Slowing Down & Backing Off: A Change of Perspective

Being in nature has always been synonymous with adventure for me. It meant skiing or climbing or mountain biking or surfing or trail running. It meant something hard and intense and natural features like waterfalls or waves or tall peaks. It certainly didn’t mean a walk around the block, even if that block was in a small town in New England.

Four weeks ago I had major abdominal surgery. As part of the healing process I am not allowed to lift anything over 10lbs for six weeks. I can go on walks, but can’t run, bike, hike, swim, or climb. I’m an active person so this notion of not being about to really exert myself was scary; perhaps scarier than the surgery itself if I’m being totally honest. Going outside and on adventures is kind of my daily medicine. It’s how I connect and engage with my body. Sweating, breathing hard, feeling my heart pump, the endorphin high I get from reaching a summit, skiing a line, banking a turn on my bike - these are the highs that I crave. And the sense of calm, of being present, of feeling happy - these are the gifts I get from my adventures in nature. I was terrified that walking without a summit, without elevating my heart rate, without the goal and intention of exertion wouldn’t be enough.

And then about a week after the surgery I started walking. Every morning after my kids left for school I’d head out for a walk. Just a walk with the dogs with no goal other than moving my body and breathing the air. I’d walk around the block, down the street, to the park, or on the campus of our local college. Walking in this way, with a slow and deliberate pace, was new and frankly scary. I was afraid that the feeling I’d have after my walk wouldn’t live up to the feeling I needed after a run, or hike, or bike or ski. I was so caught up in the comparison that I missed that this new experience was something else entirely. It was a gift of time, perspective, and creativity.

After my first walk around the block I came home and promptly took a two hour nap. Over time the length of my walks increased and the duration of my naps decreased. Today I walked for 50 minutes. I stopped to watch a cardinal defend its tree. I saw buds popping out on a red maple tree. I listened to the call of birds from the canopy above and paused to see if I could figure out where the birds were and what they were trying to say. I actually enjoyed the smell of mud and upon inhaling it was instantly transported back to high school and running through the farm fields in my town. As I circled back to my house I stopped to chat with a neighbor, finally not feeling the time pressure to hurry on by her.

I had always thought that by going to the big mountains and rivers I was deep in nature. And in many ways I’d convinced myself that was the only form of being in nature that counted. Yet today, in my 50 minutes of in town walking I was so much more aware of the natural world around me than I had been in months. Slowing down and coming back to town actually brought me back to nature. It gave me time to observe the world around me - to take in the sounds and smells and sights. It gave me time to think about how important nature and our natural world are.

In the end slowing down gave me the time and the space to come back to why I hike and to why I started The Venture Out Project. After all, it was on a hike, while out in nature, that I came up with the idea for Venture Out in the first place. Slowing down and backing off helped me remember that I go outside to be in nature, to connect, to heal, to take a moment. And in finding my activity restricted I was able to rediscover that nature and the natural world are all around us. As I see my kids play in the mulch in the median or stomp a puddle in the grocery parking lot I am reminded that we don’t have to go far to find nature all around us. We just have to look.

Photo by Leah Nash

perry cohen