Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hiking Maryland Heights

Went hiking today in Harper's Ferry, WV on the Maryland Heights trail, and it was an awe-inspiring experience. I've hiked the trail twice before, but this was the first time I hiked the full 4 mile trail (there is a shorter 2 mile trail you can take).

The weather was perfect, and until I was on the final portion of the descent, not a soul in sight. It's been a bit of a twisted week for me, and my head hasn't quite been on right. Today's hike was just what the doctor ordered.

It was only about a year and a half ago that I discovered the joys of hiking. For me it became a very spiritual experience from the beginning, and something that feels like it has always been a part of me despite taking 37 years to discover it.

A big part of what made my hike today amazing was the sheer difficulty of it. The MH trail is not for the faint of heart. You've got massive inclines that seem to go on forever, difficult footing with rocks that range from gravel to small boulders, suspect trail markings at times that make it easy to get lost, and some downhills that would love nothing better than to claim you ankle as their bitch.

But for a guy like me, who gets wrapped up in my head way too much, being faced with a task that requires so much physical effort and focus is an amazing tonic. It is the pain of the path that opens up an opportunity to learn and grow. To remember what I feel like when I am my best self. Calm, joyful, centered.

One of my favorite parts of the trail today was under a canopy of green amongst stone walls left over from civil war encampments. While I find no particular pride in the heritage of the civil war, just as I'd find no pride in any family at war with itself, it was striking to be amongst the hard physical labor of young men from so long ago. I felt a strong connection to them, and respect for what they endured.

It was in that spot that I closed my eyes and felt the wind swirl gently around me. Delicate rays of sunlight just barely illuminated the ground, and it is in these moments that I feel fully connected to the world and all the potential we as humans possess. Wind in particular has always been the physical sensation that most connects me with a feeling of divinity. The flow of it around me today provided for me a feeling of universal connectedness that was half dirty hippie, half buddah-y. And I'm fine with that. The struggle is maintaining my awareness of that when faced with day to day stuff.

And that was only the half way point. I got to look out over lush trees to the Shenandoah river miles below, stand in golden grass filled with rocks like clouds, scramble over terrain that felt like recess to the kid still inside me.

And as I started to see a few other souls on my way down the mountain, I saw smiles and heard cheerful greetings from strangers, who by mere virtue of treading the same path, felt a sense of kinship.

Though I know better, I often allow myself to drift outward in my search for peace and happiness, love and satisfaction. But days like these, and hikes like this, remind me that it is an inward journey that must be taken to find my center.

I hope all of you who read this have something in your life that gives you a sense of reconnection, too.

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