For me, hiking is like a form of active meditation. When I lived in Maryland, I found a park with a trail that I loved. It was 5 miles long and winded down around the Patapsco River.
At first, I would only do the first part of the trail, but one day I decided to go the whole 5 miles. I made my way down by the river. It was beautiful, quiet and scenic. There were very few people on the trail, so as I walked, I really had time to enjoy the peacefulness of just being in nature.
Well, as with most guided trails, every once in a while you come to a tree with a marker, my marker on this trail was just a white stripe on a tree. When you see a tree with two stripes, it’s a sign that the path is changing directions, a quick glance to the left or the right will reveal another tree with a single white stripe that you follow to continue on your trail.
So I’m about 4 miles in. The river is to my right. To my left, the woods gave way to a hill, as I walk, I notice the hill on my left is getting steeper and steeper. In fact, I can see the deer prints on the steep hill where deer appear to have slid partially down the hill.
I said to myself, “Thank goodness, I don’t have to go up there.” Well, about 100 feet later, I come across the dreaded double stripe; I could not go any further on this trail. To my right is the water. Can’t go that way. The only possible way I can go is left, up the hill. Slowly I turn to my left and there, midway up the steep, deep, hill, there it is – the lone stripe letting me know that THIS is the way I have to go. I said to myself, “Oh, s**t.” It wasn’t easy but finally I made it to the top grabbing on to trees, branches and occasionally thick tree roots along the way. At the top, as I had several times on the climb up, I had to stop and catch my breath. The good part is that once I got to the top, the hike was almost over.
I continued to walk this path about once a week and I truly enjoyed it. But from that day on, whenever I got about halfway through I began dreading the climb up what I affectionately called Oh S**t Hill. Each time I walked the trail, I had that miserable climb in the back of my head and each time I struggled to make it to the top.
One day, all of that changed. Midway though the walk, I got a nagging pain in my thigh. I tried to walk it off but couldn’t. At one point, I wanted to turn around and go back but I was so far along that it would have taken me even longer to go back the way I’d come.
On this day, when I saw my old friend OSH, I didn’t look at it with dread. This time, I looked at it with relief. This time, that hill didn’t represent a difficult challenge; it represented the only thing standing between me and the end of that trail. I took a deep breath and started to climb. I climbed harder and faster than I ever had before and as I reached the top, I realized I hadn’t even lost my breath. I was back at my car in about 10 minutes.
The hill hadn’t changed. I hadn’t changed. But, what it represented in my mind did, and that made all the difference. The hill stopped being an obstacle. It stopped being a problem. It actually became something I looked forward to.
Changing the way that hill looked to me made all of the difference.