By Mary Boutieller
Nine life lessons we can learn from hiking.
Once again, my husband and I were out hiking in the North Georgia mountains. When we first arrived, the trees were just starting to bud; as we left to return home, there were more flowers blooming than I could count or identify. Such is the beauty of nature. We get inspiration from so many places if our eyes are open to it, and the woods are the perfect place for these lessons to come unbidden. As my jaw slackened and my head cleared, I thought about the similarities between hiking and life. Here are a few lessons I gathered along the way.
Lesson #1: In hiking, as in life, there will be “ups” and there will be “downs”, and both have their challenges and rewards. We all have those times when our hearts hurt or when things don’t go the way we planned. Sometimes it seems as though the downhills will never end. And when we get down in those valleys, it can feel intimidating to look up at the mountain ahead and find the reserves to keep going. Yet, in placing one step in front of the other, we slowly but surely realize that we are capable.
All of this might make it sound like the “ups” are better, right? Well, maybe…maybe not! You see, the ups can be challenging too. We can go too fast and lose steam; we can feel inadequate in our attempts to get to the top. We can get lost, give up and turn around, deciding that it’s just not worth it. However, if we persist, we reach our goal, arrive at our destination, and learn that we are stronger than we thought.
The question is: What do we do once we arrive?
Lesson #2: So often after reaching a goal, we take a quick look around and move on, aiming for the next step in the ever-exhausting ladder to find validation or love. Imagine instead of rushing onward, we stopped long enough to take off our packs, have a seat, eat a snack and take it all in. In other words, what if we savored our achievements? What if we paused long enough to do a little dance and celebrate how far we’ve come? Our goal might be as simple as learning something new, keeping our commitments, or speaking our truth even when it’s hard. It’s those small victories, like each and every hill in life, that build our resilience and remind us that we are worth acknowledging.
Lesson #3: Figure out what you can control and what you can’t, and then act accordingly. When hiking, we can’t control the weather or the terrain or the bugs that fly alongside us. What we can control is our attitude and the way we frame our experiences. We can eat well and stay hydrated (aka take care of ourselves along the way) so that our journey is the best it can be.
Lesson #4: It’s okay to ask for help. Out in the woods, it’s always nice to have a friend along, especially when the ups and downs are kicking our butts. Same thing in life. When we surround ourselves with lovely, awesome people, they will be there to lift us up, especially when the going gets tough.
Lesson #5: It’s never too late to change directions. Maybe the path we’ve chosen just isn’t what we thought it was! And if that’s the case, we can pull out a map, chart a new course, and find a new adventure. If we trust our heart and move in that direction, we will always find our way.
Lesson #6: Each day is different. If we expect today to be the same as it was yesterday or 20 years ago, we will be disappointed. Some days will go our way from start to finish and some will not. This is life. Fighting it just makes us miserable, so why do that to ourselves? Why not accept that this is just going to be “one of those days?” The interesting thing is that once we acknowledge our present experience, we take the sting out of the fight, the struggle lessens, and we find a way through that we might not have seen otherwise.
Lesson #7: Life is awesome even when it isn’t, and we are so fortunate to be alive in this moment. Cherish each day and make it your best day. Find your happy place and go there often. Resolve to be content most of the time and stay open to everything around you.
Lesson #8: This one took me years to learn and is one of the most important. In hiking, the less we carry on our backs, the easier it is to hike. The lighter our load, the less pain we have in our bodies and the more enjoyable the trip. Same thing with life. The more weight you put on your shoulders, the more obligations you take on, the harder the path will be to travel. So every once in a while, take an inventory, then ask yourself if there anything you are still holding on to that no longer needs to be carried. Only you can decide but, trust me, it makes the whole trip a lot more fun!
Lesson #9: It really is about the journey, not the destination!
Maybe take a moment or two to ponder the lessons you have learned walking down the path of life. How often do you celebrate your own wonderful self? Where do you go when you need solace or peace? And what (or who) inspires you and lets you know that you aren’t alone?
Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at: SimplyogaOm@gmail.com.