August 11, 2010

Break a Sweat while you Meditate. ~ John Spina

The Meditative Qualities of Backpacking.

There is something about a city, even one as small as Denver or Boulder, that feels constraining.  Speaking for myself, I know that my mind is always racing, thinking about my next step, my next appointment, my next pay day, my next weekend, the list never ends.  I try to meditate every morning in attempts to slow everything down and put my life in perspective, however, I REALLY love to sleep and will often hit the snooze button until I absolutely have to get out of bed.  After showing and getting dressed, there is no time for even a five-minute meditation session, consequently making the everyday hustle and bustle even more painful.

In order to deal with it, and get some of my pent up energy off my chest, I have been doing a fair amount of backpacking recently. Every trip seems to rejuvenate me and remind me how precious every moment is.  Being surrounded by such natural beauty seems to jump start my soul, making life feel so much simpler and so much more enjoyable.  It’s as if I finally awoke from the deep coma that is monotonous city life.  Breathing in the fresh air, soaking up the sun, and enjoying the company of a few good friends in such quiet and peaceful, yet exciting and adventurous places just feels right.  I feel completely free.

However, it is not only this escape to the natural world that gives backpacking such meditative qualities.  As you progress in the hike your body develops a rhythm in time with your breathing and your steps, bringing you to quite a peaceful and meditative state both physically and mentally.  Simply placing one foot in front of the other when your legs are aching for a rest is a challenge in and of itself, yet once your mind and body have pushed past the initial pain, you reach an almost an out-of-body state.  Your legs seem to move with out any effort and your mind is clear and at peace, free to take in the sights and explore your being. Ultimately, once you reach the top of that lofty pass or skyscraping mountain, which has been looming over you almost mockingly all day, the feeling of instant gratification and accomplishment, is one of pure ecstasy.

Another aspect of backpacking that adds a certain level of mindfulness, is the very fact that you are going somewhere that is, most likely, only able to be reached by foot, completely secluded from the influences of outside world; you are truly seeing the Earth as it was made to be seen.  In addition, you are carrying everything you need to survive in this unforgiving wilderness on your back, food, shelter, warmth, cooking utensils, etc. If you forgot anything you are S.O.L and have to figure out away to deal with it on your own.  It is a very satisfying experience relying entirely on your self for your very survival, and once again it brings you back to the feeling of being completely free and living as nature intended it.

John Spina currently attends the University of Vermont in Burlington where he will graduate with a double major in history and political science in 2011.  He writes sports for the school paper, the Vermont Cynic, as well as publishes weekly articles in the Mountain Ear, a local Nederland paper, and works as an Intern for the Elephant Journal. He loves spending time outdoors with his dog, McKinley, and being home in Colorado working for the summer.

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