August 18, 2011

What's Your Goal?

Tomorrow I will be hiking Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in California, and the tallest mountain in the United States outside of Alaska.  It's almost 22 miles roundtrip, with 6,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead to the summit, which is at 14,500 feet.

As the date for this hike drew nearer, I became increasingly anxious.  This didn't make much sense, since I am an avid hiker.  Finally, a few weeks ago, I pondered the source of this anxiety, and realized that what I was most worried about was a hike that wasn't consistent with the reason I hike.

The reason I hike, I've described on this blog before.  Mostly, it's a form of spiritual renewal for me.  Walking, hiking and even running/jogging by themselves are great for my mental and spiritual state.  They help clear my mind and allow it to relax even as my muscles are getting a workout.  To be able to do so in a beautiful, wild place adds to the sense of spiritual renewal.  Hiking is thus enjoyable for me.

It's not about conquering a mountain peak.  It's not about conquering anything.  To be honest, I don't even really like the word conquer.  That's not why I hike.

A trip up Mount Whitney, I realized, is about conquering.  Or at least, it can very easily be about conquering, if the goal of reaching the mountain top is the #1 goal of the trip.

For me, the goal of reaching the top is not my #1 goal.  My #1 goal is spiritual renewal.  Spiritual renewal is why I hike.

Reaching the top is still a goal I have for tomorrow's hike, but it's not my first priority.  I know that I am physically capable of making it to the top (I've done it before), but if the level of exertion is such that I am not being spiritually renewed, then my #1 goal will not be met, even if I make it to the top.

Having realized that, I now feel that it will be OK if I decide not to go all the way.  That doesn't mean I'm not going to try, and I think there is a good chance that I will, but the internal pressure to make it to the top no matter what, and sacrifice the real reason I hike, is no longer there. 

And neither is the anxiety.

Since coming to that realization, I've noticed that this same anxiety is present throughout our culture.  So many people feel pressure to achieve certain goals in life.  People work hard, night and day, to achieve a certain standard of living, because other people or society at large have led them to believe that a certain standard of living is worthy of being your #1 goal in life. 

A better goal, however, is to have peace of mind.  A better goal is to be able to find happiness, and enjoy life, and to share that happiness with others.  If endlessly working to have a certain standard of living is keeping you from enjoying life and finding happiness, then perhaps it's time to consider which goals in life are really worth pursuing.

1 comment:

keithwatkinshistorian said...

Danny, your discussion of hiking and spiritual renewal is interesting. I understand your idea and agree that endeavors such as you describe can work that way.Being strongly goal oriented does get in the way. I hesitate to describe my approach to cycling in the say way. There is renewal of attitude and inner energy when I ride long distances. Maybe I should slow down and allow the spiritual aspects to increase.