Priorities are Essential

Heading into the backcountry excites me. The draw of serene days and stunning scenery coupled with the physical demands and danger set up an ache that won’t let go until I set my boots on the trail.  My last post, Pilgrimage, recounted important trips I took into the Rockies and Tetons in order to lay claim to who I was and who I wanted to be. The outdoors are where I am most alive, and in my pursuit of natural highs, I find many metaphors for living a good life.

Speaking of which, have you noticed how time, or rather the lack of it, drives how we spend the hours of each day? Don’t the pressures of getting things done cut deeply into our life and rapidly bleed it to death? Yeah, me too. But I have taken some time and bothered to ask, does it have to be that way? And my experience as a traveler has provided me with some metaphorical insight.

One of the first things I do to prepare for a backpacking trip is to determine what to bring. There are certain items: tent, sleeping bag, cook stove, etc., that aren’t really much of a choice. You need these things. I know where to put them in my backpack; they’ve been allotted a place already. In my metaphor, these are eating, sleeping, and making a living. I have to do them in order to live. (Although many people dangerously play with sleep.)

It’s when you start trying to determine the other items where some thought comes into play. Factors like, how long the trip is, what’s the terrain like, and what weather can you expect come into the decision process. If it’s a short trip, I’m not going to pack as much food and may even decide to splurge a little and bring something special, like a pouch of tuna or a tiny bottle of wine. If the terrain is rugged and steep, everything is pared down. No book, music, or fancy food.

Are you seeing some parallels to life yet? When we sit down to “load” our week with events, projects, and work, shouldn’t we enter into a similar process? Are you discerning and careful about what you choose to fill your days with, or are you apt to quickly say, “yes,” to demands on your time out of politeness or some need to meet an imposed standard? Of course you have to be at every game your four children are in! What kind of parent wouldn’t?

Of course you have to be at every game your four children are in! What kind of       parent wouldn’t?

If I packed my backpack to meet some machismo ideal, I might try and carry heavier weight just so I could prove my manliness. However, I’d probably ruin my enjoyment, since at the end of every day’s hike I’d be totally exhausted and weak. I wouldn’t be able to take that quick side trip to the hot spring, or climb up to the valley precipice to look out over the incredible panorama of snow-covered mountains. All I’d be able to do is stagger from camp to camp, growing more tired with every step and that feeling would build each day and every passing mile.

That describe your current life?

Maybe not that bad, but you see the point. So many people today insist on doing everything, stuffing their lives with too many events and projects. I can do it all!  is a modern mantra. The problem is, it’s also a myth.

In Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism, he reminds us that we can’t do everything, and therefore we shouldn’t try. I can’t fill my backpack with everything; I would literally breakdown and fail to enjoy the trip. Nor can I fill my days with everything–for the exact same reasons. Cramming life with obligations and standards to meet means living a life that is imposed on you and you’ll be miserable while you’re at it. To avoid this scenario, set personal priorities for living; if you don’t, someone will set them for you.

To move in the direction of an essentialist in the backcountry is to actually follow core guidelines for the outdoors, but to follow that direction in mainstream society will be counter to the current flow. There will be push-back and taking charge of your time will require courage and discipline, which everyone has when the stakes are high–and what’s higher than the quality of your life?

Make sure you take the time to enjoy the infinite points of beauty in your life.

In order to wholly enjoy a backpacking trip, I need to pay attention to every step. Between every two end-points are an infinite number of others that await my enjoyment. The same is true for every life, and all of us can politely take control of our own priorities, pare down to those essentials that mean the most to us, and start enjoying life even more. Have a blessed journey.

4 thoughts on “Priorities are Essential”

  1. “Between every two end-points are an infinite number of others that await ” – and, yes, every step between is a new beginning, a start-where-you-are opportunity.
    I remember my husband phoning me at work to say that he had found just the right house near Boston where we were moving for his new job. “Come” he said, “Go home right now and get your small overnight bag and you till have time to make the bus.” I told him “I’ll just catch the bus now, they have toothbrushes in Boston.” It’s amazing what we can choose do without on any journey.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Patricia. And a special thanks for leaving a comment. Comments make my day like getting a letter in the mailbox!
      Back in the early 90’s I used to guide groups in the German and Austrian Alps part-time, and it was difficult to get people to enjoy the hike and not just the end points. Some strongly resisted my urging to slow down and enjoy the points between the day’s start and end. I hope some of them look back now and see the importance of taking one’s time, remaining in the moment, and shedding whatever isn’t needed.

  2. Hi Roy! I am consistently shedding things I used to think were important. Nothing is worth the stress of unnecessary expectations. Sometimes I stop and think, “do I really care about this? Am I being pulled in too many directions right now?” Making a homemade meal is a good example. I love it when I have time and energy, but if I don’t, we’re not going to die. A frozen pizza makes for a pleasant meal. Gets better and better all the time!
    And, I loved Patricia’s story! Simplicity at it’s best.

  3. Some great metaphors here, Roy. Backpacking is also one way to break up the day-to-day routine, where the mind has learned to run on auto-pilot. Any alternate to the familiar offers the chance to awaken from the endless string of memories and plans and focus on the here, now, living instead of just thinking.

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