Tools to Practice Mindfulness While I Hike the AT & CDT in 2021
This year I will be attempting the Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail. If there is anything that I have learned in thru-hiking it is that…so much of the challenge is in perseverance of the mind. Until a few years ago, and part way into my work with youth in the outdoors with Outward Bound, I wasn’t even sure what mindfulness was. I am still not an expert (nor will I ever be) and I am always working towards more awareness of myself and my emotions. For any folks that may not know, here is a quick definition via Mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Walking and Mindfulness
I think the act of walking creates a natural space to be mindful of that moment. Whether or not I want to be walking through that hail storm, the reality of the present moment is that I am. And not only that, but I have the ability to choose to accept and embrace it…. or not. I have to choose to put one foot in front of the other while accepting the emotions and feelings of the present. Acknowledging the roots, rocks, sand and dirt underneath my feet is an integral part of hiking.
For me, I have noticed that how I respond to stressful and challenging situations can vary. At many points along a thru-hike feelings of negativity can creep into my mind. I can get into my head with questions like “Why am I even doing this?” or bring myself down by finding frustration in the small things (i.e. Dropping my glove into wet slush or walking the wrong way for a few miles and having to backtrack).
Two long trails in one year is not a small undertaking. I want to ensure that I not only take care of my body along the way, but also my mind. In the moments of high stress, negativity, low self confidence or whatever they may be, I hope to have a few “tools” to guide me.
Tool # 1: Attitude of Gratitude
The practice of being grateful for a moment, day or situation is a great way for me to practice being mindful. Even in the challenging moments I should be able to find the good. Even if it is just the sip of water at the top of the pass, that sip is sustaining me. I plan to take a moment after a tough day, during feelings of negativity or just a “normal” day to reflect on positive parts. This may look like jotting those down in a journal. It may be sharing them with my hiking partner. Or it could be just thinking them to myself. I hope this will help me to find the small wins in each day and keep me aware of all the feelings in the present moment. After all, ups and downs are part of the trail.
Tool # 2: Grounding
Being on the trail and in nature can be fulfilling, life giving and healing. For me, these are some of the main reasons I even make time for such a thing. While backpacking, those quiet moments by the river or the sunset can be the most memorable. Because I have a goal of two long trails, I know that there will be times where slowing down may be hard. I hope to recognize opportunities to slow down when they come up. Something as simple as a few extra minutes before leaving camp in the morning, or a shorter day of hiking. During that time all I plan to do is notice. Notice my breath and deepen it. Notice the landscape, animals, and earth around me. Taking time to just be. Grounding myself intentionally in my feelings and the place will get to the core of my experience.
Tool # 3: Finding Simplicity in Movement
Walking is meditation. There will be plenty of opportunities to take some time solo walking. Putting away the headphones and focusing on my movement will help me to acknowledge the situation that I am in. Therefore, creating space to work with those emotions. I hope to continue to find simplicity, joy and focus in the act of walking even when it feels hard.
Taking the Time
Mindfulness can go so much deeper, but I hope to practice it in some small ways while on trail. I hope spending some time maintaining my mental well being and working to acknowledge the present moment can help me along on these trails. Thru-hiking, or any hard thing for that matter, is as much mental as it is physical. Not to sound too cheesy – sometimes the only thing you can control is your attitude. I hope practicing mindfulness will help me with mine.
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