts are anything but quick and to the point. You’re probably asking yourselves, what does this struggle with my perception of myself have to do with the Appalachian Trail…and please get to the point Sarah. I have a point. I promise. Just hang in there.
Quitting or Persevering: Success Is Your Choice
I think we can all agree that hiking the A.T. will be an experience none of us can quite predict. We’ll struggle. We may fail. We may succeed. We’ll hit the lowest points in our lives, dredging through the pits, while the next day we may be soaring with the birds high in the clouds. This will be an experience like no other. So let it be. Physical bodies deteriorate, weaken, and die. Everything short of death of our physical body we can overcome. Our minds and our spirit is where the real struggle lies. The struggle within yourself and your awareness is the very thing we deal with everyday. Decisions. Plans. The past. The future. Every stimulus around us affects how we think and how we respond. Our struggles are not of our own making but are meticulously chosen for us by those decisions we find ourselves making. On the trail, I plan on escaping the negative stimuli. Escaping societal pressure placed on me. Escaping my own personal pressures I place on myself everyday. Yes, there will be struggles, but only those of my own making. I will finally have control over my own struggles. I can choose to stop or go. I can choose to walk or to take a break. I’ll be living for myself in the present: allowing the soft breeze through trees to influence my attitude instead of the honking of cars. Embracing the smell of dirt and feel of the sun on my face instead of shading my eyes and shutting my senses off to the distractions surrounding me.
My father’s favorite word growing up was perseverance. Any struggle I had—physical, mental, or spiritual—that one word always came to the forefront of my mind. While I’ve failed miserably more times than I’d like to admit at any number of pursuits in my life, I wholeheartedly hold to the truth that it’s the experience that matters in the end—the courage to take the first step and the honesty to learn from it—not the strength to actually finish. Sometimes admitting defeat takes more strength and courage than actually enduring the struggle and finishing. Whether its fear of ridicule and judgments from others or our own personal criticism placed upon us, giving up anything in life takes fortitude. To know when to stop, what your limit is, takes knowledge and strength in yourself far beyond what others can comprehend.
When I started this journey and first told my family I was going to hike I thought it was all or nothing. Not finishing wasn’t an option. The other week while Skyping with my mom, she told me, “You know, it will be ok if you don’t finish.” Ok. It will be ok. For such a small word it had quite a huge impact on me. I realized I shouldn’t be consumed by completing the A.T. in the physical sense. That sort of tunnel focus is what will cause me to miss out on everything on the periphery: all the beautiful surroundings I dearly wish to see. So, I implore you, do all those badass things thru-hikers have the privilege of experiencing. Keep your eyes open and your mind free. Feel. Experience. Hurt. Triumph. Let go.
My personal success has never been a steady goal to aim for. My idea of success, what I want to gain from this one ever fleeting life I find myself living, has redefined itself an unfathomable number of times. I’m nothing if not indecisive about life. But I do know I want freedom and independence everyday, along with new sights and sounds and smells given freely to me. I want my mind to be overwhelmed by the enormity and sheer wonder of this earth. That’s my success. Call it rebellion against societal norms or familial pressures—call it what you will—but it’s mine. What I’ve come to recognize is that my idea of success in my life mirrors my idea of success on the A.T.
I want to feel in the depths of my soul that there is peace in this world. That it is attainable and I can achieve it within myself if I just have the courage to do it. I want to experience it. I want to feel it within me.
There will always be darkness here. There is no permanently escaping it. But there is a purity at our feet more crucial than our physical bodies and it’s bound to our souls. We need to revel in it. We need to lie on the earth and run our fingers through it: feel the amazing pulse of life. Our hope for the dawn lies in what surrounds us. Animals will ultimately perish with the setting of the sun, but the earth, she will live on. Let our minds float freely through the air surrounding us, let go of our fears and inhibitions. Love that which always provides for us.
“All this had always been and he had never seen it; he was never present. Now he was present and belonged to it. Through his eyes he saw light and shadows; through his mind he was aware of moon and stars.” -Hesse “Siddhartha”-
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