Sometimes you have to face and deal with tough decisions, other times it is better to sleep on it. The challenge is often to know when to do what. Sketching up a new focus on conflicts here on Hiking.org
Sometimes attitude is what make all the difference
Drawing and text by Frits Ahlefeldt
It is an old truth that if you want to get to someone fast, go hiking with them, it speed up the whole process of getting people out of their normal armor, and into showing what they really are made of. Pretty fast, it doesn’t matter any more what you do for a living, how much you earn, where you live, or who you know… on the trail you are the one you are…
Keep walking, taking one step at a time is the golden advice for people on the edge of giving up in all kind of areas. But the “Never give up” advice works best before you start out. When you are on your trail, you are very likely to experience hard times, and places where you feel like giving up. But don’t panic, it might be a good sign Because it often mean you have actually made it past “never” 🙂
Talking about difficult things are easier when hiking
Text and drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt, Hiking.org
Out on the trails you walk, so you don’t have to talk, and because you don’t have to, often it is much easier to open up, just to let time pass, and let the shy words appear when they please… It’s the opposite of classic sit and talk therapy, where your feet are forced to stay in the same place, while the mind walks frantically, trying to get somewhere
Talking as therapy
Many people who have experienced traumatic, sad or stressful experiences in their past, try to seal these in, holding their breath and pretending that everything is o.k. after all.
But the long time effects of this are often that people withdraw into themselves. They give up on ambitions, work or even their families and wait for something to heal their wounds and clear their clouded minds. Many try or are prescribed to different forms of classic therapy, those where you sit still on a chair, across from a therapist, or a group… and talk, talk and talk, while waiting for your lid to open up…
But it seldom does and the statistics of how much people open up and are helped by sitting and talking are not very comforting. Only a small fraction of people/clients/patients are helped by this, and often only for a short while… maybe a bit like watching TV.
The can opener of classic therapy
In classic sit and talk therapy the therapist try to accomplish the “opening up of the mind” by using a whole Swiss army knife of techniques designed to trick, lure, trap and hold thoughts, at least long enough for them to be analyzed, evaluated and dissected by the educated and observing professionals, or a surrounding sitting group waiting for their turn.
But thoughts are not very happy to be treated like that, so they tend to stay away or mimic any kind of wanted appearance, just to be left alone.
Walking as an alternative way to open up
When you walk, especially outdoors, your mind gets into a flow, where you relax and the movement of your feet distracts your attention on the problems in ways that give you a chance to loosen the grip of control and watch your thoughts instead. You are doing something – walking, and you don’t have to do more than that.
And then the magical thing happens. New thoughts starts to appear, first shy and fast in small glimpses, like scared fish in a small stream, then more relaxed. And as you just walk on and enjoy the landscape, the thoughts will stop minding your attention, and both words, feelings, images and ideas will start to appear and make themselves heard.
Using walking to build relationships
Why walking can have this effect on our thinking is not known, but for many it work, and as a bonus, when people walk together and start to share their thoughts, they build stronger and more honest relationships, and this knit people much better together and make them feel more secure and better connected.
A good example of how cultures have used this in thousand of years are the many pilgrimage walking traditions from all over the world, where people since ancient times has used walking along well defined trails, to get over difficult experiences and also as a pathway to reconnect to themselves / something higher.
Follow a clear trail with your feet and let your thoughts wander
To my experience especially two things can make all the difference for how well the trail support people to open up when walking. And by strange coincidence, the relationship between these two things is almost the exact opposite of classic sit and talk therapy, where the mind do all the work and the feet are locked by sitting.
When the feet walk and make steady progress along a clear defined trail, the mind decide that all is well, enjoy the landscape and relax… And when the mind are left wandering by itself, things often clear up, and that is why walking work so well, because then the thoughts starts to appear and come out in the open, all by themselves.
But to better create this change, there are a few things that can help a lot:
Three important things to help open up on a walk
1# Walk a well defined and tested trail
It is important that the trail is well-defined and clear so people won’t keep their mind occupied with reading maps and taking decisions about where to walk. ( Walking with groups it is a great thing to have an experienced trail-finder, that know the trail well, to walk first, so the rest of the group can just follow the trail finder, with no worries or confused detours )
Some very experienced people who use walking to open up (or to reflect or get ideas etc. ) actually often walk the same stretches, trails or rounds again and again, day after day, enjoying the changes of the season, weather etc.
2# Let the mind wander, don’t try to trap it
Sometimes therapists/coaches insist on taking their techniques from classic sitting therapy with them out on the trail… asking people the same Swiss army knife questions, bombarding everybody with their professional coach/therapist attitude along the trail. To me the difference seems a bit like the difference between letting thoughts ripe naturally along the trail instead of trying to control and push the “right” understanding… The last is seldom very successful, but just stressful.
3# walk for an hour or more at a time and take it easy
It takes time for the body and the mind to get into walking mood and the first few minutes of a walk are often confused with the mind asking skeptical questions about what all this work is good for, when it could be doing so much more important stuff.
Both logic and laziness would rather stay at home and think things out, but after a few minutes they often accept that they have to take a break and leave the stage of attention, while the trail, the feet and time do the work and create new understandings in new ways.
Taking a walk, an old medicine
Why walking is not used more today to create thrive is a bit strange, it’s a time-tested medicine, its free and available to (almost) everybody. Of course I could be a bit off here, but it almost seems to me that the less we walk, the less we thrive… and the less we open up.
