Nature & Fear, How I Conquer My Mind Outside
One foot started to wobble uncontrollably and I had to laugh at the sight of it halfway up the rock face. ‘Elvis legs’ they call it in the sport of rock climbing.
Outdoors Wellness With Patrick Timm
It felt good to be scared. I get scared a lot, but this is different. I had put myself in this position, I wanted it.
In my own process I was making progress. But it wasn’t always that way.
CLIMBING OUT OF A DARK CANOPY
For a long time I struggled with depression. It would come in waves over periods of months or years, and made it truly hard to get on with things in life, to just, ‘live’. I also get anxious a lot. I guess about almost everything. It can keep me up at night, and make simple decisions or waiting unbearable. At the same time, I was also always fascinated by it. It was ironic really. To be captivated by something you hate, something that captures you.
Then I discovered the outdoors. A lifestyle far different to what I was living.
So why is it when I’m outdoors, that I forget all of the things that bother me, all of life’s stresses and worries, and that weight I always feel above me pushing down? Why do I truly feel alive and connected to my deepest emotions, thoughts and feelings when the ground zooms away from me way up high, or when I am deep in forested paths?
I think there is a reason.
IT STARTS WITH THAT FIRST STEP ON UNEVEN GROUND
Dealing with our emotions is something we don’t usually take a logical approach to. We seem to all just ‘do it’. I envied people who could just go through their days and not get bothered by things. Why did it always have to bother me?
It wasn’t until I started hiking that I noticed a change. I had grown up with no knowledge of the outdoors, and at age 23, was pretty clueless about it all. But I gave it a try after finding myself on a short hike by chance. It felt good to be outside.
Not long after that the opportunity came along to give rock climbing a go with a good friend. Perhaps because of my regular hiking, I seemed to have opened my mind to an activity that I had previously labeled as a ‘daredevil’ sport. Simply being outdoors was re-shaping my perception of risk, of accepting it, and more importantly as I would later realize, balance my mind and thought processes.
So how did it help?
GETTING INTO THE HILLS
Climbing and the outdoors started a change that has persisted for many years in my life. From those early days, the challenge of overcoming fear and challenges and getting out of my comfort zone, helped shape and ground me into a happier person.
Whether standing on a mountain, hiking through a forest, or hanging on by your fingertips, it’s impossible to think about your worries. In fact, you don’t really think about much at all. And I don’t believe you are ignoring the problems and issues in your life either. You are simply letting your unconscious process them by giving it a chance to work it all out. You come back with less on your mind, the weight off your shoulders, and a clearer vision for your future.
All that got me thinking over time, is there a process we could follow? When we get hit by that next wave of despair, can we manage it by being outside?
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR NATURE TO HELP US?
When you enter into the natural environment, free from the bombardments of the media, from social pressures and work, I feel we open up a connection with our surroundings.
This happens without us thinking, and I think the explanation for it is actually quite simple.
Nature challenges us far more than any urban environment ever can. And with comfort zones being pushed, we gain a much better understanding in ourselves. We learn to trust in our abilities. We gain confidence and resilience.
This doesn’t mean we all have to climb vertical rock faces of course! We should find the medium we can comfortably handle, yet still pushes us out of those comfort zones.
Another big aspect I find to be helpful is fear. We shy away from fear nowadays like it’s a negative thing.
Whether committing to a new job, walking up to that girl or boy we like, making a lifestyle change, or going for that hard move on a climb, fear holds us back. And the deeper in a depressive or anxious fog we are, the harder it is.
But feeling fear is the time we actually make progress. It’s in that moment when we get scared and say “I can’t do it anymore” that we have a choice in what happens next.
We most often choose the easy option to get us out of the situation. We shy away from the hard alternative and that means we miss out on vital character building opportunities.
I also began thinking, why don’t we take it one step further, and actually plan to make things a little hard from time to time?
