A couple weeks ago, I went hiking 3 days in a row and camping once within one week. My sister and my mom were both on Spring Break that week, so I decided to join them on their hiking adventures. We live in Florida, so obviously there is no intense crazy mountain hiking, but there are some pretty cool historical native american trails and trails that go through places that used to be little towns and trade ports to send out oranges and lumber. So cool! It was so nice to get out in nature and get a change of routine and scenery – I truly believe we all need to do that every once and a while.
Being the constantly thinking person that I am, I found it hard to be present at times while I was out hiking. I had to be very mindful of where my mind was going, and tried to bring it back to the present moment. I found that when I did that, trees became greener, the air felt better, and the space felt wider. But why is that important? Why do I need to try to be present and mindful? What good is this going to do me? Sure, things seem prettier, but so what? How can this hiking/camping experience be taken into my life and change how I operate from day to day – especially if I do it regularly?
This caused me to reflect on what hiking and camping can do for our brains – more specifically, creativity, when we are truly present in the moment. I noticed myself experiencing familiar things that I experience everyday, just not in the same way. I noticed 4 things that I experienced in nature – Quietness, problem solving, observation, and new experiences! I experience these 4 things in my day to day life, but definitely not to the extent as I do when I am out in nature! All those things seemed to be heightened.
If you’ve ever been in the middle of the woods, there’s really nothing around to make noise except animals (and alligators if you’re in Florida). We always hear that having ambient noises around like the hum of a coffee shop or ambient music playing can promote abstract thinking and increase productivity – which feels very true for me. But I think quietness can do amazing things for our brain as well. Not quietness in a sense of absolutely no noise, but quiet in a sense that you are in a different type of place with less noise. Noise meaning less cars, less emails, and less distractions. Having less of those things means more presence of self. You’re able to get back to more of your primal instincts and ask yourself, what do I actually need? I need water, I need sunlight, I need exercise, I need food, I need community. It’s not that we aren’t thinking of those things when we are out living our lives and working, but it’s just that it is more defined when we are alone with our needs and nature. We become more mindful of our bodies. Being in nature with limited resources gives us an opportunity to come back to our root selves, and explore our needs.
Solving problems is using creativity. Camping and hiking give you so many opportunities to do that because you are in a somewhat unfamiliar place with somewhat limited resources. You’re living differently than you normally do for a while, so you will naturally need to make some adjustments.
One day when my sister and I were hiking, it started to rain. It wasn’t too bad, until we came to a flooded part of the trail. We had to figure out how to walk around the puddles without soaking our feet – we found some high ground on the side of the trail and walked the rest of that flooded trail on that. Problem solving! Simple solution, but still a problem solved.
Then we got hungry, so we decided we needed to stop for a little bit and eat. It was raining still, so we had to figure out where we could find a spot to eat and how we could stay dry. We had an umbrella, and that was it. We decided to find a shady spot and hang our umbrella between two trees, sit on our jackets, and eat there. It took a while to figure out how to place the umbrella without it falling, but it kinda worked. Well… not really. I actually just ended up holding the umbrella. But still… problem solving!
When you sit in nature long enough, you’ll start to observe things. Sometimes creepy noises happen and you go “WHAT WAS THAT?” Then you observe in the vicinity of where it happened to see if you can catch the culprit and fulfill your curiosity. When you’re walking, you observe the trees then your thoughts branch off (branch, heh..) and you start to wonder. How are there are so many different kinds of trees? How long have they been here? This is a very mindful process and it feels so natural to be living in the moment just wondering about life. Science and art are both very creative processes, and using both can exercise your creativity in a wonderful way. Hiking and camping really enhances that scientific thinking part. From practical questions like, “how can I make this fire burn longer?” to observational thoughts like “this cliff is high enough, I don’t think an alligator can climb up here. Wait, can alligators climb? What do they eat? Maybe we should leave our food in the car.”
Observation allows for wondering, creative thinking, problem solving, and learning.
New experiences allow your mind to open up in order to see the world in a different way. That’s one of the reasons I love to travel so much, there are so many different things to see and be curious about. When you learn something new, you’re able to apply it to different parts of your life and build off of what you’ve learned. Our minds are constantly trying to find meaning and fit puzzle pieces together. Sometimes new experiences help with this construction of the world around us, and sometimes it deconstructs everything we know about life. But it doesn’t matter, construction and deconstruction both help in understanding what the world is, how it works, and how you fit it and relate to it. If that’s not a creative process, then I don’t know what is.