Out of the Woods

I’m tired, sore, and I have plenty of strained muscles. I think my right knee (always my bad one) is worse than usual. My hands are pretty raw.

All signs of a great time.

I just got back from a last-minute overnight backpacking trip. I just barely managed to squeeze this one in – the Spring season was shot as everything was closed down, and I really dislike hiking/camping in the summer months (too hot, too many bugs). So even though this was already too late in the year to be ideal for me, I really didn’t want to wait all the way until fall to go, and since the state forests all reopened, I jumped at it.

I’m glad I did, bugs or no bugs.

These solo backpacking trips do a lot for me. There’s something awesome about the exchange of physical discomfort for mental discomfort. The whole time I’m out there, I’m sore and strained. Everything is difficult. The second you aren’t working, you’re getting cold, getting hungry, getting thirsty. And while you are working, you’re getting tired. But while all of that is happening, you don’t have time to be worried about anything beyond it.

My various problems and stressors that come from my modern life don’t get magically solved by a weekend in the woods. They’re still there, patiently and loyally waiting for my return. But they can’t follow me there, which gives me time to reset all the meters and measures of whatever internal reserves we use to combat those things. The problems don’t get magically solved, but my capacity to solve them is often replenished.

Everyone’s problems are different, and it’s impossible to compare the severity of two people’s situations objectively. No one truly knows if another person has it “rougher” than they do, or the reverse. But I think that’s asking the wrong question. I think the things that wear people down have less to do with what those things are, and more to do with the ratio of how often you can step away from them, clear your head, and return.

We see this in all sorts of study & work techniques, things like the Pomodoro Technique (where you work/study for 25 minutes, then break for 5, and so on). And while most people recognize the need for vacations and work/life balance, I don’t think those solutions directly address the root problem.

The root problem is that if you’re worried about something, you can almost never willingly stop worrying about it. If something stresses you out, you can’t just say, “okay, for the next 4 hours I’m going to not be stressed, then turn it back on.”

So going on vacations and always clocking out by 5:00 PM might be good surface-level solutions, but they’re physical solutions to a mental problem. For the majority of people, you can’t stop worrying or stressing unless something physically prevents you from doing so.

That’s why some people turn to alcohol or drugs as stress relievers. The right application of them can make it physically impossible to worry or stress about certain things. Of course, they’re far more trouble than they’re worth, but at least I get it.

There are other, better solutions. Hard labor is one of them. Give yourself enough physical exertion and I guarantee you that’s all you can think about. That’s why I don’t do well with vacations or breaks based on “relaxation.” If my mind isn’t forcibly occupied by something else, it will naturally revert to its most frequent state, which is thinking about all the stuff that needs to be done. I can’t get around that by just changing the location of my body; I also have to engage my body in such a way that the mind is overruled.

All this is to say, I had a very nice time camping. My mind was quiet for a time. I even slept. Whatever you do to quiet yours, I wish you all the success in the world.

One thought on “Out of the Woods

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