Status update: 30 days to go
Lately I have felt very scattered.
I catch myself walking into rooms or opening cabinets, with no idea why. The remains of abandoned projects litter the countertops. Evidence of my fractured attention span lies in little piles all over my apartment.
It may be springtime where you are, but here in the Great North Woods, February is still deep winter. The days have been short and cold since November (low of 8℉ tonight) and even the heartiest amongst us is starting to grow weary.
As a former tax accountant, I always blamed my mid-winter slump on the pressures of work. February is the peak of tax season: a peculiar flavor of hell marked by long hours, no weekends, and so much take-out I have ripped the ass out of at least one pair of pants every year. The neurochemical alchemy of being simultaneously stressed and bored for months on-end made for a pretty believable scapegoat for seasonal malaise.
From one scapegoat to another
And yet… here I am. Even without tax season to blame, and nothing to do besides prepare for the PCT, I once again find myself in that old familiar rut. Instead of springing out of bed, I hit the snooze button. Instead of going on my training hikes, I get lost watching Tik Toks of a man in drag lip syncing scenes from Bring it On.
I’ve lived with major depression my whole life, and without work to blame I was very tempted to chalk up these feelings of lethargy to the big D. After all, fatigue, low motivation, and loss of interest in things you love are all classic symptoms of the gloomies. But somehow this feels different. I don’t feel sad so much as I feel LAZY.
It’s not that I don’t want to go hiking or plan for my hike. I love that stuff and when I finally get going, I have a blast. It’s just that getting there feels like so much work.
After hearing some friends share similar struggles with motivation, something occurred to me: what if the reason we are all having trouble being productive, is because, right now, productivity is not what we are meant to be doing?
The civilized world puts a lot of pressure on us to be productive. There is an unspoken expectation to make, to do, to improve. As much as possible. At all times. Those of us who internalize that pressure can feel ashamed or inadequate when we fail to live up to that standard. We feel compelled to follow a path of relentless linear growth, lest we fall behind in our imaginary race to “somewhere.”
But when we look from our deepest wisdom, we recognize that this expectation for constant production is profoundly unnatural. That’s just not how the earth works.
The rhythms of nature move in cycles, in spirals. The bloom of summer depends upon the fade of autumn. You cannot have one without the other, just as we could not see starlight if not for the infinite blackness that surrounds it. Without silence there can be no music. Without stillness there can be no movement. Everything in nature exists in duality, and denying that reality is as futile and exhausting as swimming against the current.
Making peace with stillness
Through this lens, late-winter lethargy transforms from a shameful inadequacy into a poetic resonance with the season. No wonder it has been so difficult to get moving! Nature, in her intelligence, is calling us to stillness. The birds have not yet returned, the seeds have not yet sprouted. This is a time, not of decisive action, but of penitential preparation, of meditation, of fasting.
As the snow slowly recedes, the things we have buried throughout the winter reappear at the surface. Now is the time to deal with everything we have been pushing into the basement of our psyches. Without reflection and integration, we are doomed to repeat the same patterns, the same mistakes. By allowing for unproductive time, by resisting the urge to be busy or distracted, by sitting with our discomfort without looking away, we make space for nature’s mysteries to work on us. We surrender to the season, and allow its subtle magic to prepare our minds, bodies, and spirits for the colossal efforts that lie ahead.
So, in preparation for the PCT, I am doing my best to peel away the layers of my cultural conditioning and reject the internalized pressure to be productive. Who cares if I don’t go on as many prep hikes as I had planned? The trail will strengthen me. Who cares if I don’t have every detail ironed out? The trail will guide me.
What is needed of me now, more than dehydrating food or shaking down my pack, is to shut up, let go, and have faith.
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