“For an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself.” —Henry David Thoreau
Out there in them rocks, walking away from our human habitations, exists a world we should all explore. All you have to do is open your eyes and soul to them and they will change you—for the better.
Here are a few reasons why:
HIKING CONNECTS YOU SPIRITUALLY TO LANDSCAPE
Whatever faith or religion you may practice, or lack thereof, there’s a peace to open space that cannot be denied. Being out there in them rocks awakens something inside ourselves we might best call spiritual, a recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It’s one thing to say that or think it, but often hiking and the feelings associated with it are calming to the soul. It’s no coincidence that many religious founders and leaders went into the wilderness to open themselves to spiritual guidance. Many indigenous traditions convey animacy to stones. A good hike can be a lot like walking meditation, or prayer if you prefer that word.
HIKING WILL MAKE YOU MORE MENTALLY FIT AND EMOTIONALLY STABLE
Sound crazy? It’s actually true: as just one example, in 2015 Stanford University published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science stating quantitatively that 90 minutes in a natural area showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression. If you’ve had a bad week, grab a hike. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but it’s hard to imagine you’ll be in a worse mood afterward. There is also substantive evidence that hiking enhances relationships.
Trouble with your partner? Grab a hike. It won’t just calm you both, it’ll create a space for dialogue and perhaps create a new activity you can share, a key element in any successful relationship. You can also check out Paul Shepard’s classic Nature and Madness, maybe the best book on why we need to be out there in them rocks from childhood into adulthood.
HIKING WILL REINFORCE POSITIVE TRENDS IN YOUR LIFE
Want to develop better life habits? As the slogan says: just do it. When you’re on a spiritual path, when you’re getting your life in order and feeling better mentally and physically, keep doing what you’re doing. The positive experiences will reinforce themselves until they are a habit. Set up a weekly hike. If you have dogs, take them with you. Even if you have to keep them on a leash the time spent outside and with you will be better for all of you. Setting up healthy routines will make it harder for unwanted activities to creep into your life—literally keeping you on the path.
HIKING MAY LEAD YOU TO ACTIVISM
State and National Parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and other protected areas—these places do not happen just by themselves. Getting out into nature may make you appreciate these spaces and the work that went into creating them. You may find yourself getting involved with local or national or international groups that work to protect habitat, which is dwindling all the time: the World Wildlife Fund estimates 46,000 – 58,000 square miles of forest are lost every year—that’s 48 football fields every minute, every day. As you enjoy the open space of your hike, when you’re home relaxing realize there is much you can do to help these groups keep what we have remaining wild and free.
IF YOU HAVE A FAMILY, HIKING WILL MAKE THAT BOND STRONGER
In our busy world, maintaining connections between family members can be strained by jobs and the ever-encroaching digital world. Getting children outside not only stimulates their bodies and imagination, but it’s also a great way to get time with them, creating memories and reinforcing behaviors they may keep into adulthood. When I hike with my daughter our time is our own, our conversations flow naturally, she’s curious and asks lots of questions, playing with sticks and rocks and whatever she can find, scrambling around—it’s time without distractions. You may find it works similarly for you. I think you will. And the best part of all is on the drive home when she wants to know how soon we can go back out in them rocks.
Not soon enough.