I used to be in a big hurry. Then a bunch of hunts ago, a couple buddies and I took our sweet time getting off the mountain, stopping often, not just because we needed breaks from hauling meat and gear, but just because we wanted to. Usually the thought of a bacon cheeseburger after a couple nights in the alpine eating freeze-dried meals has me out of hunting mode and into eating mode before the experience is over.
But I started to really understand the beauty in patience and delayed gratification. That life isn’t about a quick cycle of shiny rewards developed by engineers programed to keep us endlessly engaged. Life is on the mountain or river or ocean, not in front of a screen and it takes what it takes sometimes. To rush it, is to cheat it.
I don’t fear video games or social media, I fear the principle of being consumed by something that’s artificial, that we are at the mercy of engineers for entertainment, political ideology and social norms rather than ourselves.
We outsource so much control over our happiness to other things. Though we live at a time in which we can manufacture so many things to make our lives better, we can also find so many things to make us feel left out. Sebastian Junger wrote, “Modern society has perfected the art of making people feel unnecessary.”
How are we supposed to find purpose when everything is about ourselves and rather than look for opportunities to create, we wait around to consume? I like the idea of being focused on being happy, but it’s not the responsibility of a job, town, college, school or life in general to make us happy. It’s not something we wait around to be delivered in 7-10 business days.
That’s why I like getting outside and why every few months I am writing this column. I think the “why” of life needs to be asked often as a reminder. If I was to live by the same “why” philosophy I had when I was 35 or 25, I would be failing to assess my current context and addressing my life accordingly. Not validating my lifestyle, but testing it to modify or rewrite based on need. I don’t want to create a bubble to insulate myself from reality because it’s filled with difficulty and disappointment.
A buddy of mine recently graduated from medical school and I asked him about any basic health tip that would apply to pretty much anyone.
He said that physical activity has the same effect as some of the first line treatments for depression and anxiety. A mountain could be the medication. Paddling could replace a pill. Sure, treatments are necessary for some and simply hiking a mountain isn’t going to solve every problem. But it doesn’t hurt. (Well, it can, but, you know what I mean.)
I also know that I am what I do, not necessarily what I post. I hiked a mountain, but that doesn’t mean I’m in great shape. I ate kale, but that doesn’t mean I’m healthy. Only I know the truth, and thanks to people and books who have influenced me, that’s not a scary thing.
I have to get rejected by editors if I want to one day not be rejected by editors, or be rejected less. Being rejected is part of it. It has to be. Empty shrimp pots, failed stalks, forgetting the tent poles, all of it.
The closer I am reduced to, controlled or live by, a soulless algorithm, the further I am happiness.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.