You all know I love hiking. I am not sure what it is – probably a combination of being with good friends, being in nature, the adventure and the vistas! Having said that I once tramped (New Zealand for hiking) the Routeburn Track in the South Island of New Zealand in pouring rain for almost four days – so no vistas there! It certainly is not the snorer beside you in the bunk house nor the group that insist upon getting up and getting going by 5 am and all you want to do is snuggle deeper into a sleeping bag. No matter how quiet they may try to be – the bang clang zip of cooking their porridge, cleaning dishes, packing their packs is all magnified in a hut high above the tree line. Bless them!
Isn’t personality a mysterious thing; I always find myself amused by the hiking party that needs to be up and gone by 5 am when we all know it is a 7 hour hike to the next hut and that when you arrive there just after 12 noon there is nothing to do all afternoon but read or play cards. Why not sleep in, a leisurely breakfast and then set forth for adventure? Oh well; c’est la vie! I have no doubt they too are amused by those who want to sleep in while the beauty of the day beckons!
I mention hiking because most of us are doing it tough at present. We are ‘over’ Covid 19! We are over lockdowns and social isolation – keeping 1.5 m apart, wearing masks, clinging to hand sanitizers and the never ending news cycle of Covid related items. I am no different to you; I’m over it too. I had a ten day period in Italy back in February where I would fret over every ache and pain after I had travelled within the country just immediately prior to the lockdown – fearing that every little itch or temperature change may be the onset of Covid. Then in Italy the nightly death toll from the North was like nothing I had ever experienced and the feel of dread and fear on the streets of the small village near where I was staying had to be seen to be believed. Then I had my 36 hour dash back home to the safety of Australia – cringing should anyone close by in the plane cough and then being greeted at Sydney airport by white coat, mask wearing nurses taking my temperature. Two weeks of quarantine followed and then the lockdown. So – yes, I like so many of you are over it.
There can be no doubt that we are surrounded by anxiety and in some cases fear. It is almost as if there is an underlying anxiety at the back of our minds just questioning life as we have known it – and placing some uncertainty around the future.
How has this Covid time been for you? Are you aware of any increased anxiety within you or within those around you?
But why mention hiking? If there are two things that my years of hiking have taught me they are the beauty and the power of the present moment AND to set and reset continually my short term goals. You see, hiking for nine or ten hours up and down the New Zealand Alps carrying a huge pack on your back with all you need to survive – while enjoyable – is also tough. Often, with my lungs burning for air – my goal would be to make it to the next turn on the track – twenty meters away and then the next and then the next! Many of the tracks are up and down, up and down and the fifteen meters of altitude you just gained through sheer hard work and determination are followed by a twelve meter downhill slope and then – you guessed it – a seventeen meter gut wrenching shuffle back upwards – only to find that after half an hour of tramping and covering some four hundred meters you have gained only some five meters of altitude overall! That mountain pass seems like forever away.
Sure, that four hundred meters is truly beautiful; sometimes mountain vistas, sometimes the dark green of the beech forest, sometimes tumbling waterfalls, moss and lichens, bird call and flax plants and more. But often, in the midst of the beauty it is sheer hard work. No beer has ever tasted as wonderful as the beers in the National Park Hotel at the end of the 12 hour hiking day doing the Tongariro Crossing (one of the most beautiful one day hikes on the planet).
But over the years I have come to discover that strangely this is one of the things I love about hiking. I love the challenge of the nine hour hiking day. While I don’t love the sore legs, the aching back and the lungs that just can’t get enough oxygen I would do it all tomorrow for the feel at the hut at the end of the day or the beer with mates on the last day of the hike. When you are snug and warm in the hut that night, the light of a small candle and a pack of cards you recall the adventure that was that day. And even then, after only one day, the mountains have already got higher, the bear bigger, the swing bridge just dangling above the chasm below.
But you made it – because you set yourself hundreds – probably thousands of short term goals that day; to get to that tree, to get to that tree, to get to that corner, to get to that corner, to rest next to that small cave, to sneak a small piece of chocolate when you get to that clearing. While the Brothers in my community would definitely not call me sane I have survived Covid so far because I am lucky to live in Australia and because I have each and every day set myself a whole series of short term goals.
My hiking adventures have been truly special; from the beauty of the Kosciuszko National Park in early spring to the Travers Saddle, Mt Doom on the Tongariro Crossing to the crystal clear Lake Mackenzie on the Routeburn track I have seen some truly beautiful parts of our world. But the danger is that we simply ‘do’ the Kepler Track – what is the value in that?
