Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hiking Through Grief

When men grieve, they often need to do something physical to help them along. Some men build things with their hands. I go hiking for a week in Yosemite.

My goal each day is to reach a scenic viewpoint, but I also want to find a place along the way where I connect to something solid and real.

In the months after my wife’s death, home was an unending flurry of details, doubts and despair, and I was unable to focus on anything for very long. Buddhism calls this “monkey mind,” when hundreds of thoughts are screeching, chattering and jumping around, each wanting my attention.

When I’m alone on a backcountry trail, my mind quiets. Hiking where bears and mountain lions live keeps my senses focused on the present. I don’t want to be thinking about what happened last month and miss the slight movement in the bushes.

As the hours drag on of putting one foot in front of the other, I begin to remember who I am. The rhythm of hiking moves me out of the labyrinth of thoughts and into the wisdom of the body. My mind clears, my battered heart shows up, and my spirits rise.

I remember what is important and begin working my way through what has happened. I make the necessary adjustments to my life. Nature puts my grief in perspective and reminds me that I am part of something much greater than my own life.

Hiking is a walking meditation.

While I relish the scenic viewpoints because they take my breath away, it’s the long hours on the trail climbing up a mountain, and hiking through thick forests, that prepare me to have those ah-hah moments.

In the wilderness areas of Yosemite, in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, in the Tetons of Wyoming, and along the ocean coast of Maine, I can stop on any trail, look around, and see a view, an animal or a natural formation that leaves me amazed. This is why I go hiking. Grief becomes so encompassing, so intense, that it binds me into a tight ball. As I listen to nature, my closed life opens again.

When I linger on the trail to North Dome, I notice the details of its environment — how the terrain slopes away from the massive dome, and what wildflowers, chipmunks and birds live here. As I sit on the dome’s top, I notice its process of exfoliation as foot-thick layers of the dome’s granite skin continue to pop up and peel off, releasing the pressure stored within, much as the fresh, clean air at 8000 feet releases the pressure I feel inside.

The wilderness is not just a place of astounding and subtle beauty. It’s also a place where its creatures struggle against death. I notice the carcass of a squirrel, a pile of blue feathers, and a habitat that once supported an entire community of wildlife that was destroyed by a forest fire.

What I learn about grief by hiking I share with others. They talk about their own adventures, and our grief becomes real to each other. We hear the details and come to understand the power and grace in our struggles.

I want to be open to this moment, to everything it is. I want to laugh with people when they are happy, and cry when their voices choke up in sorrow. When I notice wonders along the side of the trail, I want to linger and explore their mystery.

Grief is not a problem to be solved. It’s a journey we take together.


This essay was also published by the Huffington Post. If you would like to read my other essays at the Huffington, please go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-liebenow/

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