When I first began hiking the trails of the Four Beasts, I generally wore my trusty AirPods to listen to podcasts and audio books. Nowadays, I don’t even bother to bring them with me because I have come to prefer taking in the sounds of the birds and animals in the surrounding bushes and trees. What a difference a year makes!
Looking back, I suspect that one of the reasons I kept my AirPods on was to shield myself from the unfamiliar physical grind of slogging up step after concrete step. I also view it as a sign that I was not quite mentally ready to embrace the challenge. It was only as I became more confident in my fitness and strength that I was able to throw off my AirPod shackles so to speak and open myself up to the full experience of simply being on the mountainside.
While it is relatively easy to measure the physical benefits of hiking, it is a lot more difficult to capture and categorize the mental and psychological ones. From my perspective, at least, they are even more important. Taking in a deep breath of fresh mountain air can relieve all the stress that has accumulated inside you in an instant. Letting your mind roam free amid the forest and clouds can clean out all the gunk that is clogging up all its neural pathways. And feeling the touch of the sun, wind, and rain against your cheeks can make you feel far more alive than you ever imagined possible.
Perhaps it is the Daoist inside me, but I now view throwing off my AirPod shackles as a significant, but still very preliminary, step along the path towards achieving a state of wuwei (effortless action (無為/wúwéi). Or perhaps it is the Ru (儒) inside me, and I view it as a significant, but still very preliminary, step towards in immersing myself completely in the moment through ritual (禮/lǐ).
Whatever it is, I am eager to experience more of it.