An Existential Crisis on a Scenic Hiking Trail

“We can all agree that the unexamined life is not worth living…but if all you’re doing is examining, you’re not living.” — Adam Leipzig

The hardest part of having an existential crisis is that it come as quiet as a teenager sneaking in after curfew. It’s the uncontrollable need to ask questions over and over again, never resting, about one’s meaning and place in life. Sarah Fader wrote an amazing piece explaining this in depth What Is An Existential Crisis And How Can It Be Resolved?, if you want to read more.

This morning, like many mornings, I mull over these questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I belong? Am I lovable despite my flaws? Are we meaningless specks? Will any of us be remembered? Is this life imaginary, am I? Are my thoughts my own and how do I know? Will I ever stop thinking about this?

Then I think to myself, you’re doing just fine. Give yourself some time. Put your hiking shoes on and flee Buffalo for the day. I head to Stony Brook State Park. I need to feel alive.

The easiest and most scenic Gorge Trail is closed for construction, so I head to the Rim Trails’ towering stairs. The woods are speckled with florescent signs, “Wear a mask in public” and is mostly empty due to the global pandemic. I think, if I can climb hundreds of stairs in a mask, the anti-maskers can handle wearing it in the grocery store. Why are so many people so unthinking and uncaring in their interactions with others?

I climb away from the others. Just me and the chipmunks. They play tag as I pant and grunt past waterfalls and unbelievable rock formations. I envy the chipmunks for they can’t see the true depth of the woods. The humming waterfall echos in my heart and distracts me. I want to write about it, but I’ve forgotten how to restrain my inner editor.

In my backpack I carry sunscreen, water and paranoia of aging past 30: I don’t know what the hell I am doing with my life; everyone knows I am an imposter; and how did I get this far? My backpack is heavy and the trail is much harder to climb than anticipated. I need to throw my ego into water, but it’s like a leech kissing my brain.

When I reach the top, after polishing each thought like a new gem, and my brain is making the sound of a violin being tuned, I come face-to-face with this mural: “Learning to love.”

“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

“This is a turning point. You are on the brink of enlightenment,” my former therapist said, almost two years ago, when I first acknowledged my crisis.

I remember the exact moment of realization, drinking my coffee by the window, on an ordinary day, beside the dogs: Does life only have meaning if I give it meaning? Am I giving it enough meaning? Am I trying hard enough? I was much like the chipmunks: unable (and unwilling) to see the depth of my own woodlands—until that day.

These aren’t new questions. The first time I remember obsessing over my existence was in the eighth grade. At an away game, when I was being “too shy,” my volleyball coach told me, “just be yourself!” A teammate had to console me as I cried on the bus, explaining that I didn’t know if I was being my “true self” or just a “pretend version” of myself. She shrugged her shoulders and offered me a blue Gatorade.

Little did I know I would be so messy and weak and incoherent for so long.

In the trees, I do not stifle my soul or feel alone. I do not accidentally project my negative feelings onto them and regret it later. I sit for a while. Their leaves shutter, but do not scuttle.

I wonder if they feel my presence. They deaf clap at me. I carry on. I must cross a bridge much like this one:

I am shaky and weak in middle of the bridge. What’s on the other side? Freedom of distorted thinking, freedom to trust my choices, freedom to take accountability, freedom to be grateful for what I have and where I am.

I don’t cross the bridge on this hike, but I find some peace on the long way down because now I know I want to cross the bridge. I know I need to cross the bridge.

I’ve been looking at things from one angle my entire life, but on the bridge, I’m looking at life from new perspectives I didn’t previously realize existed. This crossing will take time.

Did you know you can build zen gardens upon rotting trees?

That’s right! I can build zen gardens upon rotting trees or I can fall victim to my past, thoughts and feelings. I know what I need to do. I think I might even know who I am.

I am a good person just trying to find her way back onto the trail.

Have you had an existential crisis? What was your experience? How did you push through? How long was recovery for you?

18 thoughts on “An Existential Crisis on a Scenic Hiking Trail

  1. I think you covered my exact thoughts throughout your article, but the part about making your own meaning stuck out to me. This is because I’m trying to find meaning and purpose in the mundane, and that’s helped me get out of my head a little. I enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for dropping such a beautiful comment. I don’t know if we have “one purpose” or “one meaning,” though sometimes society portrays that, so I guess we need to find meaning in the mundane—what’s “mundane” anyway? I wish you well on your journey!

