Why is it that after a long day of hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, I didn't mind massaging my feet for half an hour, but now that I'm back, they sometimes feel too far down my body to wash when I'm in the shower?
Like many thru-hikers, I am a focused high-achiever with a side of stubborn determination. My time, energy and money go to what will bring me closer to my goals. So only in a situation where my body is an obvious tool for success will I give it the care it deserves.
Now that my goals are career-oriented and do not depend on the health and fitness of my body to be achieved, I don't see why I should give it so much attention. Its needs are numerous and relentless, always distracting me from the work I'm trying to finish. What! You need to pee again? It's going to have to wait.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking it would be so much more simple if I was just a mind and soul floating around in life — thinking and loving. No food to cook, no armpits to wash.
My body is a child seeking the attention of an overworked parent. I can choose to pause and listen. Get up off my chair and nurture that child until it feels loved again. Or I can push them away with a sigh of annoyance and tell them to wait for their turn.
When nothing else has worked, stomach burns and headaches are my body's favorite ways to ask for attention. I take antacids and painkillers, but I know deep down that this could be avoided if I listened. When I was on the trail, none of these pains ever showed up. I was giving my body the time of day and it was thanking me with a lightness of being I have not experienced since.
If anything, it was my mind that was burdensome back then. Going on and on in unhelpful spirals of thought. I wanted to shush it the same way I want to suppress my body's needs today.
The silence and lack of distraction in the woods allowed me to connect with my digestive system in surprising ways. I would eat a bar as I hiked and it was almost as if I could feel it going from one room to the other. I was tuned in with the sensations in my tummy and would know when it was done being digested. I could eat right before becoming hungry again. Like the parents who don't use diapers for their babies and learn to watch for subtle signs that they need to pee or poop, I learned to watch for signs and give my body what it needed before it even needed to ask.
When I sat in my Big Agnes tent at the end of a long day on the trail and rubbed my feet with Tiger Balm, I felt some sort of sacred communion with them. I was filled with deep reverence for their strength and patience. Thank you for carrying me all this way. Thank you thank you thank you. I can't believe we've come so far.
I miss this relationship.
As a whimsical kid, I've always been more comfortable swimming in feelings and thoughts rather than in the physical world. I have often focused on the ways in which my body was a hindrance. The hair on my legs got me ridiculed in gym class. The frizziness of my curls and the paleness of my skin got me feeling like the awkward duckling. The ungraceful way I stand around in a bathing suit makes me feel inadequate.
My head and heart are safer spaces to be in. They have always been. But now that I've seen how far my body can take me and how beautiful our relationship can be, I ask myself these questions:
How can I welcome my body to the crew? How can we move through the world together as a strong and compassionate triad — giving each other the care we deserve and backing each other up when one is down?
As I sit at my desk writing this, I know that if I feel an ounce of hunger or a need to pee, I will most probably resist. Not now. Be patient. You are getting in the way. While this seems more productive in the moment, it is often quite the opposite... Because when the stomach burns show up, everything else crumbles. I can't draw or write or even be nice. In those moments, I understand the value of a healthy body.
But I wake up the next day and I'm so quick to forget. I get back to my desk, doing work I love and trying to achieve the big goals I set for myself.
I have not found the solution yet. I know it starts with the small things. Maybe tonight I will wash my face with our delicious-smelling soap and revel in the smoothness of my skin.
If I could tell my body one thing today, it's this : Please bear with me. I will find my way back to you. You are doing so much. You carry me, not the other way around. I'm sorry for not always seeing this. Thank you. I love you. You deserve so much more.
Marie is a coach, illustrator and thru-hiker. On the trail, she is known as Poppins for her colors and wild imagination. Based in Montreal, she founded the Self-Growth Nerds with the mission of helping fellow adventure seekers embrace their most courageous selves so they can create more magical and memorable lives.