When I hiked 1,800 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2017, I recognized that I was changing in positive ways.
I can look back now and see that my confidence has skyrocketed. I'm much more likely to say no to things that don't fit without feeling a shred of guilt. I've grown to love my body and myself in ways that were unimaginable before I stepped onto the trail a year ago.
I know I'm not alone.
At the time I was still caught up in the thru-hiker undertow--doing the miles, finishing, staying with my trail family even if it hurt.
But I was able to tap into the rhythm of being a nomad. I often practiced moving meditation as I walked. I tried to be present to my surroundings and to the experience.
But I can't say I was any more intentional about my hike than that.
Now that hindsight has given me a new perspective on the power of long distance hiking as a tool for spiritual connection, I plan to practice more of what I've been experimenting with over the past five months.
I have 400 miles to go to complete my AT hike. These will be intentional miles. Miles where I actively invite Spirit to speak to my heart and listen for the surprising ways this happens.
And here's what I've been experimenting with to make that happen...
1. Set an intention for each day.
As Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you're going, you might wind up some place else." Knowing what you want to get out of your journey is the first step in intentional hiking.
Is there question that's been dogging you? A mystery that needs demystifying?
Do you need directions for the next phase of your life? A plan for getting unstuck? Insight about a habit or a pattern that keeps popping up for "no reason?'
What needs to be transformed for you to move forward in your life with the ease and joy and trust that you know is your birthright? Ask for help to transform this so that you can move freely toward your deep soul life whether you feel ready or not.
If you weren’t ready, you would not have shouldered your pack and laced up your trail runners. Now is the time. What do you need? Intend to transform in the way you know you’re ready.=
2. Overcome the “Green Tunnel” mindset.
Hikers on the Appalachian Trail joke about the "green tunnel"--the endless days immersed in lush green foliage with little in the way of views or waypoints to break up the monotony.
It's only monotonous if you let it be that way.
As you cover ground that starts to look the same today as it did yesterday, challenge yourself to notice something new every day or even every hour.
Your wild soul longs to experience life directly. Unfiltered. It longs for new experiences. Challenging yourself to see with new eyes is a way to expand that experience. Every new thing that you notice enriches your experience of life and satisfies that longing.
3. Go barefoot.
If your wild soul longs to experience life directly, we can offer that through all of our senses. Like touch. The feel of bare feet on the earth, in the dust, in the mud, on the rocks and in clear burbling creeks.
Chances are going barefoot will also force you to slow down as your feet become accustomed to this new challenge, which will set you up for success in challenge #2 above.
For more benefits of planting your bare feet on the ground, look into the practice of Earthing.
4. Focus on one thing every day or for the duration of your hike.
A shape. A color. A sound. A plant. An animal. Road crossings. The myriad forms of water. Shelters. Thresholds.
How does this intense focus on one thing change your perception of the thing? Of you? Of your journey?
Does this intense focus on one thing lead to serendipitous manifestations of the thing? Pay attention. Document instances of the thing. How does it connect with your overarching intention for your journey?
5. Forget about miles for a day, or a month. Let the way unfold intuitively.
Get lost and revel in the discomfort of not knowing. Lean into the objections and judgment and fear your ego throws your way, and choose to rebel against that voice that drowns out all the other voices that are trying to be heard.
Instead, trust your soul to guide you to where you need to go, what you need to experience that day. Let go of your agenda so you can discover the “holy direction” of your hike. And your life.
What about you, hiker friend? How will you slow down and use your time on the trail to rediscover what's most sacred about your life? Leave a comment and share any other ideas you have. This is a work in progress and we've only scratched the surface of what works and what's possible for turning our hikes into prayers and meditations.
*Hiking changes you on the outside, too, for the record. For one thing, when you get home, your clothes are all too big and your shoes are all too small. But that change doesn't last.