I Hammock, Therefor I am.
There is nothing quite like watching a bright blue sky light up with fire as the sun makes its way downward on the horizon. Colors ricochet off clouds and mountain peaks, shattering the spectrum and releasing a myriad of reds and purples. Low lying grasses and rocks pick up an outline of red and yellow hues only experienced by us 80’s children as Hollywood first attempted 3D on the big screen. The attack on the day subsides and the light that once was slips into the nether, replaced by a calming and deep blue.
It is probably the beauty of nature drawing me into the backcountry on a regular basis, but it is also the serenity, my meditation you might say. It is nothing new, the advice given for thousands of years from yogis, monks, and our dear mothers. "Take a deep breath, relax." It isn't rocket science but there is science to back it up. Meditation and exercise change our bodies on a genetic level. Okay, I just lost half of you with the words meditation and exercise, but kick back in your best hammock & stick with me for just a second. I am not the guy who can sit in “Grateful Camper” position for hours on end pondering. I do however like a hike and a reflection followed by a quick nap. Hopefully, this exercise will be fun & helpful.
Meditation for the purposes of this article can be summed up as mindfulness. A focus and contemplation of life and an opportunity to work through scenarios, problems, appreciations, and a few to do lists. It is my chance to clarify and organize the clutter in the computer that sits on my shoulders. In the process, I seek to align with the spirit that lives in my heart. I find myself recognizing my own shortcomings and searching for ways to be a better me, to be a better father, friend, and husband.
I snug my Grip-Tight™ No Tie Laces and grab my day pack with an essential straw filter from the Jeep. A rhythm for the day’s hike is set as I leave the trailhead as gravel crackles and scrapes beneath my boots. At first, the pace is fast and erratic, changing with each thought. Emotions drive my legs and I find my torso moving and sometimes jerking as I struggle with the day's menu in my mind. But a strange thing happens a quarter-mile or half-mile up the trail, my thoughts collect and my rhythm keeps time. My arms and shoulders relax and the thoughts that once bounced recklessly in my mind now align themselves with what I find truly significant. Life, and as with most spring hikes, new life.
Now if I stop here and say that I return from each hike a new man, that I am more focused on my goals, and that I'm generally more fun to be around, you could probably spike the ball and declare touchdown. Science tells us there is quite a bit more to what I experience. Science tells us that my body and mind have made some permanent changes. On the other hand, my knees tell me I'm getting older, but that is a conversation for another day.
Relaxation helps the body to boost immunity. Daily muscular relaxation over the course of a month has been shown in some university studies to increase "natural killer cells." In short the ability of the body to fight off illness is increased. Meditation or the process of clearing the mind and refocusing is an essential step in beginning the relaxation process, as is your hammock.
I have always been an emotional guy; neurotic you might say. For those of you who knew me as a teenager, I beg of you to keep those stories to yourselves. It took me many years to find a combination of food, exercise, and meditation to bring balance to my behavior. Clearing my mind and processing my thoughts help to cleanse me of emotionally charged memories that can breed negative energy. This process has given me the ability to align my responses to my true beliefs rather than to be swayed by the burdens I carry.
We all have burdens; they attach themselves to the keel of our vessel like a strip of seaweed on a sailboat. These burdens slow us down and drag us off course. It has been my experience as I get older, more mature, and as I watched the actions of my own children, I remember more clearly my childhood. Some of these burdens are imagined and some are real. It is very fair to say that the seaweed on the keel, imagined or actual, has the same effect and must be removed.
Another of the effects on the body studied at Harvard University was the lowering of blood pressure. Through the practice of meditation, the body became less responsive to stress hormones. Think of it as relaxation training. A time to remove the minor issues from your life. A time to decide what is worth caring about and where to budget your energy.
Stress has also been linked to inflammation. Heart disease, arthritis, and asthma have all been linked to inflammation in the body. With a family history in all three areas, I have a personal interest in rectifying the situation. Since I am not a scientist or the doctor at the University doing the studies, I will have to take their word for it. I can, however, back up their findings with my own personal experiences and the response I have felt and seen in my own life.
Finally, there is a calmness and a positive feeling I find at about 9000 feet above sea level. I've also found it in low-lying deserts, and the beaches of Mexico. I even found it once upon a time in a community park in New Jersey of all places. It is usually no more than a mile away, maybe two in a really rough week. A quick nap midway in my camping hammock I keep in my pack for a nest doesn’t hurt. The many miles after are just my way of paying it forward. A way to tell the world, the universe, and my creator that I am aware of a purpose bigger than myself, most importantly it is my way of reminding myself of this notion.
Snug up your No Tie Laces and get onto a trail, a park or anywhere you feel at peace. Share your experience with a friend. Be healthy, be happy, and most of all, just be you. Being the shameless plug-meister I am, check out www.wadehaggard.com.