Where does one start when he tells another about how his passion was created. A passion that has engulfed him as a lifestyle and desire so strong that there isn’t an army in the world that could take it away from him. A passion so strong that it takes precedence over everything in his life besides that of whom he loves.
Where does one start when he tells another about how he is not in fact in love with his passion, but the reasons he participates in it. That hiking in itself is not the reason he goes hiking. Well….. he starts about 25 years ago.
When I was young, maybe as young as I can remember, anxiety has been a major issue. Through the years I had tried several medications, several ways of meditation and numerous, almost countless home remedies. Nothing prevailed. My anxiety in my younger years was worn on my shoulder. As far back as my memories go I refused to be surrounded by large groups. My mind raced like a thoroughbred’s heart at the end of a Kentucky Derby. My palms sweat causing me to constantly keep my hands in my pockets when I was anxiety ridden. My left leg taps when I stand or sit. My eyes are constantly on the go and I have always had a hard time focusing on what was in front of me, always searching the room to make sense of every sound and smell i perceived to be out-of-place. Or in place for that matter. My anxiety was at a point that even my parents, peers, teachers, and family could see it. It came without notice for no apparent reasons and it ran my entire life. I could not participate in sports teams because I would freeze long before i stood in front of a crowd to play. I refused, with stubbornness, to attend family dinners and anything that put me in the center of attention. I was not present for any of my boy scout badges and did not go to my 8th grade graduation.
My anxiety through and through was an issue albeit an issue that everyone ELSE was trying to solve. I was just trying to take myself out of the places that caused it and alleviate the things from my life that presented it. When others were trying to fix it, i found it made it worse. The attention they gave me trying to talk to me about my issues was in fact the exact thing I did not want.
Some years into my anxiety, and somewhere in between not knowing what it was and finding a solution, i decided I wanted to learn about it. I knew at this point it was unhealthy, as the only time I would throw myself into social situations was when there was a great chance that I would be the only one there, or I was medicated. The medications were a problem all on their own. We never found the fine line although knew there was one. To medicate my anxiety they gave me anti depressants. I was a lot of things, but depressed just was not one of them. In my previous posts I have shared that some of the things in my life subsided my extreme emotions, like depression. I, for a long time, have been a very neutral person when it comes to emotions. Anyhow, too little medication and my anxiety would ramp up. Too much and I would experience mood swings, insomnia, lucid dreaming and an artificially created sense of trust and benefit of the doubt. If i knew one thing to start, it’s that I was definitely not going to live my life on the medications I was told I would need to.
So to recap my adventure… The first thing that developed was a loathing for any medication that was man-made and artificial. That led me into researching the body and its mind. My research started with dreaming. I wanted to understand my subconscious mind first. When I was researching dreaming i found its relevance and importance. I became infatuated with their messages and wanted to learn to dream consciously. I knew that the medications that were giving me lucid dreams were in fact creating their own context and my dreams at that point were no longer based off of my own context. The context of the subconscious that your dreams are based upon, giving them relevance in your life whether we do or do not see it. I found through my research of dreaming absolutely nothing in regards to my anxiety. Except one of the more important things I have ever discovered in my life. I wanted to dream and I wanted to understand them. Which in the end simply supported the fact that I did not want to subside my anxiety with medications that would change the chemical balance of my conscious and subconscious.
Next, I decided to learn specifically about anxiety. The first term I came across was “disorder”. HA! Disorder you say? There was no way I was buying that. Turns out, anxiety is one emotion that is less controllable and predictable than all others. However, in the end, it’s just an emotion. I knew at this point that emotions could be manipulated, so how in fact would I manipulate the one in which is 99% manipulated through substance. Yeah I didn’t learn much here either.
So upon discovering that anxiety was an emotion I decided to look into the mind again, however this time on a different level. The research I had done on dreaming had also led me to be curious about the mind as a whole. Oooohhhh what an amazing thing it is… but let’s be honest, neuroscience was not something I would be mastering in at 16 years old. I did find one thing that changed a lot for me….. the mind was mine. It wasn’t yours, and it wasn’t artificial. It was mine and mine only, and I had the ability to control it. I might not have known how to use that ability, and still don’t to a point, but I knew it was possible. That is when I found meditation.
