Listening to Your Body (While It's Being Eaten By Misquitoes)

by Ashley Solomon

First, some exciting news that I am being featured today as a guest blogger on Honoring Health, one of my absolute favorite blogs! Check it out here.

Okay, so it’s going to be a long one… be prepared! (Don’t worry – there are pictures to get you through…)

Before getting into the heart of this post, I feel that it is important to provide you with some background information so that you might avoid immediately thinking to yourself, “This chick is a total obsessive wimp!” and closing your browser. (Not that you won’t continue to believe that I am a major wimp – and obsessive – but please withhold judgment for the 4.5 more minutes it will take you to read this). The important information is this: I did not grow up in a “camping family” This means that the closest my family ever came to camping was staying in a motel that had a door leading directly to the outside. My mom’s rule was that we could not vacation anywhere that she would be prevented from blow-drying her hair. You get the idea.

Now having been married to Justin for a while now (“a while” is relative, I realize), I’ve learned that, perhaps, I’ve been missing out on something. So I, in my typical adventurous fashion (ahem…) have agreed to give camping a shot. We actually registered for camping equipment for our wedding, which may have been a bit premature at the time. However, last year around this time I agreed to try camping for the first time (I’m not counting Girl Scout camping, by the way, despite the very real poison ivy I got on EVERY SINGLE trip) and we took a trip up to Acadia National Park in Maine, where a fluke hurricane decided to hit. Oh, I’m serious. This was just as we were settling into what I had been tricked into believing would be a relaxing trip. Well, I suppose it was relaxing if you consider sleeping while being pounded by rain in the middle of the night peaceful.

Here are some photos of the trip, pre-hurricane:

Okay, so my lack of experience and my traumatic first time camping are not really the points of this post. The point, which I promise we’ll get to, has to do with our most recent camping trip, which officially puts my count at… 2. I decided to take a different approach to this particular trip to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland and to try an experiment that I want to share with all of you…

And this, finally, is the point of this post.

The experiment was this, stated as an intention: I will listen to my body and to nature for 100% of my cues. I will not use my cell phone, look at a clock, or ask others for assistance in determining the needs of my body. I will not plan. I will just “be.”

If you’re confused, I’ll try to explain a little better. First, you have to understand that it is incredibly (and this is an understatement) difficult for me to be “unplanned.” I feel comforted and secure only when I have planned – and thus am in control of – every detail of a situation. I need (well, I seem to think I need) to consistently know what time it is in order to determine the appropriate behavior (Oh, it’s 12:30 – I should eat lunch.) While I know well on a cognitive level how futile, and ultimately damaging and unhealthy, this quest for control is, it is part of me that I have to continue to battle on a daily basis. And thus I thought that camping in the middle of the woods would be a perfect time to challenge myself. I would listen to my body’s cues for hunger and level of energy. I would consider only my desires for what I chose to do, rather than taking into consideration what I should be doing. I would not let my mental “chatter” or outside influences direct me.

I have to tell you that when I told my husband about this plan, giddy to have thought of such an awesome way to push my own boundaries, he laughed. When I asked him why he was laughing at my beautifully constructed experiment, he replied, “Um, because that’s what I always do. I never pay attention to the time or worry about what I should be doing.” I had just one word: Jerk.

So, here’s how it went:

Morning(ish):

After an extremely uncomfortable night due to a popped air mattress and a ridiculous plastic pillow, we woke up around… oh wait, I have no idea! My immediate instinct as my eyes painfully opened was to grab for my cell phone to check the time. I remembered then that I had locked my cell phone in my car in order to prevent my instincts from taking over (and here is where you begin to make the connection between my obsessiveness and alcoholism…). It’s okay, I thought, my experiment is starting! Yay! Justin and I then got up and made a delicious breakfast of apple sausage, eggs, blueberries, and whole wheat toast.

