A few hours into a nature hike, your head clears as the static of city-life begins to melt away from. It is at this point, that you start to enter the proverbial "zone."
“The zone” is what is craved by all those who have tasted the deep calm buried beneath the sweat and exertion of exercise.
It is undoubtedly a form of meditation.
Your footsteps cease being your footsteps.
They fade from your awareness as you cease feeling them beneath your body.
They organically evolve from conscious walking into the rhythmic bass beat of the music in your head.
If you're moving at the right pace for you, you’ll feel like you could walk forever (with the occasional breaks for eating, sleeping and the bathroom).
Consider this: the average hiker on the Appalachian trail starts at about 12 miles a day, and averages about 16 miles a day by the end of the first month of hiking. This means that you could hike from Florida to Maine in under 4 months, and feel good.
Actually, you'd probably feel great.
Interestingly, if you pushed yourself to run everyday for 4 months, and tried to keep up with your walking counterpart, you'd be a wreck in no time. A marathon-a-day (26 miles) is obviously out of the question. Even a half-marathon per day would rapidly destroy your body.
Walking — it turns out — is faster than running.
This means that the one who just keeps putting one foot in front of the other for 8 to 10 hours a day will be the one that breaks the ribbon at the finish line. Not the runner who was far in the lead those first few days of the race.
This holds true when we look out to the long-term horizon. Walking is faster when we are on the time scale of achieving life-goals — not short-term wins.
We are now ready to understand why the metaphor for the ideal pace for spiritual growth is walking — not running:
All the blessings of heaven and earth are contingent not on our arriving at some spiritual destination, and not on us sprinting our hearts out and collapsing in exhaustion — but on us walking.
Step by step.
...then, I will give your rains in their right time, and the earth will give forth its bounty, and the trees of the field will give their fruit...
Nature is built to give over immense amounts of blessing when it runs at its full capacity. The above verses teach us that nature’s bounty so is contingent on our pushing ourselves to the limits of our spiritual capacity.
The problem is that we think of “pushing ourselves to our limits” as pushing ourselves to our breaking point. We fool ourselves into seeing burnout as heroism. But here we see that what God asks from us is merely consistency.
Sustained and sustainable progress.
It should feel like walking. Continually putting one foot in front of the other.
We read a chapter a day of a book that makes us into better people.
We make the consistent push beyond our comfort zone to say words of encouragement to the people around us.
We stay vigilant to not lose our temper where we normally would.
We take mental note of those bad habit that keeps cropping up in our lives.
We focus today on meaning the words we utter in the first blessing of the Amida.
One moment. One insight. Another insight. A small decision. Another small decision. One foot in front of the other.
Each step seems negligible on its own.
Each day seems like "just another day."
"What can I really personally accomplish in a day?," says the snide, cynical voice in our heads that values the large and glamorous, but derides the small and "trivial."
The road to Sinai is 50 days. If we look at every day as “just another day,” we end up with just that — 50 random days — come and gone.
If, however, we just keep taking steps forward — knowing that the days add up — thousands of small, "negligible" steps every day add up, one after the other.
If we keep this up, we will — with God’s help — find ourselves standing in silent awe before a great vista that we could have never imagined at any one of those steps along the way.
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Step by step you’re always brighter and deeper. Shabbat Shalom