Whether you are a ski mountaineer, kayaker, rock climber or windsurfer, you have been asked this question. While we’re not offering an easy answer to the question why we go to the outdoors, we explore this mystical connection between humans and the outdoors.
WORLD DIFFERENT FROM OUR OWN
The question itself is often a reflection of the person asking it. Why do you go ski touring? Casual skiers will try to understand what’s the point of doing anything so far from the apres ski. The free riders will puff at all the hard work skinning up the mountain. The climbers are trying to figure out the mysterious affinity to spend a day at -15 degrees. Less outdoorsy people just question the avalanche business.
Finally, when my father in law asked that question two days ago, he was thinking about both the most metaphysical as well as practical aspects of the question in general:
‘Po kaj idete tam?’
These 4 Croatian words, particularly when coming from your in-laws, are packed with subtle hues and spectators of meaning that go beyond Sanskrit or Farsi lyrics. A simplified English translation given the context would be: ‘what is the utilitarian benefit of that particular business of yours and are you coming back alive for Sunday lunch – we’re making lamb.’
Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorges have climbed a Yosemite mega-project climb on the Dawn Wall, a 30 pitch rout up the steepest sections of El Capitan. In climbing world, this was such a big deal because of the technically demanding climbing. New York Times has covered the story. The comments in the article reveal the judgment from a number of people. See the funny summary of the comments here. The point is that every person is judging from their own perspective. In the world beyond right and wrong, it just tells us that each one of us has his or her reasons and motivation to do things. It means that answer to that question is individual.
But, in the world beyond individuality, ego and judgment exploring why we go outdoors open 5 beautiful chapters that unite us rather than divide. It is five things that are in common with us.
THE OUTDOOR HEALING
There is a number of quantifiably proven reasons to go outside. To summarise it: restored mental energy, stress release, reduced inflammation, better vision, improved concentration, sharper thinking and creativity, immune system boost, improved mental health. Read more in detail here.
The Japanese have the concept of Shinrin-yoku. It is the forest therapy. The medicine of simply being in the forest. Invented in the 1980s it has become the cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
These are some results you can perhaps attest to. Let’s see what others write about the link between hard adventure and spiritual balance.
OUTDOORS AS SOURCE OF BALANCE
Eckhart Tolle in his book ‘The Power of Now’ talks about living in the razor sharp edge of the now. Guilt, regret, resentment, sadness, and bitterness as forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough presence. Anxiety, unease, tension, stress, and worry is a result of overthinking about the future and not enough presence.
He cites that there are different methods to achieve this moment of presence and path to it is very individual. However, he does specifically say that that in moments of extreme beauty (in nature) or extreme adventure activities, the mind just stops hamstringing on a wheel and naturally lives in the now.
By going to the outdoors and doing adventurous activities, we reduce our existence to that very moment. On the mountain, you forget the daily grind and just feel the breath; every new footstep under the quite cracking sound of powder snow or a crushing wave that rolls over you kayak deck. You notice the sun as it shines through the branches of pine tree covered in thick layer of powder snow or a beautifully isolated pine tree in the middle of the snow-covered plain.
Nature kindly calms the mind and out of that comes a new perspective.
OUTDOORS GIVES A PERSPECTIVE
There is humbleness that comes from climbing the high mountains. As Robert Macfarlane in book Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit said:
‘Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia.’
At the end of the day, you didn’t climb the mountain. The mountain allowed you to go high beyond the clouds. Each piece of snow sitting on a rock base was a ladder for your feet. If there were no mountain you wouldn’t be up here. Same as the SUP allowed you to float to the next island or wind allowed you to cut through the sea.
It teaches us humbleness towards the world and its resources. It puts a perspective on our ambitions. So, something definitely happens on the mountain, at sea or on the river. It is not only the time spent on the mountain that counts. It’s what you bring down to the valley.
AS ABOVE SO BELOW
Rene Daumal said: “You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.”
This shot was taken on the climb up on Begunšćica. Once we reach the summit we meet four Slovenes and exchange a few words. It always strikes me how people you meet have a vibe as if you’ve been friends forever. That is a luxury compared to the introvert mashing of bodies in a tube or bus down in the city where human contact is avoided at all cost.
Perhaps it is the outdoors where we rediscover the words that are starting to disappear from our everyday use: appreciation, humbleness, help, and compassion.
MOVING THE LIMITS
The world today is running out spaces that are blank spots on the map. As Leon McCarron notes – that adventure and moving the limits is no longer as much about flag-stabbing business, as it is about the story behind every trip. It’s about traveling to discover new ideas, about ‘connecting with the landscape, feeling the layers of history, culture, and faith underneath your boots.’
Same applies to the mountains: passing through a pasture, a frozen summer trail or a century old pass where for years shepherds have traversed the mountain range. On the image up here, passing by Planina Javornik in Pokljuka Valley in Slovenia.
At the end of the day, we go outdoors to discover something new and exciting. To remind ourselves of our place in nature. It’s about the magnetic sense of direction that leads to nature. As Ben Howard says in his tune: ‘It’s depth over distance every time and then hold on because we may be too young to understand this ride we’re on.’
If by being outdoors we have inspired just 1 person to follow, we’ve made a world a better place. It’s a small step, but the one in the right direction.
P.S. Most images (and a few thoughts) for this post were taken on a ski touring trip to Begunšćica, peak in Slovenian Alps bordering witih Austria.
‘‘Conversations’ isn’t necessarily about the things that we talked about on our trips. It is all the topics that you wanted to know about or ones that we promised we’ll look into. It’s about that constant pursuit of adventure inspiration or region’s secrets, insights, history, and lifestyle. It’s about enabling you to dive behind the obvious and get the best of your adventures – challenging the status quo and celebrating the diversity of thought.