Meditation was something I came across that intrigued me. Controlling consciously your thoughts… your state of mind…. your emotions and even down to the physical effects your body had on itself such as heart rate, core temperatures, oxygen intake, sleep requirements etc. I remember specifically this point in my endeavor. I remember it because I had found myself laughing and thinking, “How in all fucks does someone who can’t focus because of anxiety, alleviate it by focusing?” A solution that would come long after now. Turns out when you read about meditation, you come across a shit ton of pictures with people sitting crossed legged and their eyes closed. Queue humming noise. Yeeeahhhhhhhh, that was DEFINITELY going to work. NOT! I couldn’t sit still when I was in a good place, let alone a bad one. Have you ever tried to reach full meditation with a shaking leg? It somewhat defeats the idea. No, it definitely defeats the idea. In all of my reading, i came across several alike terms: “Put yourself in a happy place”, “relax your body completely”, “breathe deeply”. Like, oh you want me to fucking hyperventilate while I am doing this, because that’s what having my eyes closed is going to do. When these eyes close, there is no relaxing unless im going to sleep. Instead i am overwhelmed with a sense of not knowing what is coming up behind me… or not knowing whats standing directly in front me… the lack of surety I get when I close my eyes consciously is over powering. Put myself into a happy place? Relax? Hahahah, well i think this is about the point I realized that meditation was not MY solution albeit a valiant effort or three.
Then, I found it, or so I thought. After reading about a man named Osho, i read about, what he called, Rajneesh Dhyan Yoga. When his methods were adopted in the Indian mountains, his methods of would be translated to english. It would then be called, “DYNAMIC MEDITATION”. Dynamic Meditation by definition is “a form of meditation in which physical activity is present”. That’s like showing a poor man a sign that says “Uncooked food.”. Well you can be damned sure that a poor man will find a way to cook that food as his problem is hunger not the fact he is lacking an oven. Just because he can’t eat, doesn’t mean he cant cook. I have no problem being active, I just cant meditate. Not as the books were showing me. Now here was the problem with the magic words I had found. They never told me how to meditate. They told me what active meditation was and I was aware of Osho’s methods. These mainly consisted of spiritual dances. Well, I was far from spiritual and I cannot dance for shit, so for the time being, I threw that right out the window.
Bare with me here, im getting to it. SO, through my younger years my anxiety caused me to experience anger. Anger was the emotion that I subconsciously turned my anxiety into. Through some trial, but mostly error, I learned about myself that I was great at being angry although I did not want to be. This would come to my advantage in my later years, and would encourage me to be more kind, passionate, conscious and passive than I once thought I could be, but not without a long learning curve attached. Anyways, when I got angry, I could hold that anger with me for days at a time. I would stew on it until I either did something about it or forgot about it. Hahaha, we are talking anxiety here folks, not Alzheimer’s, so forgetting about it wasnt actually an option. Well you can only act on your anger but a handful of times before someone or everyone has had just about enough. My time was coming for this and I knew that. I had sat back and reflected a bit …. I reflected on the days I was putting in two work outs. One in the morning and one in the evening. I was constantly in the gym as I had found mixed martial arts as a hobby to try to alleviate my anger. Turns out, it didn’t, because my anger was not derived from the same places yours might be and physical violence did nothing for me emotionally when it was expected and not derived from my anxiety. It did not create or alleviate any emotion, anger included. In fact, it had no emotional effect on me, it was simply something to do. I did realize however that on the days I was putting in two workouts, i was entirely depleted. Every other day, i would get up early and I would put in a normal work out. After school, I would go back and I would physically deplete myself. Pushing to failure in all of my sets. Those nights, even though I did not know it yet, I would go home in peace, and dream with the fairy tales, leaving my anxiety wherever I was leaving it, but I didnt care because I was not taking it with me. Upon realizing this I had come to a theory. An unhealthy one possibly, but one in which I still use to this day. When in fact I physically, and completely, depleted my body , my anxiety would subside. Mainly due in part to the inability to create and ponder thoughts. So how does one put ones self through such torment just to subside an emotion. That’s like waterboarding a child so they learn not to fear fire. All this revelation did was teach me that, if im anxious, i was going to have a seriously shitty night physically. Now i had two things NOT to look forward too. How fantastic huh?!
