I just returned from an amazing and at the risk of sounding cliché, a life-changing, four day solo hiking trip to southern Utah.
While I never actually said out loud that it was anything more than a much needed hiatus from the pressures of being a single parent, the truth is, in my mind, it was to be a vision-quest of sorts.
I had come to an impasse in my spiritual journey and somewhere deep inside I hoped that getting away from the hustle and bustle of mi vida loca and spending some reflective time in nature might put me back on the path to enlightenment.
A few well-meaning strangers that I met along the way asked me how I could travel solo—wasn’t I scared?
Scared of what? I would respond confused.
They would then rattle off the usual litany of reasons why I should be afraid to travel alone as a woman and I would smile, nodding back politely.
After each encounter, I realized how easy it would be to listen to the concerns of these nameless faces and turn my car back to the refuge and predictability of Starbucks and a marathon of Orange is the New Black.
Yet, I ignored the voice that questioned my sanity and I squelched the temptation to give into the fearful warnings of strangers who didn’t know me well enough to understand the mission I was on.
When, I finally got to my hotel, hot and exhausted, I sat down on the bed hundreds of miles from home, looked around the drab room and suddenly the voices of all of these strangers whirled around in my head. My palms became sweaty and I became nauseous.
Without so much as a warning, doubt lassoed my courage, holding it in a choke hold and for a brief moment, I wondered if all of these strangers were right—that doing this alone was crazy.
I mean I was alone. Really alone.
Fear gripped me to the core and all I wanted to do was run like a wild animal.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of being alone, per se, because by nature I am a loner. This sense of being alone yawned much deeper, like the canyons I was mesmerized by as I made my trek through the mountains.
And then, boom, there it was staring me smack dab in the face—that age-old existential dilemma of man’s struggle with his aloneness (you know, every man is an island).
Suddenly I felt so alone and I wondered could I be by myself for four days with just me. Not in a physical sense, but rather a spiritual one. Could I be trusted with my thoughts, or would they betray me?
It seemed like an endless game of mental ping pong that played out in my head but in the end I talked myself out of loading all my crap into my car and heading back to the safety of my predictable and oh-so-familiar comfort zone.
No argument here—I had to put on my big-girl panties and push past this spiritual conundrum. I was looking square into the abyss and it was my move. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I heard the words come thundering in like the cavalry, “no guts no glory.”
Fast forward a few hours later.
It became blissfully luminous to me how much clearer things become when we hike deep into the stillness of the canyons and the noise in our head quiets down.
While I sat alone miles in a canyon kissed with a palate of amazing hues, listening to the distant cry of a red-tailed hawk and the wind whistling through the hoodoos, it suddenly dawned on me that all of the reasons these strangers gave why I should be afraid were external, tangible things—like being attacked or raped.
A light began blinking frantically in my head. They were looking outside of themselves at tangible things in order to rationalize the fear and discomfort of being alone with just their own inner-thoughts.
Fireworks exploded in my head sparking a chain reaction of aha moments. It was at this moment that I knew that in the end, all of us are alone and surrounding ourselves with people wouldn’t change that reality.
Intrinsically, I understood how being alone in the stillness of one’s own silence can be like a death sentence if we are uncomfortable with our own thoughts. Both understanding and acceptance crashed into a crescendo reverberating triumphantly in my soul and I felt an inner peace like no other. I sat silently, bathing in this powerful understanding losing all track of space and time.
The following days hiking into the wilderness, I had a front row seat to a magnificent symphony of silence—each performance better than the last. My thoughts were no longer banging around in my head but floating gently like a butterfly languishing from flower to flower.
I was at peace.
It passed by too quickly. I stood gazing out into the endless canyons that had been the conductor of this masterpiece one last time before I clambered into my car to head back to the rat race.
I felt a bittersweet combination of both sadness and profound peace, similar to the way a child feels after the initial fear of going to summer camp for the first time and then not wanting to leave. The experience had healed me in so many ways. I felt empowered, independent, recharged-maybe even invincible.
I had no real expectations when I began this journey four days ago. Yet, there I stood, transformed by a simple understanding that our thoughts are the key to our power, like Kryptonite is to Superman.
What we think is who we are. There is such a profound sense of power and humility in that knowledge when you understand it to your core.
Had I given into my fearful thoughts and ran back to the familiar routine of filling my time with distractions, I would never have been able to hear the voice of my own thoughts ringing clearly in my head. I needed to hear that voice and embrace it like a long-lost friend.
I stood firmly and high on the rim of the canyon and silently thanked the majestic mountains and trees for being my faithful companion the past four days, helping me to find such an important piece of my journey to enlightenment.
I finally tore myself away with a sigh. After a few steps I stopped, looking back over my shoulder one last time, I silently mouthed the words, “thank you.”
A voice deep somewhere deep within answered, “you’re welcome.”
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Bog Dan/Pixoto