I like winter hiking- from the silence of the woods, to the bright winter light that casts long shadows. It reminds me of cross country skiing when I was a kid in Massachusetts. Most of Maryland doesn’t get much snow, but this past week we got some snow, then an ice storm, followed by freezing temperatures. Much of the ground is still covered by a thin layer of snow with a thicker layer of ice on top. Today I hiked on ice for the first time. I am not an experienced hiker. Trekking part of the Appalachian Trail is on my uber list for 2021. I have until the fall to prepare, and I knew that I needed to start hiking more often to learn how I learn best: from my mistakes. So what I learned today, as I slid around and fell down multiple times, is that I need to get micro spikes for the soles of my boots, and hiking poles for winter. More than the actual lesson of how to be better prepared to hike in various conditions, each time I go out on a trail, I ruminate on matters that often fall to the wayside in day to day life. When each step was unpredictable, my friend Maria and I had to become very mindful of where we were stepping and our 5 mile hike was more of a walking meditation than a traditional hike.
I fell a lot. It was very slippery and I fell going uphill, downhill, on flat ground and getting up from sliding down. Yet there were many more times that I slid a bit, or I started to fall, but I was able to stop myself, and regain balance. When I wasn’t trying to control the situation, and I walked cautiously, but also instinctively crouched lower, I tended to do better. Of course there were times I thought I was being cautious and still found myself on the ice covered ground, sliding down. When we expect the worst to happen, it often does. Is this because we bring this energy upon ourselves? I thought about car accidents and how often babies don’t have the same injuries as adults, because they can’t comprehend an impending accident. Older children and adults, when they know that an accident is unavoidable, tense their muscles, which often causes more damage than if they had stayed relaxed. We tense when we get scared, it is part of the flight or fight response. Can we stay loose even when we know something is about to slam into us? Maria and I discussed this as we hiked the trail. Humans are prone to fear because we need it in order to survive. In today’s society, we can’t escape fear, or anxiety, especially during a pandemic. Rational or irrational, in order to keep going, we have to learn to live with this fear, ask for help when we need it, or use it to fire up our fight systems and just keep going forward.
I tense up when I see an accident coming. I quickly become rigid and fearful. For the past few months, my “accident” has been a divorce. For over a year I have acted, and reacted, irrationally out of anxiety, and all too often. Many of my friends would remind me that I had to put my happiness first, and trust that the other pieces would fall into place. We give the advice we need to hear for ourselves to those we love. Seeking a new life was a really hard thing to do. I knew what was making me unhappy, but happiness is not a guarantee in life. I worried that in leaving an unhappy marriage, I would find an even more unpleasant single life. I stayed up many nights tormented that I was breaking not only my husband’s heart, but also my kids’ hearts all in the name of my own “happiness.” My sense of meaning and purpose was tested. I firmly believed I was a “til death do you part” person, the center of a nuclear family and the rock that the family could count on. But I was miserable. I fought hard to control my ex, to mold him into the person I needed him to be. You can imagine how well that went. I knew I could only be responsible for my own actions, emotions and reactions. It was terrifying not knowing how he would react, let alone my kids, and nothing brings out a control freak more than fear. We are all currently doing ok. We are all also currently in therapy. I told someone a few weeks ago that I was getting to the top of a rollercoaster ride, and I was about to endure the unpleasant descent, totally out of my control, but I was going to stay limber, breathe and remember that I was at least strapped into the damn car. As I begin this last phase of divorce, dotting Is, crossing Ts, and filing the paperwork, I find that people are now coming to me for advice about separation, divorce, or the worst part of all of this – the limbo. Is it too good to leave, or too bad to stay? (Great book by the way, if you find yourself in this spot).
My best advice for winter hiking, which also applies to finding yourself being scared of finding a new life, a new job, a new adventure, or breaking away from what no longer serves you is this: Don’t tense up and try to control the things that are outside of your control. You’re going to fall, it might hurt a bit, but you can always get back up. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have amazing friends who are right beside you on an icy trail laughing, crying and loving life.