So back to my first story…. and skipping ahead a few years… Here I am at the end of my first 106 mile hike. A hike in which I carried a small adult sized backpack the entire way due to a lack of experience and knowledge. Well, i can tell you, surer than shit, that I was depleted. I had NOTHING left in me, but my friends let me just tell you something. I felt GOOOOOOD!!!! Man did i ever feel good. Hell, I had NEVER felt that good. Spite my physical pan, my golf ball sized blisters, my blood blistered shoulders and hips…. i felt absolutely fantastic emotionally. A bit hungry, which to me is as good as an emotion, but that was about it. The revelation is coming…..
At the end of my hike I was so hungry, and as I had mentioned I decided to stop at the highly suggest ABOL STORE and grab myself some even more highly suggest pizza that they make. Now this fantastic little store, as I would find out, is filled with passer bys picking up last-minute supplies. Also, it’s a small store putting you in close contact with others while you browse. I got my pizza and spoke with the cashier that assured me I had several miles ahead of me before I reached an opportune place to stick my thumb out and catch a ride south.
Now if there are a few things that amp my anxiety to a maximum… its frustration, and people. I was frustrated that after 106 miles, considering the physical pain i was in, that I would I have to embark on another 8 mile hike. There were not tent spots open within in a similar amount of miles, it was dark, and I really just wanted to be home at this point. The people… well i just can’t stand having people behind me, especially if they are close enough to touch me. It is just a peeve of mine that came from a fair history of pissing people off that had no problem coming up behind you to reassure their revenge.
So a few miles down the road I found myself whistling. Whistling is something I actually do fairly often. Enough that I have heard “will you please stop whistling” more than 100 times in my life. Regardless of the negative nancies that don’t like my bird song, truth is I only whistle when im happy. Here was the revelation. It was this very moment I realized…. i was literally in a position just moments before and currently that would normally have both legs tapping and have me spinning in circles due to the levels of anxiety they would have caused. I had NONE. WHAT?! No anxiety? How could this be? Well, a couple of miles later I remembered the gym….
Finally I had realized it…..114 miles on foot will do that to a guy. I had just physically depleted my body in the most positive of ways. For more than a week I was the happiest, dirtiest, scratched legged, anxiety-less person you would meet. I was putting in 8-10 mile days (That’s funny to think about now… my morning run is 7 miles and i get back in under an hour) that took me over 1-3 summits and pushing my body like it had never been pushed before…. I just didn’t know it. I was LOVING my hiking… and granted there were times where LOVING was NOT in my vocabulary on trail, but all in all I really enjoyed it. I had mentioned at the end of my story about my first hike that I knew hiking was what I wanted to do and I wanted to do more of it. All in part to this revelation. Now don’t get me wrong, I had my good trail days and my bad trail days but never once did I ever have anxiety during them. The facts were that I was physically depleting my mind WHILE it was full of contemplated thoughts and emotions. As I hiked, I thought about EVERYTHING. Though, EVERYTHING, did not cause the anxiety that it did when i was sitting stale in an office or in my house the midst of my thoughts that would lead up to an effect. The effect being me seeking out a way to completely deplete my body to the point of full exhaustion. This in itself was worth all of its weight in unobtanium. Being able to ponder, not one, but all of my thoughts without the emotion of anxiety creeping in was something I had never experienced. I could finally, for the first time, think clearly and rationally about all the things that bothered me. I had a new set of eyes and I was not about to give it up.
I had to test my theory of course… skip ahead awhile, as when I got home from this one I REALLY needed to contemplate my systems. You carry 74 lbs for 100+ miles and let me know how much you enjoy that. I needed to save weight and saving weight I was absolutely committed to . Here we are, some time later after diligent effots to understand backpacking materials, science, gear, and theories.
I am getting ready to hike the same section, except this time I will go south instead of north. I had my pack down to roughly 30 lbs and I had been hiking constantly. Short jaunts every night and on the weekends were a way to test my gear and understand what I did and did not need. Here I am stading on the summit of Mt. Katahdin thinking to myself “OK here we go!”.
