One of the most important actions we can take to acquire balance in life is to frequently remove ourselves from the settings with which we experience the most stress, whether that be in our home lives or at the office. Getting away even for a day can provide an individual with perspective, a sense of calm and reduce the physical tension in our bodies.
Ideally, we return to home and work with a newfound sense of energy, fresh ideas and productivity. But I have found that turning off the work switch can be one of the most challenging things for many people to do, one reason why it is vital to be selective in how you spend vacation.
When I get away it is typically for a few days at a time rather than a week or weeks at a time. So, I need to make it count. I most often experience rejuvenation through solitude on Pacific Northwest rivers. The North Umpqua is one of the most beautiful and challenging rivers I have fly fished, and recently I was able to get out for a few days on my own.
Generally, when people immerse themselves in a natural setting an experience of respect and awe sets in. A person’s worries tend to temporarily lift, and one is better able to experience mindfulness, the nonjudgmental experience of the moment. Well, on this trip, that generalization was a bunch of hogwash! I came back from the trip more restless and agitated than before I had left. I certainly had a lot on my mind and in my own ways I attempted letting those things go on the river. Ultimately and surprisingly, the setting that usually gives me the most peace just wasn’t what I needed.
The following weekend I was set to traverse and summit all three Sisters (North, Middle and South) with a group of friends in a single day. I had been looking forward to the challenge and to the camaraderie with the guys, but after my failed North Umpqua experience, I just wasn’t all that thrilled to go. I felt edgy and self-absorbed in my own circumstances.
Traversing all three of the Sisters in a day includes about 20 miles of trekking, about 10,000 feet of vertical gain, and 20,000 feet of elevation change overall (so I have been told). As you can imagine, most of the hike (and sometimes climb) was steep. Any slight misstep could lead to injury. The challenge was physically intense, and the more I focused on taking care of my body, including my breathing, water intake and caloric needs, the easier it was to ground myself in the present. In contrast to the North Umpqua experience just a few days before, I was able to remain in the moment, rather than focusing on the past or the future. It was just what I needed.
I learned something new about myself that week. When I am so caught up in my head, the typical things I have done in the past to find peace may not always be the best solution for restoration.
Rather, being open to a different experience might be an effective way to help re-center. Taking a risk on yourself and trying on something new is one way to let go of life’s worries and concerns—the novelty of the situation forces you to be in the moment. I challenge you to be mindful of how you spend your time away. If you aren’t feeling as reinvigorated as you’d like following a trip, change up your activity next time. Just be sure to know your limits, go with someone who knows what they are doing if you don’t, and maybe most importantly—be open to what the experience has to teach you about yourself!
Dr. Ryan Reese is a professional counselor and core faculty member in the Masters of Science Counseling program at OSU Cascades. To learn more about EcoWellness visit ecowellnessbend.com. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.