In the summer of 2018, I decided to go for a walk.
This walk began in Kirk Yetholm at the Scotland/England border and zig-zagged up to Cape Wrath, Scotland’s most north-western point.
The name of this not-so-wee wander is the Scottish National Trail, and I, someone who hadn’t wild camped since high school, decided I would be the first solo female to conquer all 536 miles of it.
You may be wondering why on earth I decided to hike over 500 miles through the roughest terrain in Scotland all by myself. I wasn’t recovering from a broken heart or a drug addiction, nor had I been hiking for years.
I did it because I was curious. Curious to see what would happen, what I would learn, and how time spent alone in the wilderness would change me as a woman.
After seven weeks, I reached Cape Wrath a little lighter in weight but rich in self-knowledge.
Here are the four most important things walking the length of Scotland taught me.
1. It is more important now than ever to spend time in nature
Technology that was meant to help us complete our work more efficiently so that we have more time to do the things we enjoy has taken on a life of its own, resulting in us being more connected to our phones than we are to ourselves.
In the UK it is estimated that 1 in 6 adults experience a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression, every week.
The NHS has also reported that mental health issues are on the rise among children. Social media is widely blamed for causing much of the epidemic of mental illnesses, and recent studies have shown that likes, shares and comments have been shown to influence our mood.
We are all guilty of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or cyberstalking that one Facebook friend who always appears to be ‘living their best life.’
Or perhaps we are that person who spends hours crafting the perfect Insta-snap on a beach somewhere while missing the feel of the sand beneath our feet entirely because we’re too busy trying to suck in our stomach.
This is why stepping away from our smartphones to reconnect with ourselves is more important now than ever.
It took me three weeks of walking to digitally unwind; to train myself to not reach for my phone every two minutes.
When I ventured into the magical land of no reception [the Scottish Highlands] something amazing happened. I was able to have important conversations with myself. I was able to address past trauma I wasn’t aware existed and heal. My relationship with myself deepened and my confidence grew. I developed valuable practices to carry into everyday life.
Being in nature enabled me to slow down and become more mindful of my surroundings. Mindfulness is now widely regarded as an effective treatment for anxiety and depression.
We need to transition from mindlessly scrolling to mindfully being, and spending time alone in nature is the easiest way to achieve this.
2. It doesn’t take much to make others happy
It was when I reached the half-way point of my hike that I met a man in a bothy. I jokingly said I should have brought some wine to celebrate reaching this milestone.
The following day as I was having breakfast, the man told me to wait there and look out the window. He scurried outside, crouched down by the window and then got up and ran away.
Sparks began to fly in the air, and I realised he had lit a firework.
He came back inside and said ‘’There’s your celebration.’’
The small act meant to much to me- and all it took was a few minutes of his time.
He then said something that has stuck in my mind since: ‘’It doesn’t take much to make someone happy.’’
For the entire day I was in an amazing mood due to this small act of kindness, and I felt like I’d learned one of life’s most important lessons.
It takes next to no energy to give someone a genuine compliment.
Sometimes it can cost a couple of pounds, but most often making someone smile costs nothing.
Realising we have the ability to spread happiness so freely is a superpower we can tap into anytime.
3. Your authentic voice is one of your most powerful weapons
During my hike something interesting happened to my internal dialogue.
I found that when I started walking, my head was filled with doubts. If I bumped into someone and I was make-up-free and covered in sweat, I immediately became self-conscious.
Some days negative thoughts would overpower me to the point I was in tears, and then occasionally I would hear a soft, reassuring voice in my head that whispered you’ve got this, you’ll be fine.
The further I walked the stronger that reassuring voice grew, and the negative voice almost became mute.
I realised the overpowering, negative voice was my ego, and the soft, reassuring voice was my authentic self [also referred to as your intuition].
I had a very close call when I was in the middle of the highlands when I was a three-day hike from human contact. I had to navigate around the side of a 370-foot waterfall, which was very dangerous in wet conditions. Unfortunately, a storm had passed through the area a few days before, so I couldn’t afford to make a mistake. If I were to slip or misjudge a footstep, I could fall down the cliff face and seriously injure myself- and there would be no one to rescue me.
As I navigated the tricky path, my authentic voice took control. It assured me that I would get through this alive- I just had to trust myself. It was a magical experience experiencing this.
In the film, The Shift, Dr Wayne Dyer talks about the three things the ego wants us to believe:
1] Who you are is what you HAVE. For example, how much money is in our bank account and the possessions we own. We believe the more we HAVE, the more valuable we are as a person. And the more you have, the more aware you are of people who will try and take these things from you. The issue is, if you lose all your possessions, you lose a part of your identity too if you rely on objects to determine your value.
2] Who you are is what you DO. The ego teaches us that our self-worth is based on our achievements, for example our job title and how often we get promoted. It encourages us to compete with others who want the same things as us. The ego wants us to be stronger, better, smarter than everyone else. Often when we reach this position or achieve something we’ve set out to do, we’re not satisfied, because nothing is ever good enough for the ego.
3] Who you are is what others THINK of you. The ego wants us to believe we are our reputation. If we don’t fit in then there is something ”wrong” with who we are. As a result we have multiple identities around different people, which can lead to identity crisis and pleasing others at the expense of our energy and happiness.
One way to quiet the ego and tap into our authentic voice is by spending time in nature alone. The ego has no place in nature. In nature, our only competition is ourselves. Nature doesn’t care about clothing labels or job promotions, nor does it have an opinion.
Being alone in nature forces the ego to quieten, and it is here your authentic voice begins to flourish. You’ll never completely silence the ego, but being alone in nature will help you need to recognise the difference between the ego and your authentic self.
4. Self-development is a lifelong commitment
You’d think going on a solo 7 week hike would solve all my problems, but it didn’t.
What it did do however, was give me valuable tools so that whenever things don’t go according to plan, I can handle it with grace. I now view obstacles as opportunities to learn and expand.
I understand I will always make mistakes. Learning is eternal. We will never reach a point where we have acquired all knowledge.
This is why it’s important to view learning as a lifelong commitment.
The more you learn, the more you grow, and the more you grow, the easier happiness is to maintain.
Whether this be taking 10 minutes to meditate every day or enrolling in an online course to add something to your skillset, education shouldn’t end when we finish high school or graduate from university; we should continue on this path right up until our time is up.
Make it your goal to learn something new every day. Investing in yourself is the best investment you’ll ever make.