Going Wild Again

I just returned home from my 30-year high school reunion in Minnesota. One of the highlights was reminiscing with my old girlfriends about our good times and outrageous antics as adolescents in the wild – hiking, camping, canoeing, running, tennis, snowshoeing, and skiing. What fun we had!

As we talked for hours and reconnected, our stories built on one another. Each of us remembered different portions, providing our own unique embellishments and observations. Pieced together, our combined memories created a patchwork collage of humor, personal development, and exploration … experiences that helped shape us into who we are today.

I had scarcely spoken with some of these friends for years. But, almost magically, as we delved into our recollections of our shared teen outdoor adventures … it was as if we had never parted. This was amazing considering the decades we spent apart, during which time we had all gotten married, had careers, and raised children.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the many psychological benefits of time spent in nature, and ways to avoid “nature deficit disorder.” My reunion trip helped me recapture some wonderful wilderness memories shared with old friends (five in particular) and what they have meant to each of us over the years. We 48-year old girlfriends have each faced various challenges in the years since. However, the time we spent together in nature strengthened our sense of selves and our friendship bonds, helping prepare us for life’s unexpected curve balls. Somehow, we have all survived and thrived. And I believe our friendship bonds and shared wilderness experiences provided a firm foundation to face up to and conquer life’s travails.

Our memories included a ski club trip to Thunder Bay Canada. We got our ski passes suspended for staying up too late – talking to the bell-bottom wearing Canadian boys who sprinkled vinegar on their French fries! We re-told brave tales of our canoe trips, late-night bonfires, camp outs in the Northern woods, and the boyfriends that seemed to generously pass between us through those times. As girlfriends, we grew up together and grew strong together. Now as an adult, it feels wonderful to have friends that go back so many years. The sense of connection is hard to define, but is truly one to be cherished.

My 19 year-old daughter, Grace, also has a profound love for her friends, and she treasures the escapades they share together. She was eager to see every picture from my reunion, hear about my old friends, and all the “classic 80’s experiences” we had.

“That’s how I want it to be when I’m your age, Mom. My best friends will still be my best friends; don’t you think?” Although it may not play out as she envisions, her commitment to staying connected with the friends she loves will likely make it a reality. And I don’t expect her bold spirit of adventure to ever be fully tamed. This is something I admire about her.

During this reunion trip I happened to be reading a memoir by Cheryl Strayed called Wild: From Lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is the story of a Minnesota woman whose life unravels in her early 20’s after her mother’s death from cancer, the resulting diaspora of her family, and the eventual demise of her marriage amidst infidelity and drug abuse. She seeks a re-awakening by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She forges ahead more through blind will than skillful preparedness, and writes about it with an earthy spirit and a poetic gift of description. I thoroughly enjoyed her story, and found it to be a wonderful testimony to the transformative power of a wilderness trek. Despite the fact that she suffered terribly on the trail, and at a few points, was lucky to have survived, the beauty and self-transformation made it worth the pain and sacrifice. It made me want to get out on that trail myself.

She writes of the Pacific Crest Trail’s history and its profound meaning to the hikers courageous enough to endure it:

“What mattered was utterly timeless. It was the thing that had compelled them to fight for the trail against all the odds, and it was the thing that drove me and every other long-distance hiker onward on the most miserable days. It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.  It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadow, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

The Pacific Crest Trail will be there if I ever choose to take it on. But even the smaller scale adventures that are available any weekend would be worth my while to make happen.

After the reunion, my old girlfriends and I agreed that we need more time with friends and more adventures. We promised each other we would plan one. They agreed to come and stay with me for a “SoCal Ladies Adventure.” Brainstorming the itinerary was exciting in itself. Just considering the possibilities made me feel young and alive – almost like I was 16 again! That’s what “going wild” can do.

Many of you have stayed in contact with old friends; those with whom you have shared “going wild” experiences of old. If you have lost touch, what is keeping you from making that small effort to reach out to someone who was important to you years ago?

Maybe now is the time to make that phone call, search on Facebook, or write that letter. You may find some real joy in re-connecting with an old friend. Perhaps remembering those times together will help you seek out some opportunities to explore like you did when you were young. It may seem a little unlike the current you, but it’s not against the rules!  You can go wild again.

 

 

 

 Lean In

Last week I wrote about “moments of being” – those times when we are living consciously … fully aware and awake. After reading it, someone asked me a thoughtful question: what are some examples of moments of being, and how does one invite them?

My answer in two words is this: lean in.

