I grew up with TV. I don’t know how old I was when I started watching, but I remember spending time with Kermit and Fonzie and Jack, Chrissy, and Janet. I remember being ushered to bed after Walter Cronkite shared his mantra, “That’s the way it is.” I didn’t know it as I was growing up, but this ubiquitous watching was embedding a sedentary pattern into my body, mind, and spirit. My dad would always encourage me to “get out” and get away from the screen, and I did this during the day, but I still probably ended up being exposed to one to two hours of TV daily from the ages of 1 to 12. I estimate that I ingested about 5,000 hours of television before hitting puberty.
When I was in high school, I was friends with people who were outdoorsy. Some talked about taking a bike trip in Maine, others of an adventure at sea, and others still of a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) trip to learn how to rock climb. As I saw photos of their epic adventures, which included cute boys; sun-kissed, wind-blown faces; and bright eyes on a monumental journey, my call to the wild began to take hold. At age 16, I applied to attend a mountaineering course in Montana with Outward Bound. I trained for a couple of months before the trip. I’d been smoking cigarettes so I figured swimming would be a good training sport (yeah, real smart). I swam like nobody’s business, but it in no way prepared me for 14 days of hiking that entailed traversing 110 miles of rocky, barren terrain. When I spent the first day trudging up a slope of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness with tears streaming down my face and a 60-pound pack on my back, huffing and puffing the whole way, I knew I was in for a rough ride.
A lightning storm forced us to stop on the side of the mountain for two hours, huddling over our packs in the torrential downpour and booming thunderclaps. I knew I should be in better shape. Emotionally, physically, and energetically, I was demolished. Our group consisted of rough-and-tumble 19-year-old boys who were well-versed in hiking and climbing. I was a complete newbie, and rough-cut at that.
By day 11, after being broken-down and rebuilt, I was much heartier. On this day, in particular, I was the first to complete an ascent of the Green Mountain. As I neared the peak, I could feel that I was first in my group and I felt elated. I knew that my team would be proud of me, as I had been the whiniest of the crew for the first 50 of our 110-mile hike. I felt proud of me too as I felt my strength increase, the fresh air permeate my body, and established a firm sense of personal power on the mountain. The experience left me yearning for more. After I returned home, instead of resorting to grabbing a bag of crunchy sundries and picking up the clicker, I headed out for some fresh air and natural light. I’d experienced an awakening.
As I’ve gotten older, I know that I must move to sustain a sense of life force, prana, chi, mojo—whatever you choose to call it. Our bodies are built to move and if I don’t, I pay the price: My mind becomes dangerous terrain and my thoughts stagnate. Someone once told me to “move a muscle to change a thought.” It seemed simplistic and a bit hokey at the time, but it rings true for me. If I forget to take the time to move and get my heart rate up, I get cranky and don’t digest as well. A quick 20-minute walk or an hour of vinyasa yoga always does the trick in bringing me back to speed.
I still might indulge in the occasional Portlandia or HGTV, but my screen time is more of a conscious choice than it once was. I still can’t believe I smoked for as long as I did (almost 10 years) or that I didn’t learn to take better care of myself earlier, but the wake-up call doesn’t always get picked up until someone hears it.
Have you experienced one of these speed-dial moments? Does the wake-up sometimes come twice?