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  • Jesse Williams, LPC-MHSP

Dropping the "There" and Embracing the Journey

I love the mountains of East Tennessee. The green, tree-covered beauty. The wildflowers, waterfalls, and wildlife. The trees and boulders. The creeks and streams. The feeling of being connected to nature. The feeling of being in awe and wonder.

Then there are the hiking trails. The challenging, high-elevation hikes. The flat hikes that wind along streams. The trails with history and stories to be told and explored. Quiet walkways where you can just soak in nature. Crowded tourist attraction hikes where your paths cross with many others coming to experience the fun and excitement of a trail.

With the summer weather we've been having here in East Tennessee, my daughter and I have been taking advantage of the summertime and working on slowly checking off all of the hikes of the Smokies--- a challenge known as the "900-Miler Club." In the past year of deciding to try this challenge (and let's be real, it's looking like it's going to be several, several years before we complete it), I've noticed that something inside of me has changed drastically.

When I used to get on a hiking trail, it was always with a definitive purpose of getting "there." "There" could be anything: a waterfall, a graveyard, an old homestead, or a mountain view. But the entire process revolved around the "there." I can remember even turning my nose up at a hike one time after realizing there would no "there" at the end of that particular hike.

"But what's the purpose of going if there's no specific sightseeing destination?"

"So, I'll hike all that way for nothing?"

I look back and realize that I'm not sure I even know who that person was. I find it difficult to even imagine thinking that way anymore. Why? Because my perspective on the trail has shifted. Somewhere into this hiking challenge, my viewpoint has changed.

I lost the need for the "there."

I'm not even sure when or where I lost it. There was no shining moment where insight just beamed down from a cloud and changed my point of view. There was no moment where I consciously threw off the chains of expectation that held me in place. But I lost it. Somewhere I lost it. And I'm not interested in getting it back.

The experience of hiking starts the moment we step onto the trail (maybe even before, in the planning process!). We can see the trail amidst the greens, browns, and grays. We can see the patches of golden light dancing on leaves, moss, and stones. We can smell the forest. We can smell the flowers. We can smell the water and the leaves. We can hear the rustling grass and the streams rolling over the river stones. We can hear animals running through the leaves. We can hear the movement of the breeze through the trees on branches high above. We can feel the warmth of sunlight, the humidity of the mountain, the coolness of a breeze, the roughness of tree bark, the softness of moss, and the smoothness of stones. We can feel the connection with nature. We can feel at home in the "now" of the trail.

Not surviving for the "there." But living for the "now."

We can find an appreciation for the burning in our calves when we're only a fourth the way up a climb. We can find an appreciation for the sweat dripping down our foreheads. We can find an appreciation in the plastic bags of trash dangling from our packs, even when filled with granola bar wrappers or empty tuna packs.

Or maybe it's an acceptance? An acceptance that the water in our packs will be heavy. An acceptance that our knees may hurt and our ankles may feel like they can't go anymore, even with miles left to get back. An acceptance that our shirts will be drenched in some summertime sweat, and that we will--- beyond the shadow of a doubt--- look like absolute hell when we get off that trail. But we will be alive. We will be glowing inside. Not because of the "there," but because of the "now."

Now, don't get me wrong: motivation still plays a role. I definitely feel motivation when I think of that feeling of success that happens when I turn a corner and see my truck parked at the trailhead. Motivation is still there. Goals are still present.

But the "there" doesn't have to be... well... there.

Instead of needing the "there," we can choose to need the burning in our calves. We can choose to need the mile that feels like it will never end. We can choose to need the smell of the forest. We can choose to need the trees. We can choose to need the bags of trash dangling from our packs. We can choose to need the acceptance and the connection.

It can feel necessary. It can feel right.

It's realizing that the journey is necessary--- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Not in a Pollyanna-ish type of "all things are wonderful" type of way, but in a "life happens" amidst burning calves type of way. Realizing that the journey is necessary, even when riddled with disaster. It's the process of life: the good and the bad. It grows us. It changes us. The journey can be both fear-fostering and awe-inspiring. The journey can be both necessary and difficult.

But the true challenge is relaying this lesson into our day-to-day lives. The challenge is to find the beauty of the journey when your daily routine branches away from what you were expecting. The challenge is to learn appreciation for the stir of impatience that you experience when stuck in traffic. The challenge is to feel acceptance around the coffee creamer that fell out of the refrigerator and spilled as it rolled across the entire length of the kitchen.

Because this is when life happens. This is where the essence of life is to be found. In those "now" moments. It doesn't have to be good or bad. It doesn't require judgment or assessment. It just is. And just like a difficult hike, it grows us. It changes us. We can find the beauty of the journey. Even amidst 2020-style devastation, the journey is still beautiful. No matter what life throws your way, your journey is still beautiful. But how? How do we rise up to this challenge in our every day lives? We throw away the "there." We embrace the "now." We cultivate an appreciation and acceptance of the journey. I've discussed the importance of the journey before in a previous blogpost, but it never ceases to amaze me how often I have to check back into this lesson. As a mental health therapist, I see on the daily how it's all about the journey. It's all about the "now." If you are interested in reading further about the importance of the "now," I would highly encourage you to read The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle takes this discussion to a whole new level with his mind-blowing explorations of the importance of the journey, the "now," and letting go of the rest.

Now, get out there and embrace the journey.


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