So the second thing that has got me through Covid – relatively sane thus far is the power of the present moment. Again, it is no secret that I love the writing of Eckhart Tolle and his Power of Now. Tolle reminds us that all there is is now. Too many of us live constantly in the past or in the future; full of regrets or wishing we were back in a time which was simpler and fun or we live in the future – the ‘one day’ syndrome. Yes, ‘one day’ I will be fit, ‘one day’ I will not be jealous or resentful, ‘one day’ I will be kind, ‘one day’ I will be successful. As the saying goes, “One day (tomorrow) never comes!”
So on the hikes I gift myself with the present moment over and over again. I truly take in the wild flower, the mountain vista, the hanging glacier, the last small patches of late winter snow and more. On a hike in Tasmania with my friends Paul and David a couple of years ago I drove them crazy with my constant stopping to stoop down and take a photo of a wild-flower. My computer desk top has a 30 second revolving gallery of some 600 nature shots from my hikes. Each one a memory. Each one something of beauty that brings me into the now; the present moment. On the hikes my eyes and my IPhone (switched to global roaming to preserve the battery) help me embrace more deeply the present moment.
The gift of that present moment keeps on giving. When you truly see that flower or leaf or koala bear or waterfall you are in that moment and not regretting your past or wishfully dreaming of a possible future. That present moment hugs you. That present moment says that all there is is NOW. That present moment just IS. That present moment is to be savoured and enjoyed – like stopping to cook up a brew on the Three Capes Track in Tasmania with views to die for as a backdrop.
So on my Covid journey – yes, I am over it. But yes, I am valuing the hundred small short term goals I set myself each day. And yes, I am attempting to continually be in the present moment – and truly there, truly in it. Obviously I am aided in this both by my love of gardening and my love of nature and my daily walks. But all of us have our version of these. Within the last few days my niece has given birth to her first child. I have no doubt that over the coming month her little boy will give her thousands of tiny moments of joy (and sleeplessness); those little baby noises, the eyes wide open taking in of you looking down upon them, the tiny little fingers grabbing hold of you, those tiny little finger nails, that little smile, the laughter or half giggle for no apparent reason and more. These for my niece will be her moment by moment present moment. How often have you heard someone say that babyhood goes too fast and they wish they could slow it down!!
I have discovered that I have NOT lost anything by not listening to the endless cycle of Covid news each night; so gift yourself a change of channel or a good book or a conversation with a friend. I have discovered that my mind can so easily cycle back to my anxieties and fears – often about things I have little control over. So what I do have control over is my present moment. So (and it is not avoidance) I focus on the flower, on the sunset, on the friend I am chatting to, on the small task I have chosen to be engaged in.
- It is with us – no good fighting it or resisting it or wishing it was not – it is – accept it
- Thank the Universe for the gift of each and every day
- Choose a whole series of short term goals to focus your day (these do not have to be work related)
- Stay fit – become fit – become fitter – get out and exercise in some way shape or form
- Do that thing you have been putting off and “wished you had time to do” – well now, you have the time (I began a blog)
- Set routines
- Deliberately plan times of celebration, romance, fun, memory with those you love
- Yes, you will get down at times – and yes, perhaps more than normal – so accept that that is currently your (our) reality and then
- Reach out in giving to self and other – remembering that always there are people much worse off than yourself (honour them and care for them in some way) and finally
- Choose deliberately to live in the present moment! Do a senses sacred walk each day; close your eyes and deeply listen, close your eyes and breathe in deeply the scent of nature, open your eyes and deeply look – see – take in the beauty of sunset or sunrise, flower or bug and finally touch; touch leaf or bark, baby or that dog or cat that is so glad you are around a lot more – and loves nothing more than a tickle behind the ear!
And lets all keep things in balance. Most of the readers of this blog live in countries with great health care systems and with publicly funded medical care. So each day as you find that quiet space – to just sit or to hold some of the pain of planet Earth and its people in your heart and hands – hold too, those human poor of our planet who do not have the financial, medical and family support you and I may have.
And yes, one day, we will be Covid free – and on that day let us all hope and pray that we never forget nor take for granted;
- The wow of a hug
- The beer or wine or coffee with friends
- The joy of story sharing with our elderly
- The freedom of gathering to watch sport, attend a concert
- The nobility of having a job
- The belonging as you gather in worship
- The buzz of energy when people gather
- The heroic commitment and generosity of health workers and that
- Pain – like love – knows no borders!
- What is getting you through Covid 19?
- What are you doing or being that will mean you come out stronger?