My last post was all about how I was feeling “not quite right” and attributed it to a buildup of stress to the point of it expressing itself in physical symptoms — muscle tightness and tiredness, in particular. It was also getting bad enough that it was starting to express itself emotionally in irrational generalized anger. To the point that I told my wife one Saturday, “I’m not having a good brain day.” Luckily, I was able to control it and keep it from bubbling up at inopportune times or in inappropriate behavior, but it was definitely there.
I’m better now, thankfully. I’m better in large part to the fact that I took a nine-day vacation to Grand Canyon National Park. I’m better now that I took a significant amount of time and got away from work, got away from the city, and spent time outside. While we were away we remembered what it was like to just be in nature and get rejuvenated. We talked about ways to improve our self-care and holding each other accountable. But mostly we just enjoyed our time together hiking, cycling, and forest bathing.
If you’re not familiar with the term “forest bathing” here are a few stories about it to introduce you to the concept: NPR, Time, WaPo. There are even books about it. Now, I’m no self-help aficionado. I happen to think most of it is psuedo-scientific bunk based on a flimsy understanding of behavioral science churned out to make a quick buck. But I’ll tell you from nearly a decade of hiking and tent-camping that this one is legit.
When we’re out on a hike, a bike ride, or just sitting in the campsite we are out in the fresh air, in the sunshine, and the relative quiet. We spend so much time inside our homes, cars, or offices that we lose touch with the simple pleasures of being outside. In our controlled comforts we forget that we are animals of nature.
Is it uncomfortable sometimes? Sure! We were cold overnight and in the mornings. But we doubled-up on our sleeping bags and were fine. We lit campfires. We drank hot coffee and tea. Hiking at the Grand Canyon is hard for everyone. For one thing, the South Rim is 5,000 feet higher in elevation than where we live, and probably a lot more for you. That, alone, will make you feel winded more quickly than expected. But for all the exertion and discomfort we came away with a sense of peace, as well as accomplishment.
The peace is what’s most important in this context. It is the peace — the tranquility — that being outside gives us that makes it important. One doesn’t need to spend a week in one of the most iconic landscapes in the world to achieve this, either. You probably have a park nearby where you live or work. You may have greenway trails in your neighborhood or city. You may have a state park an hour outside of town. Go anywhere where you can turn off your phone for a little while and just be an animal in nature. Remember what the sun feels like on your skin. Remember what the wind feels like as it caresses your face. Remember the smell of trees and grass. Literally, stop and smell the flowers. You don’t have to be Cheryl Strayed and walk the PCT by yourself. Just get out there and remember that you are an animal and find that peace again. If you’ll pardon the old cliche; be a human being; not a human doing.