Walking Alone in Nature – Essentialism Prevails

By Molly Clarke on Thursday July 9th, 2020

What I Gained from Having Less

Earlier this year, before global lockdown, I walked New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail. My life had become very safe, comfortable, and consequently quite sleepy. I needed to remind myself that I had the strength and resilience to walk into the unknown again and again and carry myself through whatever showed up. 

I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. – Henry David Thoreau

There’s an assumption that women hiking alone is always unsafe. I had to grapple and overcome many fears and negative beliefs around this. I needed a balance of due diligence and trust. Heading alone into the wilderness is at times intimidating. There are many unknowns to be faced, one of them being whether you will make it to the safety and comfort of the next hut or the next town. If you get lost or injured you have only yourself to turn to and help could be hours or days away. And this, while being the edge that must be faced each day, is also the allure of undertaking such a mission. Such a mission of saying YES to aliveness and what makes my soul sing.

And having done this, having had this direct experience, the truth is, I never feel safer than when I’m walking alone in the wilderness. It takes strength and courage to keep going each day, granted. But the rewards are bountiful. Teasing myself out of sleepy to wide awake is always worth it — always! 

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being. – Hafiz

For ten weeks I carried everything I needed to survive on my back: a tent, sleep mat and sleeping bag, a first aid kit, a torch, a change of clothes, a phone & power bank, food and water and a stove to cook, and for me, most importantly, to make cups of tea. 

Alt text hereFor ten weeks I carried everything I needed on my back. Image: Holly Mandarich

On very long trails, those taking a few days, if you are carrying more than you actually need your body struggles with the weight that’s bearing down on it. A spontaneous mental cull-list rapidly takes shape. In my case this happened on Day One! The tussle of what to discard and what to keep got easier with each and every step forward.

Pack weight is a pretty common topic of conversation amongst hikers, along with footwear, blisters and river crossings. So, it’s not long before pack contents are being discussed and examined. Regardless of how dedicated a person is to reducing their pack weight (and believe me, everyone is motivated to carry less), a simple truth prevails: almost every hiker packs more weight than is needed. And in some cases, it is hilarious what people believe they need – every personality is revealed here. It’s a lot like having only ten things to take on a desert island – what would they be?

What’s Essential, and What’s Not?

A general rule of thumb is that everything in my pack should only be there if it’s important (read necessary), and what’s more, every piece of gear should ideally serve at least two purposes. As the road winds ahead and the mind-chatter slows down and I leave my old life behind I find there is naturally space for contemplation. Time to think about the simple stuff and the important stuff. There’s space for making connections and asking bigger questions; a personal culling inventory also naturally takes shape. There’s a feeling of being able to re-fashion my life in a more authentic way, a real chance to re-choose a better way forward with my reinvigorated and refreshed values … It’s like polishing my compass to re-define my true north.   

I like this idea of what is essential to my existence. Not just for hiking, but for my entire life. It contains very simple wisdom.

A Goldilocks Type of Wisdom

* I can buy something purely because it’s there and I have the means to buy it.  

* I can choose not to buy something because I’m living under the principle of having the bare minimum of anything.

* I can assess the item, determine if I actually need it, identify at least a second (valid) purpose for it, and, if I can find one, then consider buying it.  

Alt text hereEssentialism helps me to live more consciously. Image: Clem Onojeghuo

This brings more consciousness to the way I purchase. It also brings more consciousness and awareness to the way I live my life. Taking time to consider the things I add to my life helps me to identify what’s essential, what I love, what’s important to me. Then I can choose to spend my time, energy, and money in ways that relate to my core principles and values; satisfying my essential needs and not betraying the planet’s resources, capacities and needs. Not too hot, not too cold … Just right! 

I’m not a fan of minimalism. The word conjures up images of the modern-day stark aesthetic that seems to have gripped western architecture and design and extols the virtues of sterile clean lines. It’s an aesthetic that, quite literally, leaves me cold. Clean lines do not really exist in nature. The cleanest line in nature I can think of is the horizon, and even that’s blurry.

Essentialism however – Now that’s a philosophy and perspective I can truly warm to. 

