Journal entry: June 2012 National Trail, Hadrians Wall, mile 20 something: …It has been raining… Seriously?!?! I cannot believe what an idiot I am. Yes, I can. This is God sending partial punishment from the heavens above as a mere fragment of my life sentence. Dumped half of my pack, hairbrush decidedly irrelevant. Feeling disappointed in myself… AND the fact that I never seem to be alone for more than 15 minutes at any point- people everywhere. I think I underestimated my intentions. …Must make a better plan… I actually don’t like hiking all that much anymore…
Have you ever played pass the parcel? I remain certain that at least half the population of a small country has at some point in their lives. It is a child’s game encouraging the skill of hand/eye coordination, but ultimately, the capacity of resilience is being forged into the unconscious mind of the young. My first experience of pass the parcel was in kindergarten. Inside the parcel, there is a small treasure awaiting to be revealed to the lucky child who eventually peels off the last layer when the music stops. After submitting to the insanity of this game twice, I was in effect, banned from playing. You see, I would refuse to pass it on – I unwrapped it completely before anyone else had the chance to, blatantly disregarding the rules. I ruined the entire game for everyone else, but that did not affect my behaviour nor did I care – It was my Victory! It was MY prize! I wanted the little treasure inside more than anything, KNOWING I deserved it more than anyone else. As a six year old, not unexpected in my case, there was no evidence of even the tiniest roots of integrity were beginning to take hold.
As with any task undertaken, hiking, or if you prefer, trail encounters, requires both physical and mental perseverance, discipline when motivation inevitably starts to wear thin, and obviously, consistency of movement in the same direction. My body can be physically present, yet my mind can indiscriminately race onward in all directions. On reflection, this should have been a risk indicator of failure, however, most likely unconsciously dismissed. The anticipation of my reward at the end of the trail had spurred me on to the point when I penned that entry in my journal, but I was slowly losing sight of my prize. I wasn’t weary physically, but becoming mentally jaded. Although I did realise there was no actual tangible prize, it was my goal to be free of my self-condemnation, anger, self-pity and in particular, sever the invisible thread of a bond I carried within my heart, by the end of that trail. My own mental trophy. I was intent on playing my own personal game of pass the parcel yet again; discarding invisible relics of my inner emotional baggage at each signpost – akin to the unique and beautiful cairns I’d encountered on past adventures.
Wandering onward, I faintly discerned that my life ran parallel to the trail that I was by now begrudgingly stumbling on. Sections of it were muddy, or rocky; meandering through small villages and right of way pasture lands, seemingly with no end in sight. This was my life path also – muddy fields on someone else’s land, trudging alone in my head, questioning myself at each and every step, and stumbling when daring to face ugly truths. There was also the fact that there was no home at the end of this path either. I had a house, but lacked a home. My home was thousands of miles away, where my heart lay, that was my certainty. How could I possibly ever regain even a small semblance of that place, that time, yet again? I had always been a wanderer on a borrowed path – leading and following others along the same. All the while, my punishment rained down on me, literally. It did occur to me that I might allow a lament, my fellow travellers would take no notice as the rain would mingle with my tears; however, the terror that my sorrow may flood the already seriously muddy fields kept them at bay. The blisters on my feet were raw and shed my tears for me instead. The further I travelled, each step I took reminded me that my sacred oath was becoming even more distant. It saddened me, then angered me, then ultimately renewed my determination to not fall before I could have sight of the end, and Victory once again.
I distinctly remember deciding that I did not care for trailblazing that day. It did not stir in me the same passion as mountaineering. When climbing, there must be intense focus and acute awareness of your surroundings as well as your mind. I felt hiking was more of a glorified stroll, an unwelcome opportunity for my head to start its tornado swirl of thoughts, relive painful memories and create emotions which would take great effort to suppress. Each step held sorrow, heartache, longing, and what I now recognise to be not only just anger, but intense self-loathing. These were my new unintended life-long partners. To compound matters, I realised I was walking west to east, or east to west. It didn’t matter which way I was heading, the point being these two directions never meet, there’s no East Pole or West Pole. No matter where or how far I wandered, these directions would always be the furthest apart that they could ever be. I was trapped in a never ending circle, not worthy enough to even consider stepping outside of. I would never arrive. I stopped walking.
I realise now that I was addicted to the sentiment of accomplishment and Victory at that time in my life and the rush of adrenaline that inevitably followed (I still am!). It was my drug of choice. I needed that sense of accomplishment to validate my life – to define my purpose – because really, who in their right mind would walk miles in a deluge for absolutely no reason at all? An unseen force that I did not understand pressing me ever onward; surely, the end will be just around the corner. It wasn’t. Nor the next. Each marker was a parcel pass, and yet again, I failed to let go and pass it on; instead, choosing to add to the ever growing number stored away in my hidden places to open and torture myself with when my thoughts became too bold, too confident, too assured of my perceived place in life and my path, ultimately denying myself the fearlessness and faith to walk it.
I did not finish. I abandoned my madness for comfort. To my mind, I failed, another proverbial nail in my mental coffin. If my memory serves me correctly, it continued to rain all that summer after I left that trail. I surmised it was not my personal punishment after all. Later, I discovered that the most beautiful part of the trail lay just beyond where I chose to admit defeat. Despite having time worn boots with ragged laces, I continue to walk my path. I now understand that my many mistakes and diabolical choices of my past were caused by learned perceptions in my impressionable early years. I still practice discipline, but in a way that challenges my thinking, leading to endless possibilities.
I returned the following summer and Finished Well. I took the time to stop and gaze at the beauty that surrounded me; the historical artefacts that had somehow survived the ravages of time, choosing to release myself from the cage of my mind to experience that which I had failed to notice at my first attempt, walking with my head held low and full of thoughts unspoken.