We’re all suffering through this pandemic. Everyone is affected by it, directly or indirectly. Where can we go to rescue our health — mental and physical — and our sanity?
Spoiler alert: it’s not in your house or on your screen!
Take a moment and think back to the years before Covid. When was the last time you couldn’t wait for something, because you were excited like a little kid? You couldn’t focus or sleep because your mind was racing in anticipation? Your feelings bounced between elation, fear and curiosity as you waited for the big day to come?
Last week, I ascended the six fixed ropes that go 1,000 vertical feet up El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park. At the top of these lines is Heart Ledge, named for the huge heart-shaped formation above it. This ledge is about 1/3 of the way up, and I work my way up there every year to celebrate the day I climbed El Cap with my son — all 3,000+ feet of it — in 2017.
All year it taunts me: Will I be able to reach The Heart this year? Do I still have sufficient arm/shoulder strength? (I’m almost 70.) Can I still jam my toes against the rock all the way up, or has the surgery made them too stiff, too tender? Will fear take root in my mind, or will I be able to block that out just long enough?
While anticipation makes my mind race and my stomach butterflies flutter, it also offers an important reminder: I’m alive and doing things that excite me and take me outside my comfort zone. My outdoor challenges may keep me up at night, but they also keep my body strong, my mind clear and my spirit light.
Society loves to tell us what we can and can’t do. And when it comes to outdoor recreation, the qualifying list feels endless. We’re either too big, too small, too uninformed, too uncoordinated…the list goes on. And for those of us above the age of 60, the doubt in our ability to explore nature feels even more profound. Instead, we’re pushed toward drugs as a means to feel better and sleep better, and screens as a way to distract and entertain ourselves.
Growing old is the only process that’s inevitable for all of us — if we’re lucky. And the only say we have in that process (again, if we’re lucky) is how we’ll age.
When I was 5, I followed the big boys up the trees and onto garage rooves in a quest for adventure. A lifetime later, despite piles of articles that tell me I can’t develop muscle at my age, I remind myself of what I’ve always known to be true: age doesn’t matter. I started rock climbing when I was almost 60. Now, 70 is around the corner.
Nature is the best healer. She doesn’t demand anything extreme; just a walk in a green park can have immense beneficial effects on our health, both physical and emotional.
If we turn off the screen, we’re more likely to hear nature beckon. If we leave the drugs in the bottle and go outside to enjoy nature’s peace, colors and calm, we might just forget why we were reaching for that bottle in the first place.
Obviously, genetics plays a role and pharmaceuticals have their place; if a debilitating disease requires drugs, clearly that’s needed. But if all the drug advertisements on TV have convinced you that you need something to feel okay, I encourage you to consider that what you need might instead just be waiting for you outside.
I climbed El Capitan at 66. I take no drugs at all, at almost 70. While that’s unusual these days, I believe it doesn’t have to be. Nature knows how to heal you, she knows what you need. A walk or an easy jog can lift your spirits like no drug can. Sunshine can warm and soothe like no drink or supplement can. It’s all there. And it’s all free.
Now, while our whole planet is being tested by a pandemic, is the best time for us to return to our mother, Nature. She knows what we need — and she offers it freely.
It’s time to take her up on it.