“Minimalism: deliberate lack of decoration or adornment” – Lexicon Dictionary

“Essentialism: systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not” – Greg McKeown

I’ve always understood minimalism to be the phenomenon of having very little stuff for the sake of having very little stuff; and essentialism as having precisely what you need, and nothing more. The difference can almost seem semantic but in my mind, it’s quite significant. More and more environmentalists are getting clearer on how simple acts of essentialism are making a substantial difference to the health of the planet and that is reflected in our own wellbeing – especially mental health. 

Making Space for What’s Truly Important

Focusing on what’s essential in this way brings me into the Now. And usually, what I need in the moment is actually quite modest: food, safe shelter, the ability to stop, relax and sleep comfortably, connection, and a sense of belonging. Once I had a safe place to lay my head each night all of those needs were met, even the sense of connection and belonging. There was an instant camaraderie with other hikers. Being filthy and smelly and sore and hungry together is a great leveler. We were all in the same boat, and being in the same boat fosters connection and belonging every time! It invites us into the humility of our shared humanity. Into the essential and effortless breath of life.

I find the ability to be in touch with the essential is that bit easier when I am steeped in nature. Nothing is ever wasted. Everything has a purpose. Every leaf that falls breaks down and, if left undisturbed, turns to compost, and nourishes the soil and the seeds of new life. Nature is the ultimate teacher in essentialism.  And as I breathe in and out that teaching, that nourishing and regenerative philosophy, I find myself both renewed and ancient. I find myself individually striding into the whole. I feel the beauty around me and just feeling that beauty for me is a great gateway into gratitude. And gratitude keeps my heart, mind and being alive in the mystery of this journey and the next.

Alt text hereNothing is wasted in nature. Image: Guillaume de Germain

Life After Death by Laura Gilpin

The things I know:

        how the living go on living

        and how the dead go on living with them


So that in a forest

        even a dead tree casts a shadow

        and the leaves fall one by one

        and the branches break in the wind

        and the bark peels off slowly

        and the trunk cracks

        and the rain seeps in through the cracks

        and the trunk falls to the ground

        and the moss covers it


        and in the spring the rabbits find it

        and build their nest inside

        and have their young

        and their young will live safely

        inside the dead tree

So that nothing is wasted in nature

        or in love.


Let us know your insights and meandering contemplations as you steep in nature. What are your thoughts on making a difference through small acts of essentialism? What could you do without? And what do you value most?

We love walking with you.


How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Words By Molly Clarke




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19 Responses to Walking Alone in Nature – Essentialism Prevails

  1. I’ve traveled and lived all over the world and my greatest freedom has been to not be lonely anymore.

    • That’s really beautiful Shelley. It truly is a precious thing to be comfortable and feel whole with our own company. Thank you for reading and sharing 🙂

