Happy Friday, League of Wildness!
You are capable of more.
When was the last time you felt really uncomfortable? What did you decide to do with that sensation? Did you immediately look for something to soothe it or escape from it? Have you ever considered that discomfort may have lessons to offer?
After Dan sent last week’s Wild Day 2022 email, the idea of discomfort has been on my mind. When we challenge ourselves, discomfort is usually part of the game. Wild Day will be all about challenging yourself!
Until then, spring here in Minnesota has been very slow in arriving and we’re still locked up in deep snow and ice. A few days ago, I took a hike to a waterfall near our home and spent some time hanging out in the realm of discomfort. Even though the thermometer said 40°, the glacial rock, deep snow, and thick ice combined with the north wind effectively acted as a large air conditioner, so the temperature where I sat was closer to 32° with a raw north wind that chilled my ears and fingers. I had a hat and gloves, but the conditions were not unsafe, merely uncomfortable so I left them in my backpack. I only felt cold if I thought about being cold.
I’m currently reading the Body Hardening Manual. On page 13 Dan says, “The early Stoics understood the value of challenging the body…they regularly engaged in opportunities that raised their level of anti-fragility. We now refer to hormetic stress (or hormesis) as, “a theoretical phenomenon of dose-response relationships in which something that products harmful biological effects at moderate to high doses may produce beneficial effects at low doses.”
I found it such a fitting subject for my experience sitting in the cold. Despite that my fingers a light shade of wind-burnt red, I knew they were not at risk of frostbite, nor was I at risk of hypothermia. I enjoy challenging myself in these ways, knowing that not only was I safe but that there are benefits to exposing yourself to the elements. How often do you avoid going out in “bad weather” instead of choosing to stay in a cozy, climate-controlled home that offers nothing but ease? I could have spent the day on the body-shaping recliner in my living room, but I chose to let nature shape me instead.
Much of the time discomfort is only in our minds. Our thoughts often chase us to seek comfort, even if we don’t need it. It has little to do with our ability to be safe in an environment that isn’t ideal. Practiced well, discomfort strengthens the mind without putting the body at real risk. Each time you practice it, your body adapts to the changing conditions, and your mind logs the experience. The next time you are faced with something similar, you will remember you survived and even thrived within the challenge. More importantly, you grew from the experience by learning what you could withstand and push through.
One of my favorite athletes is Scott Jurek, who is a world-renowned trail ultramarathoner. In both of his books “Eat and Run” and “North”, he talks about how the only way to find joy on the other side of difficulty is to go through the challenge. We can’t duck our heads into our collars and turn away from difficulty. The best way out is through. There are so many ways, big and small, that we can challenge ourselves. Our bodies are capable of so much more than the limitations of the mind, and practicing being in a state of discomfort is one of the ways we can expand those limitations.
Two years ago I went on the hardest adventure I’ve done so far, which was a 25-mile backpacking trip with my sister. The photo at the top is from the highest point of the trail. It was a last-minute trip and I wasn’t prepared for it. I overpacked and carried a bag that weighed almost 40 pounds. The constant up and down over rugged terrain in the hot summer sun was exhausting. There were hills so steep that I had to crawl up them. I ran out of water one day and even got temporarily lost. On one of the days we had cell phone access, I texted my husband to tell him, “This trip might kill me!” My journal pages from that trip are filled with the back-and-forth battle that happened in my mind with every single step. Short of calling wilderness rescue on my GPS, there was no stopping, no giving up. No matter how loudly my mind yelled, “What are you doing? You can’t do this!” I kept going. I left gallons of sweat, some tears, and even some blood on that trail. When we got back to the truck at the trailhead, my husband had left a cooler with some snacks for us. He also left a note that said “Good job not dying!” which is still on our fridge today as a reminder that I can make it through anything. I learned more than I have at any other point in my life about what I’m made of. That trip is one of the best memories of my life despite how hard it was. Or perhaps because of how hard it was. This summer I am planning a Misogi quest on that same trail. I will be better prepared but I also know new challenges await!
I’ve never been as physically or mentally uncomfortable at any point in my life as I was on that trip. It is now the thing that I use to judge my discomfort in everything else. I know the joy that comes from conquering an immense challenge and the satisfaction of coming out the other side. It changes you. I’ll never be the person I was the first day I stepped on the trail. I’m not afraid to do big, hard things anymore. I seek them out. I enjoy pushing limitations and exploring things that make me uncomfortable. There were many times earlier in life that I wanted to do something hard but didn’t think I had it in me. I didn’t even bother trying and that is a real tragedy. However, I’ve evolved and learned so that won’t happen again. I know I am capable of much more than I realized – my imagination of what is possible has been expanded. Being uncomfortable, even drastically so, shouldn’t always be something we run away from. We can go through it and come out better, stronger, and more resilient. It doesn’t have to be an epic backpacking trip. There are things we can do every day to dip our toes into discomfort. All of it strengthens our minds and our resolve as well as enhances our ability to adapt to our world and all of the challenges we face daily.
Some ideas of things to try:
If you are wanting to take a big trip, then do so. Don’t wait for the right time, the perfect weather, or when you afford the expensive gear. You won’t regret just going for it.
Commit to taking a walk outside every day, no matter the weather. The world is so different when you walk in the wind, the snow, and the rain. Each of those challenges has something to offer.
Take a cold shower first thing in the morning.
Add weights or rocks into your backpack when going for a hike or walking to work.
The next time the wind blows, raise your head towards it instead of tucking into your jacket. Rather than judging it as uncomfortable, relax. It’s a different experience.
Have a hard conversation you’ve been putting off. It’s either hard now or hard later. You choose.
Try new foods! Go to a new ethnic restaurant or try a recipe that is entirely foreign to you.
Take your shoes and socks off for part of a hike and pay attention to how different things feel under your feet.
If you do yoga, the next time you are in a challenging pose, hold it for a few seconds longer than you thought you could.
Don’t use the AC on a hot day and leave the heat off on a cold day.
Camping in a secluded space? Go skinny dipping!
Another weekend is upon us! Can you find a way to explore something that makes you uncomfortable? We’d love to hear about it! Just respond to this email.
Stay wild out there,