I hiked up this mountain to go huckleberry picking last weekend. By myself! For hours! Which these days is a precious rarity, reminding me of when my children were babies and I faced months without an hour alone. (Early on in this pandemic jokey memes floated around urging introverts to check on their extrovert friends—“they are not okay”—which I did via phone, but it took a bit longer for the reality of being an introvert stuck at home with people around all the time to sink in.)
While I was chin-deep in huckleberry bushes, filling an old milk bucket in a promise to my daughter that we would pick enough to make jam this year, a man walked down the trail wearing a hat whose slogan prompted, in me, anger, irritation, and despair. A little while later a young couple walked up the path with a speaker blasting music from the woman’s backpack. (Someone later explained to me that people often play music while hiking because of bears, but this was loud. Egregiously, rudely loud.) More irritation and internal mumblings about entitlement. (Also I have never yet been eaten by a bear because I wasn’t forcing fellow hikers to listen to my music.)
I tried to breathe my way to some kind of mindfulness, but my responses were deeply physical. I could feel the anger, despair, irritation, and frustration through my whole body and it wasn’t going away.
I imagine a lot of people, millions probably, feel this way on a daily basis. I’ve long been fascinated, though, in why it is that we think these reactions are only in our minds, not our bodies. After decades of research on embodied learning, epigenetics, and the physical realities of emotional trauma, we still walk around the world pretending that our minds and our bodies are separate things.
Usually I walk or yoga-stretch my way out of these reactions, but I really wanted to pick berries, which required me to be mostly stationary. Usually just being in nature will do the trick but it wasn’t this time. So I put earbuds in and listened to a podcast episode about the million-plus-year-old bones of a hominin, homo antecessor, found in a cave in Spain. And then another about the future of physics and the search for a theory of everything (as in something to stitch Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics together, not an equation that tells humans how to finally get along with one another.) Slowly, over the next two hours, my body began to let go of its reactions as my mind helped put them in perspective.
We, or at least I, can’t help the world find its way to justice and a sustainable relationship with nature by staring angrily at political slogans I disagree with or growling because someone is rude enough to blast their music when I just want to listen to the trees. But pulling the mind and body back to some kind of equilibrium, whether through physical action or stories that bring the vastness of existence to the forefront, strengthens my ability to practice true citizenship, or at least to try.