This is a fundamental concept that I have held for many years. Having myself struggled with depression, anxiety, and anger my whole life I thought that there could be no end to the misery. Even though I was an accomplished musician and martial artist with a good job, loving family, and a large group of loyal friends I was still so deeply unhappy and couldn't for the life of me put my finger on the cause. Then something very simple happened that changed my life. I climbed a mountain.
Mt. Borah is the tallest peak in Idaho at over 12,000 feet. It's considered a day hike since it can take up to 8 hours of hiking and bouldering to complete the circuit. But don't let the word "Hiking" fool you. this mountain demands your respect, and while I'm convinced that almost anyone can make it to the top, it will test your limits to do so. It's just what I needed to make a dynamic change in my life. At this point I had gone camping and hiking before, but nothing to this degree. It was always car camping and getting drunk for a night in the woods and then heading home the next morning. This was the first time I had ever gone out into nature just to be in nature. As soon as we came out of the treeline having worked our way up a thousand feet in elevation in under a mile, drenched in sweat and barely able to breathe from the altitude shift I saw the valley below for the first time. It completely blew me away. To this day the image is burned into my memory, I look at the pictures i took in that moment and still can't believe it. However those photos simply don't translate the scale of that place. You can't feel how small you are there, you can't hear the quiet, you can't feel the alpine breeze washing the smell of the mountain over you. But I still remember that moment as vividly as I sit here now typing this story to you. That was the moment I fell in love with the outdoors. That was the moment that everything in my life started to get better.
From that moment on I always had something to give me new perspective. Nothing felt as hard as that 6 1/2 hour hike at 12,000 feet. Nothing seemed as big as looking down from the tallest peak into an absolutely mammoth valley below. And everything felt so temporary in the face of a silent mountain that had been standing eons before I was born, and will still be the quiet lord of that valley centuries after my bones have turned to dust. I couldn't wait to go back the next year, which I've made a ritual ever since. I make it a point to once a year go back to that place, or someplace like it. Out in the wild where things are difficult, but so very important for my soul. Every time i return it feels as though I've hit a reset button for my brain. I appreciate my relationship with my girlfriend more. I get a little thrill out of filling my water bottle from the fridge instead of pumping it through a filter for five minutes. I sit down in the air conditioning with my dog, put my feet up on my comfy couch and watch TV because I don't have any campsite chores to attend to. It's at that moment that I miss those chores though, the work is never done. You need to collect or split wood for your fire, get out and fish for food, continue working on your cooking camp to make it more comfortable. Of course my favorite chore is scouting the surrounding area, really it's just a matter of asking yourself what's over that ridge on the other side of the lake and then striking out to go see after breakfast. Then you have a beautiful walk in the woods and discover a new gorgeous vista only a couple of miles away from where you will sleep for the night. And the wonderful thing is, that is the reward! And it's so deeply satisfying.
Which brings me to my point that is the title of this piece. When the reward you seek is a warm place to sleep for the night, fresh drinking water to keep you hydrated, fresh fish cooked a few minutes after its caught from the nearby lake over an open fire surrounded by your friends. That is when the human animal is at it's most satisfied. We have become so disconnected from our primal nature because of the rate that our civilization has evolved that we barely recognize our instincts anymore. What primal reward systems remain within us have been hijacked by computer screens and social media. We are quite literally stepping backward in our evolution simply because we are overwhelmed with technology in every aspect of our life. I'm not one of those people who thinks that technology is evil, quite the contrary. As I type this on my laptop and prepare to post it on my website I am keenly aware of the hypocritical path that I could easily tread. That's why it's important to state that my belief is that all of this wonderful technology is a good thing. What's bad is the way we treat it. We desperately need to find balance in our lives, even going outside is becoming a challenge for our youth of today. I would like to extend to you and invitation at this point. Find your mountain, it doesn't really matter how you go about reconnecting with nature. What is important is that you try. Leave the phone at home and go for a walk in the park. don't listen to music, listen to the sounds made by the birds and the trees. There is a small amount of what humans really need in that, and it can be your first step towards feeling so much better. Eventually setting yourself bigger goals like going camping for a few days or going for a long hike at a nearby trail can be just what you need. You can have your phone with you to take photos and in case of emergencies. but leave it on airplane mode, or have it shut down in your pocket. Again what's important is to try.
In the long run, if everyone were to try to take these initial steps towards understanding the importance of our relationship with nature, and making an effort to be a part of it more we will heal the wounds that we didn't realize that we had. We will realize that we don't need to constantly be entertained by a screen we can carry in our pockets. We will start engaging each other in more meaningful forms of direct communication and add more value to our relationships with each other. I believe that we can find balance and still enjoy the magnificent technology and culture of our modern civilization, while nurturing our animal instincts and remembering to feed our primal side. In the long run, I believe that we can become refined primates at one with nature and society. So go outside and enjoy! Your animal side will thank you.