The Philosopher's Cornered
Issue 7

Rules for Hiking
by Dan Wolaver

    I joined the outing club in college because I enjoyed hiking and canoeing.  The club's advisor was a teacher named Gardner Perry III, and he had had lots of experience hiking.  He accompanied us on our first mountain hike in the fall.  I was surprised at the pace that my fellow students set going up the slope, but I wasn't going to show that I found it difficult.  Soon we left Gardner far behind, making allowances for him because he was pretty old—over 30.  After 20 minutes or so all of us students were exhausted, and we stopped to rest and drink some water.  In a few minutes Gardner was plodding past us. "Hi guys," he said, and kept going.  After few more minutes of recuperation we were able to get going and catch up with him.
    So Gardner gave us some advice:  (1) Don't rush up the mountain.  Take a step, pause a second, then take another—as if you were tired already.  That way you won't get tired.  When you come to a high step, take two small steps around it.  Relax as you walk, and you can hike all day without having to stop from exhaustion.
    From time to time I would hit my head on a tree that had fallen across the path at the height of my forehead.  I didn't see it because I was looking at the path just before my feet so I wouldn't trip or turn my ankle on a rock.
    So Gardner gave me some more advice:  (2) Don't keep your eyes fixed on your feet.  If you scan the trail about 20 feet ahead, your mind will remember where you need to place your feet.  The tendency is to distrust this ability and to go back to looking down at your feet.  Then you not only hit your head on trees—you spend the whole hike watching your feet rather than enjoying the beauty around you.

     I've found that basically the same rules apply to life in general:

(1)  Our days are often filled with end-to-end activities that eventually cause us to collapse from stress and exhaustion.  But quality of life isn't measured in the number of things we accomplish; it's measured in how much we enjoy others and live harmoniously.  Don't combat people; take two small steps around them and move on.  Live easily, and you can keep going all your life without becoming exhausted.  

(2)  Unfamiliar situations and distrust of our ability to deal with them can cause us to fixate on every step we take.  And that distraction can cause us to run blindly into real problems.  But we've met and mastered many unknowns in the past, and new situations won't be that different.  Our fear of failure can be self-fulfilling, but confidence in our ability carries the seeds of its own success too.  Trust, lift up your eyes, and enjoy the beauty around you.

     And that's my philosophy.

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