The great thing is that, if there is something in the above that is right about the effects walking can have, then opening up and starting to heal, for those in need (everybody) could be… just a few steps away
Don’t push yourself over the edge, go hiking instead…
Text and CreativeCommons Drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt
“Try harder… push the limits, your abilities, your relations and your accomplishments all the time, try, try and TRY HARDER” is the mantra of much modern high achiever talk, both in business and in private life. And people do it and fall, blow up, jump, crack, bend and go down, all over in their jobs, relationships, homes and health, pushing themselves so hard, across all the red lights and stress warnings.
Can hiking be an alternative, or is it just another thing to accomplish, another goal to reach?
Hiking is slow, sometimes painstakingly slow, walking takes a billion years, or at least footsteps to get anywhere… it might be the absolute least fast way to get anywhere… fast.
So there is a different limit for you… Don’t go fast, don’t rush, just walk, one step at a time, don’t push yourself over the edge…
Just walk, take a different trail and enjoy it instead, going slow, one step at a time…
Drawing: texted version for free use (no changes please) 🙂
People in doubt are often advised to take a walk and think things over, but at the same time doubt and indecision on a mountain, a long stretch without water, in a snowstorm or in the middle of a raging river can eat you alive
An old soldier truth often repeated is that “any decision is better than no decision”. This also holds true, out on the hiking trails, when doubt and indecision paralyze hikers exposed in dangerous terrain.
In those places, time is not on your side and any second you spend out in freezing cold water, facing an avalanche or the burning desert sun, can dramatically diminish your changes of making it out alive.
To me this double problem of of following a clear path, while walking in doubt to reach a decision, is a strange, but very interesting part of the hiking universe. Many hikers head out on the trails in doubt, at crossroads in their lives, or after a dramatic change has thrown them into the belly of doubt of what to do next. Following a well marked trail is the opposite of doubt, it is something simple and straight forward.
Wonder if the simplicity of walking can make other things easier to grasp, and if hikers sometimes use this when they turn to walking, to think things over and “reach a decision” as if decision is a place somewhere out there. A place where the fog of doubt is gone and they can see the path ahead clearly.
Walking and hiking can have a strange, but very constructive influence on the things “not talked about” even though nobody really knows why
Most have tried to be the elephant in the room, some even to be the room, when the walls seems to explode outward and you become the walls, the all encompassing reality – that nobody talks about.
Other times it is not a person, but one or more issues, that is just too challenging to face, so instead everybody try to sit still and hold their breath, or deal with other, smaller and less challenging issues – hoping the elephant will eventually just walk away.
Sometimes we even make up issues or create conflicts that is less frightening, just too avoid looking up at that big, huge reality that hovers above us.
Some call it Taboo, some talk about the elephant in the room that nobody talks about and I just learned that on the Kiriwina island, near Papua New Guinea. They actually have a word: “Mokita” that is short for “truth we all know but agree not to talk about.”
Researchers have lately looked much more into what happen in situations where secrets, stigmatization and silence fill the whole horizon for us, but where these challenges are left out of the picture.
And it seems like many experts agree (more or less) that this is one of the most damaging and paralyzing things that can happen to our minds and relationships – or in a larger scale, to whole communities and cultures.
But both new and ancient knowledge point to that, instead of waiting for the elephant to walk, it is a much better strategy to stand up and – if possible together, including the elephant – go for a walk, where the issues can rest, until they will naturally get smaller and start to be something that can be talked about, reflected upon and seen from many and less challenging sides.
Research show that walking helps us face things not talked about – in at least two ways:
First by simultaneously give distraction and a break from being stocked in a chair, blindly staring down an dead-end path of heavy challenges that actually free both mental and physical resources for creative problem solving.
And second: walking can somehow lift the mood and change the feelings of being stocked and lost, to more accepting and constructive feelings, even innovative perspectives. And of some reason – it helps even more if you walk together, no matter if you talk while walking or walk in silence.
As far as I have been able to research by now nobody really know why walking have this effect on how we experience our challenges, it seems to be a mixture of cognitive, cultural and other reasons… like the change of the (mental) room, the right left, bipolar coordination and rhythm of walking and the benefit of fresh air. But walking apparently does have this strange almost “healing” effect, as people from a lot of backgrounds, facing a lot of different challenges, all have realized.
It doesn’t matter if it is fear of global warming, stress, overload, traumatic experiences, economic bankruptcy, life-threatening crises or unsolvable scientific paradoxes: it is the same (free and available) medicine that works: To take a walk outdoors!
Research and inspiration links to walk to new understandings:
Here are two examples of websites that use long-distance hiking and walking as a way to create transformation to new understandings:
Facilitate and help veterans deal with harsh experiences from war by using, as WarriorHike write: “the therapeutic effects of long distance hiking” on trails like the Appalachian trail and Pacific Crest trail.
In their Walk of the War program they help veterans both with equipment, supplies, one to one and group-based help on through-hikes both before, under and after the hike to help the transition from military service to civilian life
Organisation promoting walkable communities, map-making, trails and getting people together to walk. Feet first have looked at how to get people in meetings to leave the chairs and instead hold their meetings under a blue sky by going out walking together. Read more in their FeetFirst guide to Walking Meetings
Drawing and text HikingArtist (thoughts and research on the benefits of hiking)