We then decided to go for a run, as the weather was beautiful and it’s nice to run in new places. We got out the trail map that the campground had given us and then started debating between two different options. After several (okay, more than several) minutes, I decided that we should simply choose one of the options and stop comparing pros and cons of each. It was just a run after all. And this extreme analysis was not in line with my experiment. So off on our run we went. What we encountered were lots and lots of hills, something that I would have avoided like the plague had I known about them ahead of time. But this was part of my day of adventure. I hadn’t been able to plan, so I ended up on very steep hills… And when I was able to (very slowly) make it up these hills running, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. One I would never have felt had a mapped out a “perfect” flat course. Though we got a little sweaty…

Afternoon(ish):

After getting back from running, my desire to know the time really set in. Was it near lunch time? Should I be hungry? I didn’t feel hungry. Okay, we’ll say no then, it’s not time for lunch. Justin and I decided to play cards. I won’t even get into our issue over Rummy 500 right now, but suffice it to say that we get pretty competitive.

We then finally took showers and by then I was ravenous. Okay, so this is hunger! We decided to head into the little nearby town to try crab cakes at a restaurant that Justin happened to have been to years earlier and had been literally talking about for years (This was not planned! Total coincidence that we stumbled upon the exact same place!) We ate some delicious Maryland crab (very excited to be moving here in a month!) and then walked around the town. Meanwhile, I was REALLY struggling without my cell phone. I wondered if anyone had tried to reach me, what was going on in the world, what the weather in Hong Kong was… It was painful. But I kept myself distracted.

Evening(ish):

When we returned from town we decided to take a nap. If you know me, this is, in and of itself, a MAJOR accomplishment. I do not nap. I realized on this trip that part of why I never am able to nap is that my mind is always wrapped up in what I should be doing, and thus napping feels so… unproductive. When I eliminated the “shoulds” and listened to my body calling for rest, I was able to fall into a blissful sleep… well, blissful minus the mosquitoes. After we got up from our nap we read for a while and then decided to start making dinner over the fire, which, mind you, was a two and a half hour process. Not that I know this exactly, but I decided paying attention to the position of the sun was not cheating and I estimated this long.

Like this turtle we saw, I was trying to sloooowwww down!

Again, I was hungry by the time dinner was finally completed and it felt good to eat completely based on hunger (not because it was “dinner time”). I will admit, though, that as dinner was cooking and my hunger was growing, I started “craving” the connection of my cell even more. Hunger can make me uncomfortable, and just as stress triggers me to want to eat, wanting to eat triggers stress and a greater desire for control. After dinner, Justin and I read some more (seriously, I did a lot of reading of a book that I’ll tell you about soon!), roasted marshmallows, and retired to our palace (a.k.a. tent)… Doesn’t Justin look creepy in the light of the fire?

So that’s my day in a nutshell. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it was amazing and relaxing and freeing to be rid of the context of time and culture and be listening to myself.  It kind of sucked at times. But I think that trying new things and breaking out of our comfort zones is supposed to suck, at least a little. If it’s not uncomfortable, you’re not growing.

Despite the difficulty, I learned a tremendous amount about myself through this experiment, not the least of which is that I (shockingly!) enjoy napping. I also learned that the world continues to spin on whether I have internet access or not and that my body really will tell me when it’s hungry.

And since it’s telling me that again about now, I’ll leave you with these questions…

In what ways have you challenged yourself and/or grown recently? How skilled are you at tuning out the rest of the world and listening to your body’s needs and desires?

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14 Comments to “Listening to Your Body (While It's Being Eaten By Misquitoes)”

  1. Just to clarify, I don’t ALWAYS do what I feel… just when I’m camping. On a day-to-day basis I’m just as time dependent as Ashley. However, when I’m camping, it’s an incredibly freeing feeling to not worry about the time and what you should be doing, I think that’s the main reason I love camping. Although, which Ashley barely mentioned amazingly, the bugs were a little out of control this time.

    I feel there is something all of us can learn from turning off the cell phone, leaving the watch at home, and simply being… it’s true the world doesn’t explode if you can’t read your Facebook updates every five minutes. This is a great experiment, and one I think we can all learn a lot about ourselves from, I know I did.

