I was crystal clear about what I wanted to do most on my visit home to Oregon last month: Spend time with friends and family, and go backpacking to enjoy my region's gorgeous forests and mountains.
These are what I miss most from home.
Yet when I started packing my suitcase, I wavered when it came to adding my backpacking gear.
What a hassle to schlep my sleeping bag, camp stove, water filter, first aid kit, and all the other stuff I’d need!
But I convinced myself it was worth it.
So I lugged all this stuff across the Atlantic. On top of that, I convinced my husband to bring all his backpacking stuff too. I researched the trek I wanted to do and downloaded maps. I watched the weather reports.
Even so, we almost didn’t go.
When it came time, the logistics nearly got the better of me. We needed to rent a car. The forecast foretold rain; we’d have to leave tomorrow to take advantage of the only three-day window of good weather. We needed to borrow a tent. We’d have to buy our food in one go at the supermarket and assemble our meals in the parking lot.
It made me feel tired.
Yet I reminded myself how much I’d looked forward to this backpacking trip, for months! This was spiritual food for me. It was rare that I was in Oregon during a time of year that was good for backpacking. September was the perfect month.
Plus, by total coincidence a friend had done the same route the weekend before. "It was one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever done," he said. "You have to go."
So we got up in the morning and went.
Our logistics were so involved that we weren’t on the trail until 5PM. For most people, myself included, this usually would be stressful. We only had a little more than an hour of light to find a place to camp for the night.
Yet as soon as I was out in the forest, my pack squarely set on my shoulders, any stress I’d felt melted away. I walked lightly, buoyant with happiness.
I was here, doing what I had said I would do.
It lit me up.
I recognized this specific sense of joy. I first felt it when I took my sabbatical year back in 2013.
Taking time off to travel had long been an unkept promise to myself. When I finally made good on this promise, I saw how so many broken pieces were repaired inside me. I became stronger, more whole.
I was like an instrument suddenly brought back into tune. People around me heard the difference. They were delighted by it, even inspired.
This is what happens, I learned, when I do what I say I will do.
This is what happens when I keep my promises to myself.
One of the biggest causes of unhappiness
Usually we talk about integrity as a trait that we need to have as it relates to others. A person has integrity, we say, when she keeps her word to other people.
Yet the most important lesson I’ve learned these past few years is that keeping our word to ourselves is just as important. Maybe even more so.
Where there is unhappiness and dissatisfaction in life, there is likely an unkept promise to oneself.
Do you have one?
Make good on it. Even if it’s difficult or requires complicated logistics. Stick it out.
Following through on what you’ve told yourself you’ll do is maybe the greatest gift you could ever give yourself – and the people around you.
We want to hear how you sing.
A last striking reminder
Our backpacking trip through the Goat Rocks Wilderness was spectacular. I’ll remember it the rest of my life.
The last night of our trek, the air was so mild and still that we could make our camp way up high, partway up a lookout peak.
From our campfire, we watched the sun set on Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens, two in the string of volcanoes that make up the Cascade Range. Behind us, just over the ridge, loomed massive Mount Rainier. In the night, we sheltered in the dark star-studded dome of the universe, the Milky Way arching overhead.
It filled me up, set me right, and will keep me going strong.