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  2. This really resonates with me.. There is something in nature that takes me home.. in the human world I often get tied in knots that slowly unwind in nature… loved this piece of writing…. questioning our own value can be so goddam tiring.. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is an interesting journey, simply because you have asked the question. You want to know.
    I did, and so in the middle of a breakdown, a divorce after 26 years, I asked God for some meaning in all this mess I see in me, and for that matter in everyone around me. So He did.
    What an idiot, I got shown every long, miserable step that my life would entail. And then spirit would rock up throughout this to make sure I could ‘see’ its meaning truly.
    It left me stunned, amazed and profoundly changed as each understanding came through.
    Here I was thinking that it was just one long misery…but from beginning to end it taught me something very profound, gradually allowing me to understand that it must show me sadness so that I could in fact understand and appreciate happiness. Showed me hate so I could understand and appreciate love…and on and on through all those emotions to truly see who I had become because of those understandings.
    We are changed by our schooling, whatever it teaches. We are changed by our families, our friends and our experiences in them all, no matter how small the step. Which sometimes are the ones that change us the most.
    But most importantly it shows us the one thing that we avoid because of our fears (and it is taught too, by those we love and look up to), and that is our ability to love ourselves, it is blocked by those very fears.
    So life gradually, and sometimes suddenly, will ask us to look inside those fears and break us free from a way of being. Something we all do by locking in our actions and way of being so that we don’t have to face the pain.
    And that very day that you finally face what it is that truly holds you fearful, and can see and understand why you had done this…is the day you burst into tears and release a weight that you have carried forever, break free of a way of being and understand it is what you have forever searched for, that love and happiness is in fact not ‘out there’, but waiting within to be found at this moment. Your sadness and pain is all that the fear is built on, usually a rejection in some form from those you love and look up to, and you have spent your entire life thinking it is you that have caused this so you are in a constant ‘I’m not good enough, can I , should I’ in all that you do. That questioning of the mind is you trying to break back through that wall of fear. Find its source, understand it…and be free.
    The day that I did it was something that I will never forget…I was set free, free to love me, the one person I struggled with forever. And in that action everything changed, the world fell away, those actions I got from everyone no longer mattered, I began to create, not react. I even amazingly began to see everything differently. I could watch a butterfly and just enjoy its presence, sit and listen to nature, even when I was in the middle of traffic in the city, the madness of life all around…it…no…longer…mattered.
    I was in another world, my world, and I freely surrendered to it.
    So, is there meaning? Trust me, within this world is another, and you are that world. And this life has great meaning as it peels away and teaches you a beautiful mystery…you. Just live it and it will set you free ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and for leaving such a beautiful, thoughtful comment! It, truly, means a lot to me. It teared me up because you made me feel seen and understood, which I rarely allow (even though sometimes I want to be). Thank you for sharing your personal story, too. I’m so glad you learned to love yourself and found the meaning within! I know your journey and realizations must have been painful, but you found your way and that is quite…magical, for a lack of better words. It gives me so much hope knowing that maybe it can be done: maybe we can change the way we see ourselves, the world and everything in between, if we allow ourself to face the pain—exactly why I started this blog. Take care and be well ❤️

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      1. It most certainly can be done dear lady. Because of this journey and what I can now see I too created my blog to help others to understand this path we are all on. Spirit asked me to show and explain my journey so that others could be guided by it. Yes, everyone is different but there is a core value that we are all affected by, and that is the love, or lack of, that drives us. And I mean ‘our’ love as well. It creates all the pain, and the beauty, in all that we do. And in understanding it, it sets us free.
        Those fears we pick up during our childhood. Our emotional handling capacity is not developed at all and the only way to ‘handle’ those painful things is to put up a wall, an emotional one. You know it, it is that childhood thing we always did…by sticking our fingers in our ears and singing out loud ‘na,nah,na,nah,na,nah’ whenever we didn’t want to hear something. Block, block, block. And if we feel we are not being treated well we lock it in by about 9 or 10 years old and carry on into adulthood. Thankfully as an adult we don’t stick our fingers in our ears, but we most certainly still ‘block’ those painful bits.
        And those things we really didn’t want to hear, and were the most painful, came from those we really loved and looked up to. Usually our parents. And unintentionally they passed their fears onto us, simply by their actions. We loved and looked up to them, we really wanted to be just like them so we copy them thinking this is love. Yes, they did love us to bits, but they also loved us with their ‘conditional’ love that was affected by ‘their’ fears. They had not realised and understood their fears yet at this time in their lives so could only be what they were.
        And asking yourself the question is in fact seeking a truth, your truth. Inside we feel we are not being the truth of what we are. We want to find that love and happiness. Ask anyone and they all say the same thing. Yes, a Lamborghini and a tropical island would be very nice, but deep down it isn’t our truth. It only pads the surface and leaves an echo underneath.
        So, where to start. Look for the common denominator in all your relationships, the one thing that hurts you the most, a way you feel that you are being treated and brings that inner hurt to the surface. In there is your answer.
        An example. I hated my dad with a vengeance, disliked everything he did. In all my relationships I would pull out chairs, buy flowers and gifts and do so many things…until at last the ‘other’ would say whoa, stop already, your drowning me. I of course would point the finger and say ‘how could you not want these things, its all your fault’.
        Now here is the key…I was fearful of them rejecting me so I would do all these things, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I realised this was my fear of rejection from my dad. I felt rejected by him and it caused me great pain. I was petrified of being rejected by those in my relationships so I would do everything to not have that happen. I was projecting my fear onto them, I was in fact creating the very thing I was petrified of. And we all do this. We project onto those we love the very thing we are afraid of. Why? So that eventually we will see that truth, face it and break free.
        Find the fear, find that thing we project so that others will react to us and see what it has to say. It is absolutely amazing how we can go through life with millions of people around us, and we will always attract the one person who will ‘touch’ those fears AND we will be the exact right person to do the same for them.
        This entire journey is a very shared, loving experience as painful as it can be. Simply because you will eventually look back and see, understand exactly why you have experienced these things, so that you can understand love by being so conditional in all that we do, projecting expectations because of those fears driving us…to finally become an unconditional love as we drop those things from our hearts that bound them.
        The pain will set you free. And the love, this new unconditional love…when you finally touch it, all that went before is so worth it, you would even do it all again to be touched by its magic ❤️ 🙏🏽 🦋

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and pictures. The years after a damaging car accident were one big existential crisis for me. When you’re stripped of sound body and mind, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. I’m glad you are writing about it, and sharing those beautiful photos with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for stopping by & noticing my blog post; it led me to read yours. We are all wounded. We are all healers. If you have not discovered Thich Nhat Hanh, read some of his books. Also read a fantastic poem by Derek Walcott called “Love After Love.”

    Liked by 1 person

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