I’m at 36,000 feet over Idaho on the way to Portland as I write this.  As is often the case, a conversation with a good friend yesterday yielded a meaningful reminder of an audiobook that I had yet to read.  Eckart Tolle – Stillness Speaks.

Somewhere during the first hour of the flight, I realized I had it with me and immediately started to listen.

I drifted in and out of a light sleep as I listened to the calming voice of the author, whose work I greatly admire.  As a side note, if you haven’t had a chance to read any of Tolle’s work, I highly recommend it. The Power of Now is one of the most insightful books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. 

As Stillness Speaks progressed, a chapter on Nature began to play.  I smiled immediately when it started, as I had wanted to share about my recent experience this past weekend in the Cohutta Wilderness here on my blog. At the closing of the chapter, I paused the book and pulled out my faithful MacBook Pro to write.

Cohutta Wilderness - Jacks RiverNature has always been a big part of my enjoyment and feeling connected spriitually.  Last year, I had some of the biggest ground-breaking experiences of my life while experiencing nature in its purest form.  I wrote about them here, here, here, and here. I long for this connection with nature as I go about the days living in the city.

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to go backpacking with 2 friends up in the Cohutta Wilderness, which is a place I visited once many years ago.  I had strong memories of beautiful, thick forest canopies, and abundant rushing clear waters, and happily, it was even more beautiful than what I remembered from my first visit.

Getting to the trailhead of Jack’s River Falls was itself an adventure.  We drove for about an hour and a half through winding dirt and gravel roads through this protected forest in North Georgia.  There are few places like it that I’ve seen in the region, where aside from the road itself and a few sparse signs for trails, there is essentially no evidence of humans.  This is truly nature to me, and I felt like I was coming home the entire drive up.

Hiking on the trail toward the falls is a treat that I hope to reward myself with more often in the future. The beautiful hemlocks and ample rhododendrons provides a visually rewarding backdrop and shield from sunlight above, while the rushing waters of the Jacks River give a sense of aliveness and pure beauty that is hard to describe.

The trail crosses the river over 40 times on the hike, and each crossing has its own unique features and challenges. Wading across the river becomes a ritual that is repeated over and over again until it almost becomes routine.  However, ironically here is where the stillness comes into play.

Brandon Sutton Cohutta WildernessI found myself pausing at different points in the hike to take it all in.  Often, it would be as I was standing in the middle of the river and admiring the wondrous beauty of the scene I had the privilege of being in.  These still moments are why I go to the woods.  It’s not for the hiking or for the swimming in pure mountain streams, although those are definitely favorite activities of mine.

Instead, I go for the moments in between activities where I can be still and appreciate the moment and the incredible beauty all around.

There is definitely a tendency in hiking, as in the rest of life to keep moving forward in pursuit of a goal.  To arrive.  But arriving is not what provides happiness.  The journey of life is where true happiness is found.  Being still in any situation can bring about a calming feeling amongst stressful conditions.

I found myself not being still quite enough on this trip.  Perhaps because we were only there for an overnight.  Or maybe it was because I was interacting with other people more than normal (I usually go on these walkabouts by myself). Either way, I caught myself not truly acknowledging the specialness of the time out there, and I immediately changed my perspective.

On the hike out, I noticed some of the most vibrant colors I’ve ever seen in my life.  Bright green moss laying peacefully on fallen logs, and sunlight beaming down as a spotlight on plants at the water’s edge seemed to be there on display for us to experience.  It was as if nature itself was giving us a guided tour of its amazing beauty.

Each time I felt this connection, I paused and experienced the moment.  I found myself standing in the river more than walking across with intense focus on the rocks and the cascading rapids I had to traverse.  Instead, I looked beyond the crossing, up and down the river, noticing the bends the river took on its way through the mountains .  The idyllic scenes all around me were a part of my awareness, and not just something to walk through on the way to something else.

I think life, and even business is like this as well.  Nature can teach us all so much about our own journey.  As I wrote about recently, nature doesn’t try, or do – it just is.  The trees and the rivers are not doing so much as they are being.  When we get still and experience life around us, incredible insights have an opening to come in.  In business, this can play out by putting an emphasis on listening and processing what is being said before pivoting to a sales pitch.  Stillness can open the door to big shifts, if the organization is ready to pay attention to what is being said.

I go to the woods to learn these lessons. I go to be reminded of what is really important in life.

As we descend into Portland, I’m excited about the experiences that are ahead of me. The chance to face fear head on and jump out of an airplane again tomorrow, and then bookend the trip with a hiking experience in the mountains outside of Portland with a small group is incredible.  Each of these experiences provides a chance to learn and to grow and I go into this with eagerness and eyes wide open. These are the moments that I live for, and this is the reason I do what I do. I hope that in some way this inspires others to also take chances in their own lives or experiences the peace and connectedness that stillness provides.

What about you?  How do you find your own inner stillness? Have you had any major ‘a-ha’ moments as a result?