Watch this first.
I’m not a health guru. I wouldn’t even consider myself a “healthy” person. I’m the kind of person that scoffs at the oh I better only eat one slice of pizza humans of the world as I try to slow down my entire pie demolition. After recognizing that these traits I possess are somewhat unfavorable, I started to spend time thinking about and processing why I make these choices. The answer became clear after a couple bottles of beer: I simply wasn’t thinking.
Up until very recently I had been living life without intention. I rarely stopped to be mindful, to be aware, to be present. I sought out meaning in trivial aspects of life that would inevitably leave me feeling empty and wanting more. More what? That’s the hard part. More energy? More freedom? For me, it was more meaning. I need to feel value and relevance in what I do in order for it to warrant significant meaning to my life. I realize that going to the movies or cleaning your apartment aren’t exactly life altering events. Doing these common things will probably not add great value and meaning to your life. What about going grocery shopping? Or going to the gym? This is where mindfulness comes in.
[If you haven't watched the video in the beginning of this post, go back and do it now. It is a five minute explanation of how mindfulness can directly correlate with your life. I doubt you'll regret it.]
Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment. Jon Kabat-Zinn (featured in video) reminds us that attention is the faculty that allows us to navigate our lives and by focusing this attention, we are being mindful. Do you buy that pizza at the grocery store because it is quick and easy, or because it will benefit your health? Do you go to the gym and half ass a workout or do you give it your all? Are you going to call it quits after hiking five miles in the rain or do you push on to your intended twelve? It is important to think about why you do these things. Focusing your attention on the decisions you intentionally make is a pretty eye-opening experience.
Being mindful has tremendous benefits such as boosting your immune system, reducing pain and calming your mind. Paying attention to the present moment with intention can significantly increase both your mental and physical wellbeing. Being healthy doesn’t mean eating carrots and celery to get that sexy six pack you’ve always wanted. Being healthy encompasses mindful choices regarding your mind, body and self.
Understanding the interplay between mind and body is essential to my hiking experience. In order to do any type of long distance hiking, one must consistently maintain a certain level of mental and physical stability. Problems arise, injuries happen, partnerships break up, but how will you handle them? Mindfully, or with haste? Will you make rash decisions or will you take time to intentionally process things?
For me, mindfulness and hiking are perfect together. Hiking is obviously physically beneficial, but I’ve always seen it as a form of meditation in itself. I mean, how many other activities can bring the brain and the brawn at the same time? My compulsion to hike comes from my own journey with mindfulness. I spent many years deliberately avoiding the revelations that living in the moment can bring, fully aware that I was charging stubbornly in the wrong direction. When I finally embraced actively working towards healthier living, in both mind and body, hiking was a natural outlet. Don’t get me wrong, mindfulness can be practiced at any moment in any location. But for me, nature simply enhances the experience. There is something about hiking, how it requires enough exertion to quiet all the other voices in my head, leaving room for the clarity that comes with the view of an open sky.
Whether you’re thru hiking the Appalachian Trail or have stumbled upon this site by happenstance, I encourage you to be mindful, be aware, and be present. If being mindful isn’t your thing, more power to ya; if being mindful is your thing, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Looking for additional information on mindfulness? Check out Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn