Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ringleader, Master of Zen

Written by: Katherine 'Ringleader' Imp

I have mastered the art of zen. I'm sure people have used other words and phrases to describe the meditative state I find myself in -- but for now, I'll call it zen.

Mentally, the first half of this thru-hike was brutal. I charged through law school in 2.5 years to give myself the time gap necessary to embark on this hike. I took advantage of spring break, but my summer and winter breaks were spent working and studying. After my last semester, I immediately dove into bar prep and for the 2 months prior to hitting the AT, I did nothing but study for the Illinois bar exam. Those were the most mentally intense years of my life.

When I hit the AT, I thought I could just turn off my brain. Just take in the fresh air, Kate. Enjoy the beauty of nature. Easier said than done.

For 2 months my brain went through mental-intensity withdraw. It was like a radio tuner in your car when driving on the highway -- speeding through stations, trying to find something to play, but finding nothing. I tried to just focus on the trees, but my brain wanted more inputs. It was used to doing 100 things at once and nothing on the AT could satisfy that craving.

Somewhere in Maryland my brain finally found peace. I began memorizing poems. I met new people on the trail and in towns. I stopped thinking about my life at home -- all the things I want to do or have already done. I learned how to control my brain rather than have it control me. I was able to just be.

I can't remember hearing a single bird during the first half of this trip. I don't remember hearing the wind or rain. I don't remember hearing the dirt crackle beneath my feet.

During these last few weeks, I've listened to my ipod a total of 3 times. Except for a few calls to family members, I haven't talked on the phone at all. I haven't even checked emails. I've just been listening to the birds...


  1. "I was able to just be." Funny that I'd read that line of yours when I've just started reading this book by John R. Kelly my adviser for my Rec major lent me for the summer. It's called Freedom To Be, A New Sociology of Leisure and I have a feeling what your experiencing right now may be what this book is all about.

  2. Being present right here right now is the most fullfilling way to life. Hope you stay aware of this for a long time!!!

    Mark (Emily's Uncle)

  3. Too bad it took that long for you to relax and just enjoy your adventure. You had two months and miles of opportunity to take in so much beauty. Maybe this privilege was wasted on you.

  4. I have wanted to hike the AT since I was 14. Now 16 years later I am working as a firefighter (another life long goal) and I won't be able to tackle the AT until I retire. I am on duty today and have spent literally all day reading through your blog entries. What an inspiration. I just want to say to ALL of the negative comments posted on your blog...YOU PEOPLE ARE UTTERLY FUCKING RIDICULOUS!!!! Your blog is real, upfront, and no holds barred. I really admire that. It is so much better to be real than to be dictated by what society deems as acceptable or normal. The comment made on this post about how "This privilege was wasted on you" is simply ignorant. The whole point of this post to me was that you DID get to the point that you were able to let your mind stop running a thousand miles per hour. So in my opinion you maximized your opportunity and wasted nothing. Congratulations to the three of you! I hope that when the time comes for my journey, it will be amazing and that I will take something from it as the three of you clearly have. Pay no mind to the haters!! That would be a waste of time, thought and energy!

  5. It's not a privilege, it is a process. Clearing out your mind from the constant daily distractions and inputs we have in modern society is no easy task and cannot be done overnight.

    Some people take longer than others to push through that purging period. However, none of that time is wasted time. To come out on the other end, recognize what you went through, and acknowledge the importance of that process is what matters.