Lessons from the Terminus
Lessons in Happiness
Awhile back, I was hanging out with a guy who threw red flags like a Spanish bullfight. I found myself a therapist so that I’d have a safe space to work it through. In one of our first sessions, I explained that I knew the situation was bad for me, but that historically, I’d clung to bad relationships until I imploded. A string of misplaced loyalties, and this was no exception. Change was not going to come of my own accord.
My therapist listened, set his jaw and leaned back in his chair.
“OK, but do you want to grow?”
I hated him immediately. There was going to be no room for bullshit here, no excuses, nothing between me and the reasons I kept turning away. Suddenly there was new perspective, a new realm to explore, space to break the pattern. Little did I know how painful growth could be.
Cut to post-trail life, where I found myself in a deftly organized tailspin. I maintained a minimalist lifestyle, juggled ideas, and reflected often on the effects of the trail. Again I found myself in my therapist’s office, beneath the enormous skylight dome that turns all sunlight soft. I was seeking a new perspective, a new realm to grow into. This time, the topic was Happiness, capital H.
Where had it gone?
What made trail life so wonderful?
What is up with all these post-trail crashes in the long-distance hiking community?
Well, it’s that capital H. We lose sight of the spectrum of human emotion, fail to give ourselves grace, compassion, or mindful holding of all the feelings that make us human. No, they don’t all feel great, but they exist and they’re normal and it’s OK to hold them for a while.
What does all of that have to do with this blog? Well, I’ve written and rewritten this piece of it multiple times, but it felt like something was missing from the message. There was a question, and I hadn’t yet grown into the answer. Before, I saw trail life as the ultimate measure of success, of attaining Happiness. I was in a community of hikers struggling without it, struggling to find it again. Now, I see the trail as one compartment of my life when I got to experience joy in a grand way. I won’t soon forget it, but I’m also learning to accept and experience all the other pieces of the puzzle that we live and breathe throughout this lifetime.
The answer? Stop chasing a feeling.
Lessons in Less
Writing became harder off trail. On trail, it felt like I was sending telegrams from the ether, sharing moments as I experienced them from some far-off place. After, it felt heavy and overthought, chock-full of vulnerability and nuance. The truth is that it has always been vulnerable, but the opinions that mattered were those of the seven or so closest people in my life who also happened to be the contacts listed on my emergency beacon. They were the only people I was talking to because I simply didn’t have space for anything else. Outside opinion was there, but it didn’t feel heavy or expectant. What had changed?
Stepping back, it was pretty easy to realize that the only thing that had changed was my perspective. I’d jumped out of the wheel and I didn’t want to become a cog again. Do you remember the earliest days of Facebook? I was a senior in high school, and all my Facebook friends were people I saw at school every day. There was a simplicity to it, not much to keep track of, you couldn’t even “like” anything.
Then came college, and the friend list grew, but it was still people I saw most days around campus. Add graduate school, travels, first, second, and third jobs, moving three times, and hiking a long trail. I wasn’t scrolling through a feed of people I knew anymore, just people I’d breathed the same air with at some point in my life.
My parents have survived completely detached from social media for over 50 years. They haven’t so much as dabbled, and they live full lives.
So I downsized.
First stop was Facebook. In the past couple weeks, I’ve received about 20 friend requests from people I don’t know. Nothing like that had ever happened before, and even though I hardly used Facebook, it made me uncomfortable. More importantly, some couples I know to be struggling heavily in their marriages would continuously post “happy couple” photos. So with a heavy emphasis on the implications of the latter, I waved goodbye to Facebook.
Next stop, Instagram.
I started off easy, with businesses. Sure, I like REI and Icebreaker, but did I really need to be following them on IG? God, no. I unfollowed all of the big businesses.
Then came the hard part. We (the royal we) attach a big hunk of self-worth to the number of followers we have. If this blog isn’t a testament to that, I don’t know what is. I felt that I had to be careful about unfollowing people, felt that I needed to tiptoe around their feelings. But if I was following 600 people and picking up everything they were putting down, I’d end up the size of an elephant. The quantity was just too high.
So I whittled it way, way down, and this is important because it needs to not be important. I didn’t unfollow anyone because their feed was uninspiring, or because I don’t like them, or because I don’t think they have important things to say. Heck, I unfollowed some people whom I consider friends. The reasoning is actually quite simple; it’s in the name. I just didn’t want to follow so much anymore.
So I follow people I’ve had long conversations with.
I follow my family.
I follow some hikers who actively share the vulnerabilities of the trail.
I follow people who have challenged consumerism, my alignment, or my comfort zone.
This is what works for me.
And when I cleared it all away, I started writing again. Interesting, right?
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