I’m writing to you from Rangley. A small tourist town situated in a valley on the bank of Rangley Lake in Maine.
I’ve climbed several large mountains in the last week; the Bigelows, the Saddlebacks, and several other smaller ranges whose names elude me. This section of southern Maine and the White Mountains(which I’ll climb late next week) are the toughest 250 miles on the Appalachian Trail.
It means that I’ll ascend two to three 4,000ft+ mountains everyday. I don’t mind the climbs as much as the descents. Usually you’ll summit, climb down, then go right back up. It gives the hike a sense of futility at times and seems needlessly difficult. But if it wasn’t difficult then it wouldn’t be rewarding.
Random Thoughts About Life
This southbound portion of my journey has given me more time for reflection. Most of the hikers I meet are headed north so our interactions are brief and fleeting. Most evenings in Maine I’ve camped by myself. It’s not uncommon to go a few days without talking to anyone aside from a quick “good morning” or “happy trails.”
I don’t mind. I like solitude. I prefer to read my book and eat my meals without the distraction of small talk. I like having the time and space to think without interruption.
I’ve been thinking a lot on life. Here are some of my random thoughts.
Life is a mirror.
Conventional wisdom says that our experiences shape our beliefs but it seems to me that life reflects our beliefs back to us. Someone that grew up in poverty and struggled for survival sees the world as a hostile place where we need to fight everyday to survive, and their exterior reality matches their belief. And they hold that they’ll change their beliefs when their exterior reality changes.
But what if that’s not how it works? What if our experiences in life are a perfect mirror of our inner belief? What if the key to changing the exterior is to first change our most deeply held beliefs?
What if our inner experience is not a mirror of our world, but rather our world is a mirror of our beliefs? That changes everything.
Consciousness is everything
Hiking 12 hours a day affords you the time to observe everything. One of the observations I’ve made is how my state of consciousness fluctuates wildly throughout the day and how those fluctuations more than anything external dictates my experience on the trail.
I think cultivating clear consciousness and awareness is crucial for long term happiness and peace. Again it seems that experience is dictated by consciousness and not consciousness by experience.
Fear is the enemy of living
I don’t mean living in the sense of having a pulse. I mean living as the feeling of being alive. Of being vibrant. Energized. Excited. ALIVE.
I think ultimately all of our fears stem from the fear of death. It makes us cling on to what we have for fear that at a future date we won’t have enough. It keeps us from taking risks for the same reason. It makes us cling to comfortable paths and it abhors the unknown. Because the unknown means danger. The unknown means the possibility of death.
This journey has taught me that life and death are inexorably linked. Insulating yourself from death is also insulating yourself from life. The old adage is true: you feel the most alive when the threat of death is imminent. I remember walking through a massive thunderstorm in Virginia. Trees were falling all around. Lightning crashed so close that the vibrations rocked my bones. And I felt alive. Electric with life.
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. – Mark Twain
The purpose of life is to go out and experience it all! All the pain. All the joy. The heartbreak. The loss. The love.
It’s not to shore up your fortress in a futile attempt to stave off death. Our lives are not measured by the number of years we live but by the amount of life we can wring out of the years given to us.
Nature contains all the mysteries of the universe
I’m drawn to Taoist philosophy because the Taoists derived their wisdom from observing nature. And that makes sense to me.
We don’t need the permission of a priest. We don’t need the tired text of an ancient book. Truth is all around us, waiting to be discovered by those who will take the time to look and see.
We don’t need a guru. Nor an enlightened spiritual master. We are all capable of the same insights. We have every faculty and ability as any “great master.” And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that every great spiritual teacher in history spent a period of their lives in solitude wandering the wilds, away from civilization. Because the truth is here – waiting to be experienced.
There is nothing at all that we “must” do
Everyone believes the world’s greatest lie…” says the mysterious old man.
“What is the world’s greatest lie?” the little boy asks.
The old man replies, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.
I love The Alchemist. It’s a fictional book but I think Paulo Cohelo has infused it with fundamental truths of life.
Until a few months ago I would say most of my major decisions were based on what I “should” do. Go to college, be an accountant, build businesses, make money, because that’s what a “responsible adult” does.
But who says I have to be a responsible adult? What’s wrong with being a vagabond living day to day working odd jobs and traveling where the wind blows? Or a beach bum?
Even writing this gives me a twinge of apprehension. It feels a little wrong. Dirty almost.
That’s how deep our cultural conditioning goes. It’s inconceivable to break outside of the structured cultural norms. We’re taught to get an education, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, and then retire somewhere warm.
But why? Is that what YOU want? If so, great. If not, choose something else!
I think the key is to consciously choose. Get an education because you want an education. Get a job because you want that job. Don’t be forced down a path simply because that’s what society demands.
The trail has opened my eyes to so many different ways of living that I never knew were even possible. People who work at resorts and hostels for six months then travel during the off season. People who live out of Vans and RVs. People who literally live on the trail.
These people are full of joy, brimming with life, and genuinely happy. And I think it’s because they took time to stop and ask that question: “what kind of life do I want to live?”
I’ll end this post here. Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments and taking the time to follow along on the journey.
Latest posts by Jack Jones (see all)
- Part 1 of my Appalachian Trail Documentary is Live - May 30, 2017
- Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail Gave Me Permission To Be Me - April 28, 2017
- Post Trail Depression and a Revelation - March 3, 2017