If I had a blog, today I would write about my hiking mantra.
If you polled avid backpackers, or even day-hikers, you would find that most of them have a mantra: A phrase they repeat over and over to help them manage the monotonous parts of the trail. I use mine to get up tall hills or to get through long stretches of hot, featureless trail. It focuses my mind so I don’t feel overwhelmed by the mountain or desert stretching before me.
I adopted my hiking mantra from a woman who wrote about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and it goes like this:
We are the thru-hikers, Mighty, mighty thru-hikers. Everywhere we go-o, people want to know-ow Who we are and so we tell them: We are the thru-hikers, Mighty, mighty thru-hikers…..
I was using my mantra this morning to get me through the sun-baked expanse of Big Valley, in a hurry to get through into the shade on the far side, when I saw the rose mallow. It has been blooming for a while now, but I’ve blazed by so fast, I hadn’t really taken it in its depth and breadth. It covers a whole side of Big Valley and in the morning it glows pale pink, its hibiscus-shaped blooms angled towards the sun. It was stunning – and enlightening.
Seeing the rose mallow made me realize the danger of using distraction to get us through the unpleasant parts of life: It can easily become a habit that robs us of the experience of being alive.
When I am chanting, I am focused inward. That’s the point, after all, but if I use my mantra all the time, I don’t see the landscape around me. I miss the flowers blooming along the trail or the chance to see a rare bird flit into the forest. I miss the sun on the clouds, the ripple of the trout stream, and the fragrance of moist earth, bursting with life.
I know this phenomenon extends beyond just my daily walks. Sometimes I get so focused on fast-forwarding through the uncomfortable parts of life, I forget to look around me and really live.
The Little Engine That Could had a mantra. His repetitive, “I think I can, I think I can,” got him up that mountain, but we can’t stay in that state forever. At some point we have to shout, as he did, “I KNOW I can!” and sail down the other side of sorrow, drinking in the glory of being alive.
So, I will save my hiking mantra for the really rough spots on the journey and take a chance being present for the rest. I will let myself be uncomfortable or bored or tired and still experience what is going on around me – in nature and in my relationships. From now on I promise I will stop and smell the rose mallow.