Now this day was actually pretty clear, and opportune to say the least. I had just lost a friend in a terrible way and I could not get that out of my mind. I had watched him fatally overdose on an acquaintence’s bathroom floor. I could only watch helplessly with inexperience and in fear. I could still see it unfortunately and it was really taking a toll on my well being. I had felt a strong sense of guilt and sorrow. I was not used to being overwhelmed by emotions and had come to find that all of my emotions that I did not appreciate, in the end just turned into anxiety. Essentially the entire purpose to this specific hike was to understand what had happened just months before and to make sense, the best i could, of everything i didnt already understand. Which at the time, was just about all of it. I was in an odd position that I had never been in before. My anxiety this time was extreme. It was also created by something I did not want to remember, however I never wanted to forget. I think the reason this became relevant, is this time I was not hiking to alleviate my anxiety. Truly, I had forgotten all my revelations at this point. This time around, I was just hiking to get away. I was sick and tired of the “sorry’s” and condolences. I have this peeve with “sorry’s”. I think its what someone says when they dont know what to say. I believe at that point, its more powerful to say nothing than to fall on the bandwagon of the most commonly used term in ancient history. (not a fact). I just try to avoid sorry’s and live my life appreciating the choices I have made and even hearing the word “sorry” tends to aggravate me in most contexts. I was on a quest to be alone, and subconsciously i think I knew there would be a greater benefit.
Through my hike I learned a lot this time. Not so much about hiking as I had , for the time being, fine tuned most of it to the extent that my ability allowed at the time. Its easy to talk about now, but for a long time i stayed in silence about my thoughts. I had thought about everything! I replayed that night in my head so many times and started to slowly understand the why’s and how’s. I no longer felt guilt and my sorrow had switched. I no longer was upset I had lost a friend, but upset that his family lost a son. I no longer felt guilty for not being able to help, but guilty that I had waiting long to even be in a position to need to help. I no longer was angry at him or myself. I now knew that I would not bury my thoughts of it deep down inside, but I would float them to the top periodically to remind myself how grateful I should be. To remind myself how important life is. To remind myself to be up front and honest with people even if their opinions differed. To remind myself that the term “friend” is used to loosely for my liking and to be more diligent about understanding people before i gave them my friendship and care. I would also float it to the top periodically to remind myself that my thoughts need not be overwhelmed, they just need time to be understood. With all that I learned, one thing stuck out. In the 106 mile (that I would this time complete in 3 nights and come out on the fourth day) hike that i embarked on, I understood my anxiety. I knew now that it came from a whirlwind of thoughts that were overwhelming me when presented all at once. I would learn that my anxiety would always be a part of me, and that it no longer would control my life. On the trail, as I pondered my thoughts, I did in fact have anxiety. It was then I knew, hiking didnt have anything to do with my anxiety, but it had everything to do with my thoughts. My THOUGHTS had EVERYTHING to do with my anxiety however, so hiking indirectly interrupted the correalation between the two.
As I hiked, my feet couldnt tap. I would learn to close my eyes and make sense of the sounds. I would learn to trust my intuition as to where those sounds were coming from and as to how close they were. I would learn to appreciate what I couldnt see more than what I could. The people were few and far between and one here and there in passing was actually a pleasure not a pain. I would be so tired at the end of the day that a good nights rest was the ONLY thing I would be getting. I had TIME to ponder my thoughts as opposed to receiving 1000 of them at once and only a minute to react… Now I had the opportunity to take 10,000 thoughts and give them each their own minute. A minute per thought was all it took. I just needed to slow myself down long enough to make sense of things, and with the whirlpool of thoughts topped with an obligatory feeling to react, I was never able to make that sense in the past.
My anxiety in fact would never leave me. I still tend to go on limit pushing runs that have me crawling literally into the driveway late at night when I can’t sleep. I did find that it would always be a part of me. Well, unless some chemical imbalance becomes balanced, but for now im counting on always experiencing it. However, that is in fact the difference now. Now I get to experience it for what it is. I can still ponder my thoughts when it comes. No matter how bad it gets I know that the woods are only a step away. If it becomes to much I now know that I can meditate to gather my thoughts and no you need not hummmmm it off. The woods is the one place where everything is ok. THAT is why I hike.