I think too much.
I admit it. I’m guilty of thinking too much. For example, right now I’m thinking about the list of things I have to do for my employer before I clock out for the day. But at the same time, I’m also thinking about buying fertilizer for the lawn, daydreaming about a cross-country bike trip and wondering why they put locks on the doors of convenience stores that are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Thinking is good. Thinking too much is insanity.
Don’t get me wrong. Thinking beats ignorance every time. But thinking becomes a problem when our inner narrative — the nonstop dialogue that takes place in our minds — goes unchecked. For most of us, life moves at a blistering pace. To keep up, our thoughts jump all over the place, going from here to there to there at lightning speed. We call it multitasking and tell ourselves it’s a good thing. But that’s a lie. Thinking too much is maddening. It’s exhausting. And it’s unsustainable — especially if we want to have any semblance of spiritually meaningful life.
It turns out that bliss is a 15-mile hike.
Recently, my two brothers and I embarked on a hiking expedition along the West Rim Trail of the Pine Creek Gorge in Pennsylvania. The three of us hadn’t set out on an adventure like this one since we were kids. Unfortunately, our bodies weren’t quite up to the challenge. Fifteen miles later, we had an impressive collection of blisters, aches and joint pains to show for our efforts. But at the end of the day, I realized that I had somehow silenced my inner narrative. Instead of thinking about to-do lists, daydreams and random thoughts, I spent a solid seven hours in the moment, thinking about the trail that was right in front of me. And it was bliss.
Hiking actually changes your brain.
The cure I found for thinking too much wasn’t a fluke. According to scientists, hiking in nature creates a calming effect because it prohibits rumination — the thing that happens when it feels like your mind is racing. In fact, a study by the National Academy of Sciences showed that:
“a brief nature experience, a 90-min walk in a natural setting, decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, whereas a 90-min walk in an urban setting has no such effects on self-reported rumination or neural activity.”
The study also found that hiking in nature helps combat depression and other mental illnesses — something that doesn’t happen when we walk or spend in time in urban/suburban settings.
Why does hiking in nature silence our inner narrative?
Researchers believe that one reason hiking in nature stops rumination is because it forces us to disconnect from technology. That makes sense. Unplugging from technology is an important part of a balanced spiritual life. But I also think that hiking in nature quiets our thoughts because the mental buffers that keep God at arms length are gone. It’s just you and the trees and the trail. It’s God’s creation in all its glory and you’re a part of it. Not an observer. Not a spectator. But an active participant in creation.
Hiking in nature won’t solve all of your problems. It won’t balance your bank account or fix your leaky roof. But if you’re like me and thinking too much is becoming too much to handle, a jaunt in the woods may be your best bet.