  2. 1) I LOVE napping!
    2) I HATE mosquitoes! Got like 7 bites on Monday night, and I’m dying here.
    3) I always feel so refreshed after I disconnect for a while. Sounds like a great experiment, even if you aren’t going to go all Walden and move out to a cabin in the woods.
    4) I was really good about listening to my body’s hunger and exhaustion cues in college, because I was so free to design my own schedule around my classes. Now that I have a 9-to-5, and I share my life/home with another person (and a dog), my schedule, and even my food, really isn’t JUST mine. So I definitely find it harder to listen to my body. But I’m trying!

    • 2.) I am somehow misquitoes favorite prey! I applied the strongest buh spray on the market and still am misrable from all the bites covering my body.

      4.) I totally agree that it’s really difficult to listen to your body’s cues to determine behavior when you’re forced into a schedule in some way. I have no real flexibility in when I eat lunch for example, as I know many people don’t. And when you’re considering the needs of another person… yeah, it becomes much tougher!

  3. I love that you did this experiment! I’ve never been camping (it’s not my mom’s idea of a fun vacation either!) but my husband Dave grew up camping and has been begging me to go. Maybe I will follow in your footsteps! It really is the perfect opportunity to let go of all external cues – hunger and otherwise – and really tune in to your body.

  4. Love how you took your time in nature to get more in tune with your body. There are so many things we use in everyday life to gauge our body’s needs instead of just listening. I bet that felt so great to be able to do, even if it was hard to get used to. And that picture of you by the tent in the blue shirt is beautiful.

  5. Great experiment, even if you don’t practice it all the time!

  6. First time reading and I absolutely adore it. My husband is the outdoorsy type and me. . . well, not so much (roughing it is not having AC or a dishwasher at my family’s vacation home- FORGET sleeping in a tent with no electricity). This summer my son has gone camping for the first time, and he had so much fun with his father and pappy it has made me consider (privately) that maybe I could give it a try too. I love the idea of using it as a great time to try really listening to hunger cues. Who knows, maybe for our anniversary in October the husband and I will borrow my dad’s tent and take off for a weekend. . .

    • Thanks for checking out NTS! I am totally on the same page with not being outdoorsy (as you probably gathered), but I’m finally starting to appreciate just how wonderful being out in the beauty and stillness of nature can be,. And it’s a perfect “anniversary” trip – no distractions!

  7. That whole post, minus mosquitoes made me miss camping so much! We haven’t been in 6 years or so. Some overnighters in a friends backyard but that’s it. I think our daughter would love the adventure as well.

    I think I might try the hunger experiment. That’s definitely something I can use practice with.

  8. This is my favorite post I’ve read on a blog in a long time! I so admire your experiment, your honesty & your openness to a challenge. “Ridiculous plastc pillow” made me laugh. I am very much like you in my need to constantly be connected – checking my iPhone obsessively. Billy (fiance) will ask me, “what do you keep checking?!” It’s definitely about control for me as well. When we were in Tahoe a couple of weeks ago, I blogged in the morning from my laptop and left my iPhone at the house all day when we were out boating, hiking, etc. It was a great feeling to really be in the moment. I had my camera to take photos and that was all the technology I needed. I really love that you got to pay attention to your hunger cues – something most of us don’t do everyday with work schedules and influence of people around us. Billy will tell me he’s going to eat lunch and I feel like I should eat lunch, too – I’m actually getting a lot better at that…but it’s still a challenge! Thanks for this great post. I hope we can meet sometime! 🙂

    • Wow, Dorry, Thank YOU!!! That’s really sweet. That’s awesome that you were able to leave the iPhone behind while in Tahoe… I think it’s all about still feeling connected, just in a different way. And I hope we can meet sometime too!!!

  9. Loved this blog Ashley, My, My, I’m so proud of you to step out of the comfort zone and do something so adventurous. You are my hero.

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