      Team UPLIFT

  2. I loved this article. I have always understood how the Druids could worship trees and how John Muir found his cathedral in the redwoods of Yosemite. I love nature more than I can express. In 2005 I survived surgery and treatment for an advanced brain tumor. It was in my right frontal lobe. it’s removal, radiation and chemotherapy profoundly affected my ability to do my job well again. So they sent me homeright months after I returned. . Awful! I’m driven by connection, smart and funny people and challenging problems to solve. Once pitched out into the universe, unmoored and without schedule I strongly cleaved yo nature. Just about every day toward sunset I’d walk to be out with God. If I had a pressing issue I’d talk and thrash about and then listen. But mostly I just observed and thanked God for about everything I saw — a hawk perched atop the spire of a church, mockingbirds, household pets, children playing and laughing, flowers of every kind,and “Morman Tabernacle”- like birdsong all around me. I consider God’s smiles.simply put, I consider nature the embodiment of God’s loving spirit, and a precious gift to us to enjoy. I’d return homesubmerging myself in it daily soothed my soul tremendously. I’d come home utterly bathed in the spirit and gratitude and love for creation. These walks became an important part of my spiritual practice. But in late 2015 I had a major stroke caused by side effects of brain radiation. [ it evidently causes vascular scarring that acts just like plaque. I threw a clot from my left leg and it got stuck on the right side of my brain. . 🤬.No one told methay was a risk! My mother clits I would have insisted on blood thinners or aspirin daily to prevent such a horrible, like-shrinking event. I’m now paralyzed on my entire left side, bound to a wheel chair and no longer able to take my soul-critical walks. I miss them intensely. I miss everything intensely, candidly. It’s never occurred to me to embark on a true journey alone ,as our author did. I would be too frightened, in fact. Eight or so I years ago an experienced hiker with self-defense training was killed iin our nearby Appalachian mountains.(I’m in Atlanta, the Piedmont of the Smokies. She even had her dog with her and this guy spotted her and played out his plan to kill her and dump her body, not far off the trail. It was the dog making its way back to a store in town sans person that alerted people to trouble. . . … AWFUL! I’m ashamed to say I’d want a man with me. Or three or so other women – but I don’t like any three that much to immerse myself in the woods with them day over day. Like Thoreau , I’m often quite happy alone … Well it’s not really an option anymore for me anyway so that’s that 😰. For 8-10 years I traveled to a ranch in Montana every Labor Day week. My gawd I loved it! Invariably during the week I’d take a nature walk along Big Creek Trail. I never feared people out there, but bears were a legit concern. So I carried bear spray with me and felt free as a bird,, or as any of the moose out there poking around. My Lord it was pure heaven!On horseback that trail was mind-blowing. The first time we oped up that trail, rising higher and higher above the creek. I literally thought, “ “Ok. I can die now bc this is the pinnacle experience of my life…. I’ve done it now and I’m ok if I have to clear out.” Thankfully I haven’t. I’ve even survived another cancer since the stroke. I feel quite blessed to be here. Truly do believe God’s kept me on purpose. And I submit he’s made and kept everybody on purpose! If you’re like me you might shake your head at earlier memories and wonder how in the world you weren’t killed. C and just marvel at the luck you had to stick to escape safely. Those are the times I know we’ve all been protected and kept around on purpose. Now I just need to find mine! ! 🥴🙄

    • Hi Jenny,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear about your health difficulties, that sounds really challenging. I’m inspired by your diligence in carrying on and your faith in your purpose. I’m really sorry that you aren’t able to enjoy your nature visits anymore…that must be heartbreaking. I hope that someday, somehow, you are able to experience them again. In the meantime, I really enjoyed feeling your love, gratitude and reverence for this beautiful Earth. Perhaps you could write about these experiences more, so you can feel a little more connected to nature and also keep inspiring others to get outdoors too?

      Much love to you on your journey Jenny.
      Team UPLIFT

  3. Love your concept of essentialism. I really do believe this is the root of happiness and peace in this world. It is so difficult in our culture to understand this, but I do believe that more people are understanding this. Especially the younger people. Your article was well written, sensitive, and very insightful. Thank you.

  4. What a great post! When I saw the top picture I thought oh! that’s Roys Peak! Am I right? – I live in Queenstown 🙂
    Well, I’m a minimalist, but my approach to it is not about decoration, but the way this concept shaped my mind towards acquiring things. It set my mind to focus on what really matters to me, instead of trying to fill gaps with objects.

    • That’s a great thing to focus on Luz, thank you for sharing! And I’m not sure if this is Roy’s Peak but it is definitely somewhere in New Zealand 🙂

      Much love to you.
      Team UPLIFT

  5. I just experienced an hour of essentialism when I did my evening walk in the woods, all by myself, alone. I call it essentialism because there was nobody else to talk to, which prompted me to fully immerse in the natural surroundings. What happens if you walk with 10 people? They talk and talk and talk, hardly experiencing the unique setting of nature and the sacred silence that goes with it. I love these moments.

    • How precious Romain, thank you so much for sharing. Yes – nature, silence, stillness… the essentials really do nourish us!

      Blessings to you on your journeys with essentialism 🙂
      Team UPLIFT

  6. In my younger days I was truly inspired by the image of a sunflower, fast forward into adulthood I still have these experiences and they are truly meditative and inspiring for me. My heartfelt gratitude to the UPLIFT team for posting this wonderful content. Namaste

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Lorraine, your gratitude is felt 🙂 That’s really beautiful too, that you still have this deep and moving connection with sunflowers. Nature is so awe-inspiring when we take the time to appreciate it.

      Much love and thank you for reading.
      Team UPLIFT

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