I’d always wanted to hike to the summit of a mountain, and in 2015 without ever hiking a day in my life I decided to take on Ben Nevis via the Pony Track, in the middle of March, in winter conditions.
My lack of hiking knowledge first became apparent when speaking with a few outdoor experts prior to my trip. They shook their heads in amazement at how much I underestimated what would be required – not just of me and my mental and physical preparation, but the gear I would need to achieve my Ben Nevis dream. After that wake-up call, I prepared thoroughly and kitted myself out with heavy crampons, stiff boots and a long ice axe – naïvely, these are just some of the things I didn’t consider properly, so I’m glad I had those initial discussions.
I made it halfway up the mountain before blizzard conditions set in, visibility dipped below 10 metres and the trail disappeared. I was completely alone and at the mercy of my mental choices.
“Keep going, or turn back?” I thought, as I sat there on the east switchbacks in the snow, with nothing but the sound of snowflakes falling to the ground and strong winds blowing over in the atmosphere above. I didn’t realise then, but this was the first time in my life I was forced to become present, without thought, no mental noise and no ego. I was just there, present in the now.
That experience was so powerful I decided to turn back and from that day forward would start a journey leading to long-term world travel, long-distance hiking, a YouTube channel and most importantly, mental and spiritual growth.
Over the coming years, I’d struggle mentally when dealing with life situations with work, relationships, family issues and living a fast-paced life in London, in turn leading me to bouts of suicidal depression. Instead of taking anti-depressants, I began researching human psychology, spiritual teachings and also discovered that getting out in nature was the most powerful remedy to silencing negative thought patterns.
“Why is it, when I’m out in nature, my mind is so clear?”
This correlation with being in nature and having good mental health brought me back to that first attempt of summiting Ben Nevis. The pure headspace I experienced then is with me every time I hike in the mountains. Every worry, negative thought and mind-made image of who I think I am, completely dissolves my identity, my anxiety of times to come and memories of difficult times.
Over the years, and after reading other spiritual teachings such as Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, it became obvious.
My mind is so clear when I’m out in nature because I’m forced to be present, in the now. The mountains, streams, weather and wildlife don’t have an identity; they don’t care who you are, what your past is or what the future holds. They exist only in the present moment, always have and always will. They change slowly, mountains erode, plants grow and animals live out their lives. They are part of the universe and we are too. Nature enables us to experience that.
It’s easy to become attached to the outdoors as a remedy or as an escape from “normal” life and the mind because it’s a happy place, a place of calm, of no mind and we’re forced into the now. But to become attached to the outdoors separates it from everyday life when in-fact, there is no difference between the two. The situation and surroundings may be different, yes. Being surrounded by vast landscapes, towering peaks and incredible beauty is amazing, but whether we’re doing the dishes or commuting to work there’s always beauty to be found and time in our day to stop, notice and take in the world around us.
So, when I say “bring the outside in” I mean it in a mental and spiritual sense. That happy place, that place of calm, ‘of no mind’ that is the great outdoors – this is part of the world we live in and so is your home, city and place of work. The only real difference is our thoughts about it.
Top tip: The next time you’re in nature, notice how you feel and practice bringing that awareness into your normal day as you go about your business. It will benefit not only you, but also your friends, colleagues and loved ones too.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many new challenges. We’ve had to adapt to navigate the world around us, money is less abundant and loved ones are getting sick or worse. Self-isolation is one of the most prominent changes to our lifestyles and dealing with it mentally is one of the biggest challenges, especially if you’re an outdoorsy like me and my friends.
Since returning to the UK after cutting my Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hike short due to the pandemic, I’ve been putting my channel to good use as a way of communicating the importance of bringing the outside in. It’s more important now more than ever.
I recently had a video call with Ben Yates from Summit and Beyond. We’ve been friends for over a year and have always shared a passion for the outdoors, mental health and spiritual growth.
We discussed these main topics:
• Screen time
• Daily routines
• Yoga and exercise
In this video we share our struggles with mental health, what strategies and skills we’ve learned to help overcome these challenges and how getting out in nature has played a crucial role in our growth and both our mental and physical wellbeing in all aspects of our lives. We then discuss how all of the above can help us adapt to living in isolation.
• The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
• A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
• Happy, Fearne Cotton
Special thanks to Russ Hepton, aka The Trail Hunter for contributing this article to Rohan Explore. Earlier this month we shared a feature on Chris Townsend, someone who The Trail Hunter looked to for sound advice on hiking the PCT. You can also follow Russ’ updates on social media: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.