When we plan a hard hike or climb, we set in motion a chain of thoughts and actions that will get us there. No longer did I spend time upset or anxious. I had something to work to. Having any goal is better than nothing after all. It was about making the goals into little chunks. Take each little victory, and failure, as a choice to grow.
WHEN I KNEW I STILL HAD WORK TO DO
I remember one time on a climb when it all surfaced again, despite having worked on my issues for so long. It was a hard route and I was pushing myself. Over a hundred meters above the ground, everything caught up with me.
I went for the hardest move on the climb, got it and as I pulled up the rope to clip the next bolt, I could feel it happening. The exposure raced up to greet me, I could suddenly feel how high I really was. And I didn’t like it. My fingers weakened, I was getting pumped and slipping ever so slowly. I peeled off the wall.
And I fell.
I dropped through the air, stomach lifting up inside. And then the rope caught me, as I knew it would, as it always will. As I came to a stop, I started crying.
It’s not something many outdoorsy people talk about, especially men. There’s a bit of a ‘tough’ mentality out there. But I cried. There. I said it.
I felt I wasn’t good enough, I couldn’t do it. Why work so hard? I wasn’t worth anything. I’d never be good at climbing or anything else.
It wasn’t the climb itself of course. It’s a reflection of what’s happening on the inside. It showed me that I still had to conquer my fear. Not of the climb, but of my emotions. I had to be OK with who I was, what I could do, and what I was afraid of.
After hanging there for a few minutes, I knew I had also let it all out. This was different from sitting at home. In the outdoors, I had a gone outside of my comfort zone, by choice, and this was freedom from the weight of my emotions.
A PLAN OF ACTION
It’s not easy and I’m far from perfect, but I feel I have a good balance now. I feel happier more often. I can accept myself. And what I can share is that I noticed it came down to these key things that made a difference:
1) Spend as much time outdoors as you can.
2) Challenge yourself and don’t shy away from your fears.
3) Set goals in the outdoors that you can achieve.
4) Talk about emotions honestly, even if it’s just to yourself.
I believe that the key to being happy isn’t to focus on being happy. Its to do all of the above points, because I think we lack them in today’s world. We are out of touch with our natural environment. Our lifestyles without the outdoors do not challenge us in the same way. They don’t help us grow, and connect.
Whether we like it or not, we are dependent on the earth, it is where we live. And just like we feel comfort in our own home, our planet offers us that same comfort. It is our home.
BEGINNING THE PROCESS
All this is well and good you might say, but HOW do we actually start this whole process? I should know how hard it is, I spent weeks doing nothing, being so down I couldn’t get myself to do anything, let alone getting outdoors.
Well, I always remember this story now. It’s my favourite and has made the biggest difference in how I approach my motivation to do things. I can’t remember where I read it or who wrote it. But it goes something like this:
Imagine the scene if you will, a man standing in one of those old outhouse toilets, the ones impossibly far away from the main house, especially at night. And he’s about to do what a man sometimes has to do. He’s gazing down into the murky mysterious waters about to begin, when suddenly, he notices something bright down there, shining up at him.
It’s glittering, sparkling, and brilliant. It’s a mint-fresh gold coin.
His reaction is immediate and human. A voice in his head says, “That could be mine,” and he begins to roll up his sleeve. But suddenly he stops.
And the voice says, “But is it worth it?”
He considers a moment or two, contemplating what to do. And then he has a brilliant idea. He puts his hand in his pocket. Takes out another bright, shiny, sparkling gold coin. Looks at it for a moment or two. And then throws it down into the murky depths so it’s resting next to the other one. Then he rolls up his sleeve with purpose.
And he says, “Now it’s worth it!”
The first step is always the hardest. But if we can commit to it with some accountability, then we can motivate ourselves to do incredible things. You just need to throw a gold coin down the metaphorical toilet, so to speak.
I can guarantee it’ll make the world of difference once you get outside. And I’ll meet you out there, hiking some trail, climbing a rock, or just enjoying the outdoors as we were meant to.
Author Patrick Timm
You can find out more about Patrick Timm on his website & blog: The Vertical Adventurer
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