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500 Miles

500 miles.

It’s not an insignificant distance, especially when you consider how long it might take to walk it. Let’s disregard the fact that my wife and then fourteen-year-old son hiked almost 2200 miles to complete the Appalachian Trail a few years ago. That was a Herculean accomplishment that makes my 500-mile endeavor feel somewhat insignificant. But as I have alluded to in other parts of our recent conversation, no decision—however inconsequential it might seem—is insignificant.

Our company has initiated its annual challenge to each employee. Walk 1,000,000 steps in 100 days. That’s an average of 10,000 step per day, which when added together over the course of the challenge, equates to—yes, you guessed it—approximately 500 miles.

I woke up on the first morning of the challenge, eager to embark upon this adventure. As the days progressed, however, the adrenaline rush and novelty of the experience began to wear off. But something else also happened. I began to form a habit. There have been several mornings that I’ve woken up feeling less than inclined to begin the day with a 3-mile walk. Something about a commitment to myself, though, and an innate sense of personal integrity, kept me lacing my shoes, slipping my earbuds in, and setting forth on the same predictable route.

In hindsight, it’s ironic that I walk along the same path and in the same direction every morning. The repeatability of the routine should make it monotonous after so many occurrences. Alas, it has been the furthest thing from repetitive or boring.

I began by listening to music, matching my gait to the rhythm of whatever song was playing. It reminded me how what surrounds us, whether it’s people, music, or other experiences, influences our daily choices. I noticed more things along these walks. I counted bunnies (six is the record so far) and saw an assortment of wildlife including armadillos, turtles, sandhill cranes, and ducks. I have experienced a variety of climatic conditions, from hot and humid to cool and refreshing, even completing most of one day’s walk in the rain. As cold and drenched as I felt while doing so, the conscious choice to embrace the reality of the moment made what might have been a negative experience into a positive one.

On one morning, and through a serendipitous discovery, I switched what streamed through my earbuds, listening to a podcast which has become an integral part of my morning ritual. As I consume more of these audio episodes, I have come to appreciate and embrace the philosophy associated with Buddhism. In a unique way, Buddhist philosophy does not require nor does it expect one to embrace it as a religion. The teachings are intended only to help better understand the self and how we are both impermanent and interdependent beings.

One of the overarching and applicable thoughts shared thus far in my philosophical journey has been a simple yet profound one: there is no past or future, only the present. We’ve heard it many times before, but as is often the case, when we hear the underlying message presented in a unique way, it hits home in a supremely influential way.

The past has already occurred, therefore it only exists as a memory. It is not real. We were a different person now than we were in the past, even if that past was only ten seconds ago. Every experiential moment of our life transforms us into something new.

The future has not yet occurred, therefore it only exists as a possibility, and an uncertain one at that. It is not real either. Some versions of our perceived future are predicated on conditions and events that we may or may not have any control over.

But the present is here and now. It’s this very moment while you’re reading this. It’s an opportunity to recognize the beauty of this point in time, whether perceived as good, bad, or otherwise. We can choose to embrace the world as it is, not how we wish it to be. When we let go of expectations and allow ourselves to just be, there is a peculiar magic that occurs before our eyes. It’s not always easy, and it may only be fleeting. But when we encounter a moment when we’re content for no good reason—just because—perhaps those are the times when we glimpse that elusive art of simply being.

I cross paths with many people each morning. Some I’ve never seen before and several I see every day. On one morning not that long ago, I heard a voice from behind me: “Passing on the left.” A man on a hoverboard passed by me on the wide sidewalk. Coming at me from the other direction was a man on rollerblades, wheeling his daughter in a tricycle-style stroller.

I glance at the man and his daughter to wave hello as the hoverboard rider moves an appreciable distance in front of me. When I look back up, literally in the blink of an eye, a man is laying on the sidewalk with his hoverboard several feet from him, his sunglasses tossed into the grass in the other direction. Picking up my pace, I arrive at the man who has crashed and ask if he’s okay.

His legs and arms are badly bruised and the scuff marks on his helmet prove the importance of headgear. He’s shaken up and rightfully so. This has never happened to him before in five years of hoverboarding. He usually partakes in this activity on the beach but wanted to try something different. After several moments spent with him to ensure he was okay, he thanked me for stopping and was on his way.

This experience reminded me about the importance of the past, the present, and the future. Both that man and myself—in that moment—were different people than we were before the incident. Neither one of us could have predicted, nor did we expect, that something like this would occur as part of our future. It is only the present and how we interact with it that creates our interpretation of life.

At the time of writing this, I have logged a total of 384,092 steps during our company’s annual challenge. That equates to approximately 175 miles walked. And while the physical health benefits I’ve gained thus far are undeniable, it’s the mental and emotional ones that have me most excited about waking up tomorrow morning and doing the same thing over and over again, because I know something about my next walk will be uniquely beautiful.

It’s not the next step we take but rather the one we’re currently in the middle of that holds infinite potential.


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