This summer, Bryce and I have taken up hiking as something of a new hobby. We've spent hours on the trails, exploring the outdoors and connecting with each other. I have to admit that he's more committed to it than I am - sometimes it takes a lot to get me off the couch and into my hiking shoes after a long week, but Bryce enjoys spending his afternoons trekking up and down the forest. Rain, shine, or blisters, he loves it.
And so do I. There is something so relaxing about being outside. Time seems to slow down when my cell phone is out of service and I'm focused on the present moment. When we head into the woods, I always feel like I've gotten an extra day out of my weekend. I go to work on Monday feeling centered and refreshed.
But not every moment on the trail is as blissful as I'm making it sound. Anyone who has been hiking before knows that they're bound to experience difficulties sometimes. Even established trails aren't manicured and shaped into perfection, designed for human consumption. They are wild places, formed by the elements and their own history. Of course you'll find shimmering lakes, magnificent trees, and breathtaking vistas. But you'll also run across mud, errant tree roots, snakes, sore feet, and rain. It's easy to let these kinds of obstacles ruin your hike, especially if you focus on them instead of the wonderful parts of being outside. Instead, try to figure out what they have to teach you.
You see, nature is a lot like the inner parts of your soul. There is so much beauty there: compassion, intelligence, humor. But there are also negative qualities, like jealousy, rage, and ego. And much like a difficult trail, you must confront these obstacles before you are able to move forward.
A few months ago, we were hiking at a state park a couple of hours north of where we live. It was incredible. We hiked over a waterfall, jumped through a stream, and saw gorgeous rock formations and trees. But as we passed the halfway point, it became clear that we were about to pay for all the beauty we had witnessed. The last mile or so of this trail was uphill, and we trudged upward with burning calves and sweat running down our backs. "Why do they make hills like this?" I whined. "It's so hard to keep going." But then I could hear a small voice in my head say You're made like this, too. You're difficult. But just like this trail, you're worth the trouble.
Something clicked for me in that moment. I spent the next twenty minutes reflecting on how similar I felt to the way this trail had been built. There are a lot of things that I love about myself. But I also have qualities that I have to work hard to overcome. By facing these parts of myself, I become a deeper, richer person. I strengthen the good parts, and I discover new attributes I hadn't known were there. I wasn't born perfect, but I am starting to understand that confronting the reality of who I am, rather than ignoring the parts I don't like, fortifies me and makes me a better person.
Internal conflicts are some of the most challenging to deal with, because it's impossible to place blame on someone else. You have to own those feelings, habits, and thoughts, and your instinct is to shy away from them, pretending they don't exist. But when you're hiking rugged terrain, it's usually worse to turn back. You'll find that re-tracing your steps is more difficult in the opposite direction, and you miss out on some wonderful new experiences. So gather your strength, push forward, and expand yourself. I promise the view will be worth it.
Where do you like to go hiking? Have you ever had an epiphany on the trail?