Say YES. Dig deep. Dive into each endeavor; don’t shrink back. Instead of perseverating on the “why” and the “what if,” declare “why not?” and “I will.” Stop playing it safe – take a chance once in a while.

In the swimming pool of life, do you sit on the edge … at best, dangling your feet in the water? Or, do you get in, and let the cool water surround, sooth, and invigorate you? Will you move beyond the shallow end toward the deep water? Or try the diving board? Maybe even the high dive? Indeed there is danger, but what might be discovered in the diaphanous depths?

Leaning in involves being willing to dig into the messy parts – that which isn’t 100% predictable and known – but is rich with novelty and discovery. Delve into the gray areas; don’t simply tolerate ambiguity, appreciate it! There is mystery, nuance, and paradox in those matters we are not so certain about: an enigmatic beauty. Abandon the need for everything to be concrete, linear, and logical. You don’t have to calculate the answer to every equation. Let your right brain take charge once in a while. Move into meaning and purpose. Hug the essence. Play.

Cultivate the courage to take risks … in your career, relationships, hobbies, or life goals. This will require you to hone your sense of optimism. You’ll have to give up that whiney self-doubt that frowns and says, “Well, I don’t know, it might not work out.” It will require discipline to improve the quality of your thoughts: to recognize and challenge the negative ones, and replace them with more positive, self-enhancing ones. Develop the ability to manage your mind. Perhaps this verse from Philipians says it best: “… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philipians 4:8)

Adopting these truths and the skills to apply them was essential for me in overcoming depression years ago. While depressed, I embodied the worst extreme of negativity and inertia, entirely unable to do any of what I am advising you on now. But I am on a journey that has provided some lessons. Along the way I learned to stop approaching life like a fastidious hamster on a wheel. Caught unaware in a duty-bound and joyless existence, I was vulnerable for that dastardly illness to devour me. My Habitrail patterns of living had to be dismantled. I needed to break free of my cage.

C.S. Lewis, British writer and theologian, described this kind of learning, “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

Leaning in is partly about exploration; exploration invites moments of being. One of my favorite ways to explore is to get into nature. I call it “going wild”. Maybe this is because I grew up in Minnesota, where treasuring and surviving the outdoors is a central part of life. Welcoming the unique challenge and surprising beauty of each extreme season was a way of accepting life’s seasons … in all their joys and agonies.

In my youth, I loved to be outdoors regardless of the conditions. Running, swimming, canoeing, tennis, biking, camping, cross country skiing, ice skating, hiking, or just sitting on a river bank under a weeping willow tree. In Minnesota, if you let the weather be an excuse, you would rarely do a thing. Let’s just say the conditions are rarely ideal. We did not simply cancel school, or a ski trip, or a bike ride. We adapted. We shoveled. We wore layers. We didn’t expect to be comfortable. The moments of being I have enjoyed while battling the elements are epic in number. I have always found “woman against nature” an exhilarating contest!

One of the qualities that made me fall in love with my husband is his ability to lean in. He has a spirit of adventure and heart for exploration of all kinds – physical, intellectual, or spiritual. Learning, new ideas, and novelty are his lifelong cravings. At times those around him (including myself) struggle to keep up as he marches into uncharted territory. He shuns sameness, stagnation and complacency – the antithesis of a couch potato. His moments of being are robust.

For example, when we got engaged he shared his vision with me: moving from Minneapolis to Seattle the day after our wedding for a year-long marital adventure. It seems at age 8 he had read about the Pacific Northwest in National Geographic, and determined then that someday he would live there. Would I join him?

“Why not?” I said.

We had an amazing year exploring the Cascade mountains, the Olympic coast, the Emerald city, and in the midst, ourselves and our developing relationship. It was a strong start for us.

Not surprisingly, research on long-term marriage shows that what helps keep marriages happy through many decades is continuing to have novel experiences together. Neuroscientists explain that fun, exciting, and new experiences get the dopamine and norepinephrine flowing and reward the brain. Novelty is also the building block for brain elasticity, essential for adaptation.* Like all middle-aged couples, my husband and I have had some inevitable tough times in our 28 years together, but one quality we have always nourished is novelty. Give me high dopamine levels over diamonds anyday!

My husband quoted poet Robert Browning on our wedding day, both men reaching for the sublime:

“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be….”

Discover your own ways to lean in and invite moments of being. They may look nothing like mine or my husband’s – rather, they will reflect the uniqueness of you. As you explore and take a chance on something new, I predict you will be delighted with the results.

 

* www.PositScience.com “Your Brain in Love”