If I had to choose between a good bowl of ice cream and a long walk to fix what ails me, I would choose the walk. (Thankfully, there is rarely a need to pick just one, so depending on the time of day, I might have both: walk first and ice cream second.) I relish my time walking alone in silent contemplation (although I certainly love jabbering away for miles with a friend.) Walking alone gives me time to think, pray, soak in the beauty of my surroundings, and—if I’m walking in the neighborhood—occasionally provide silent critiques of other people’s houses. “How ‘bout trimming those hedges?”

My love of walking evolved out of necessity—my aging body didn’t love the pounding that running gave me, yet I still wanted to exercise outside. I’ve been a lifelong exerciser because I value its physical health benefits, but I’ve come to appreciate the mental health benefits even more. When I can hike—as I now do daily—it’s even better. (I like that there aren’t untrimmed hedges or imaginary home renovation projects to distract me.) As I relax into the cadence of my feet hitting the ground—heel, toe, push!— a zen-like state of quiet meditation engulfs me.

Unless, of course, there are other people on the hiking trail…When that happens, it’s pretty much game over for me.

Agh.. I hate even to admit it.

people walking on dirt road between trees during daytime

Here’s what bugs me about coming across other hikers on the trail:

  • Groups of hikers are almost always slowwww. (Did I mention how fast I am?) Coming across a group of hikers on the trail is like hitting a series of speed bumps on an otherwise smooth open road.
  • They usually are loud. Loud = my meditation is broken.
  • They often don’t know it’s courteous to let people pass. (Perhaps it’s not their fault if they are novices, but it’s annoying nonetheless.)
  • Once I do pass them, I feel like I can’t stop hiking to look at anything, lest they catch up to me. I don’t want to risk listening to their loud conversations all over again.

If you read this and thought, “Oh my goodness girl, you have a problem,” my response would be, “Why yes…yes, I do!”

Although I’ve been this way for years, it’s only recently that I’ve begun to get curious and self-reflect on what is happening inside me. After all, I’m usually a fairly kind and gracious person, so my propensity to “trail irritation” was perplexing. I’ve also spent my whole life as a strong proponent of outdoor exercise, so you’d think I’d be thrilled to see people out on the trail. When I began to examine myself, I could see that my emotional reaction just didn’t make sense. I no longer wanted to keep saying, “Well, that’s just how I am.”

I wanted answers.

a man wearing glasses looking out a window

I will pause here to allow you to self-reflect for a moment. Do you have thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that seem out of character or undesirable—ones that you have chalked up to, “That’s just how I am.” without giving it a second thought? If so, consider writing those things down now. We’ll come back to them in a minute.

Had I done that exercise in the past, I could have written pages of what I thought were my own little “quirks” but instead were flashing signs that I needed to pay attention to (my hiking issue was just one). My quirks were pointing me to areas of my life that need attention or healing. Let me explain by describing a recent experience.

I had been blissfully hiking along a mountain trail near my house when I stopped to take a picture of the view. As I lingered a second or two to let the beauty sink into my soul, I suddenly became aware of two young women coming up the trail behind me. Although they weren’t super close, their chatting and laughing were loud enough for me to snap out of my zen-like mode. I quickly noted that they were walking fast, so I knew I had to hightail it out of there.

Just like that, my blissful hike turned into a sprint to get far enough ahead of these women so I didn’t have to combat the irritation I felt from the noisy fun they were having. To be clear, I wasn’t annoyed they were having fun; I just didn’t want them to have fun around me. 🤷🏻‍♀️ To add to my emotional agitation, I started to feel irritated that I was irritated and annoyed that I was annoyed. As I have done many times in the past, I scolded myself for being so mean. Since I wasn’t yet ready to consider what was happening inside me, I just picked up the pace even more until I was in a full-on sprint. So much for my contemplative hike. 🙄

It was only when I had gotten at least a quarter mile ahead of them that I slowed down enough to consider what in the tarnation was going on. I had had enough.

As I slowed down to my normal walking pace, I did what I often encourage my clients to do: I listened to my heart. ❤️

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart…” (Matt 15:18)

You see, very often, our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors have roots that are tied to old wounds or protective mechanisms that we established in our early years. When our hearts are hurt, neglected, or abused, we develop ways to protect ourselves from having to deal with that pain. For example, it could be that a person’s “quirk” of never being able to sit down and relax developed in response to the high-stress environment they grew up in. To sit down was to get in trouble, so their heart learned it was best to keep busy.

In my case with hiking, when I tuned into what my heart was saying, I heard these words in my head: “Why can’t I ever have anything for myself?” As I heard those words in my head, tears formed in my eyes. Oh my. This was tender…

I slowed down my pace so that, for once, I could connect to what was happening inside of me. I knew I had hit the root of what was going on.

woman wearing silver-colored ring

Sadly, many of us have no idea how to listen to our hearts or understand why it could be important to do so. Instead, we’ve learned to tune out our heart’s cries by dismissing, berating, or numbing ourselves. We plod on—accepting that our quirks are inevitable—never considering if there might be a root to our quirky behavior. I want to encourage you that it doesn’t need to be that way!

So what can be done?

First, if you wrote anything down on your “that’s just how I am” list, you have already begun the process! In other words, you have already begun to be curious about thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that you may have never questioned before. If you haven’t yet written anything down, I encourage you to start this process by just getting curious about yourself.

Next, when you notice questionable behavior or thoughts come up, slow down and ask your heart to speak. Don’t be content to dismiss what’s happening (“Oh, I’ve been like that for ages”), rationalize it (“Being busy is a good thing”), or be disgusted with yourself (“What is my problem?”) It’s much more effective to slow down and listen for what your heart might be saying. Although I have been dealing with hiker irritation for years, It was only when I decided to tune in that I could start to make sense of what was coming up in me.

Perhaps the most crucial step in this process is to attune to whatever you hear your heart whispering. Don’t dismiss, correct, or berate yourself for feeling the way you do. Remember, most of the time, the voices we hear in these situations are very young parts of ourselves that haven’t ever been heard or acknowledged. We want to listen and embrace the parts of us who have been ignored or forgotten. Sometimes (although not always), just hearing and acknowledging what this part of your heart has to say can bring healing.

In my case, when I heard my heart speak on the trail, I responded by immediately putting my hand on my chest to assure my younger self that it was okay to have a voice. I found myself saying, “I’m so sorry,” because I genuinely felt sad that this part of my young heart had felt neglected for decades. Although it might not make sense to an adult mind, the very young part of my heart was desperate to have special alone time that was not taken over by anyone else. (This makes sense to me because I grew up in a big family that lived in a small home.) I then assured my heart that I would tune in and stop ignoring what it had to say. This step is of vital importance.

In case you’re wondering how my “trail irritation” is since connecting to my heart, I’m happy to report it’s significantly improved, (although my desire to have space to myself is still there.) Truth be told, I still prefer a quiet trail to a busy one. However, when I encounter people on the trail, I’m much more sensitive to the disappointment my heart feels, and by attuning to it rather than shaming myself for feeling that way, the emotion rises and falls like a gentle ripple.

In closing, the unhealed wounds in our hearts don’t go away with time. They continue to manifest in the way we do life. By paying attention to the things that trigger us or by getting curious about the quirky patterns of thought or behavior that don’t make sense (think hiking irritation), it’s possible to connect with the parts of our heart that have been left in pain. This is where healing begins.

If you would like help connecting to your heart, please reach out! Often, deeper work is needed to experience healing from longstanding or traumatic wounds. I offer free 30-minute discovery calls to explore how I may be able to help you.

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