I think too much. For example, right now I’m thinking about the list of things I have to do 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 24/7/365 convenience stores.
Thinking is good. Thinking too much is insanity
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, at lightning speed. We call it multitasking and we 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.
Bliss is a 15-mile hike
Recently, my two brothers and I set out on a hike along the West Rim Trail of the Pine Creek Gorge in Pennsylvania. The three of us hadn’t gone on an adventure like this since we were kids. Unfortunately, our bodies weren’t quite up to the challenge. Fifteen miles later, we had an impressive catalog of blisters, swollen knees and mystery pains to show for ourselves.
But at the end of the day, I realized 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 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-minute 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 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 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 sink. But if you’re like me and thinking too much is becoming too much to handle, a jaunt in the woods might be a good idea.