Lessons from the Backcountry (Body, Mind, and Soul)

Hey #ACPNotCancelled,

I write to you today from my apartment at 65 Quai d’Orsay where I have spent 90% of my time for the last 10 days, and, honestly, it’s kind of weird. I have spent large swaths of time in relative isolation in the past on outdoors trips and they have been some of the most restorative experiences for me, but the nature of this isolation has been a little different. The most obvious thing is that my isolation at 65 Quai d’Orsay is indoors and still connected to the internet and the broader world, where my isolation in places like Yellowstone are disconnected from technology and more easily inspire a sense of wonder. I could go on and on about the differences between Yellowstone trips and Parisian confinement, but I have been attempting to see how I can apply the lessons I learned in the backcountry to these unique and challenging times in Paris.

One point of similarity present both in the backcountry and here in Paris is the invitation to slow down and be present. Even in the grandeur of the outdoors it takes work to be present. In fact, there have been whole trips where I never really slowed down but allowed the busyness of my mind and mileage goals to become my focus. However, when I was intentional to stop, meditate, and be present these trips were transformed from a fun activity into an emotional and spiritual retreat. What these trips taught me is that no matter where you are or how optimal (or suboptimal) the environment, present moment attention and slowing down is always a choice. Even in confinement it is a choice for me to become absorbed by my work, television, or any number of things, but the days that I choose to sit by my window and simply listen to the birds as they sing their springtime songs gives me a sense of restoration and peace. The days I choose to engage in practices of self-care or humbly paying attention to the small blessings are the days I am able to let go and know that God is present even in a pandemic.

My time is the backcountry has also taught me about how to respond to adversity. When hiking up a mountain with a 25kg pack in 36-degree heat, it is easy to get frustrated. However, after I have given space to my frustration, I have a choice to either dwell on how much it sucks and how tired I am, or I can turn my attention to the beauty around me and be present in the splendor of nature. Since I am more-or-less stuck indoors, paying attention to the “beauty around me” is, admittedly, a little harder. However, confinement has taught me that this lesson is more about how I face adversity than it is about hiking or mountains. The lesson is not that nature heals all or that we just need to “suck it up” but that while frustration and pain is not a choice, our reactions to them are choices. In Yellowstone the pain was much more physical and the response more apparent, but now the pain is kinda sneaky and my response more nuanced. When hiking I can “press-on” toward a definitive end point and decide to enjoy the journey, but now the end is not as clear and the journey less novel, but my choices are familiar. I can choose to let fear and pain overwhelm me to the point where I just give up and numb my way through, or I can give space to the pain through journaling and talking with friends and try to think about how I can take care of myself right now. This journey and these decisions look different for everyone, but if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s the importance of finding ways to be thankful even through adversity.


Taking care of our bodies through confinement is not only important so that we can “look good” but is a practice that will have effects on every aspect of our overall well-being. One article that I found particularly interesting is in the New York Times and was written by American Astronaut Scott Kelly. He tells us of his experience of isolation and confinement in the International Space Station and how he stayed healthy during that time. Most of what he has to say is about the importance of establishing a routine, but you can read more about it here.

I have also continued my workouts even though I can’t go to the gym anymore by doing my best to follow a plan of 3 days of bodyweight workouts and 2 days of yoga. The resources I use are:



If these are helpful to you, GREAT, if not, just try to find a plan that works for you to fit into your daily routine.


I mentioned last week that working out your mind is a great way to keep your spirits up and to make this time more productive. I learned this week, however, that the 8 Ivy League schools have made free and available to the public 450 courses covering a wide range of topics!

I will be taking two course. The first is called HOPE: Human Odyssey to Political Existentialism from Princeton University which begins today. And the Second called Ethics of Eating from Cornell University which is an archived course and can begin anytime.

Both these courses are in the Humanities section but there are courses on business, mathematics, engineering, art and design, science, etc. So check them out and maybe start one!


Our very own Marta Hobbs has generously provided two guided meditation/lectio divina exercises for us that I hope you find spiritually uplifting today.


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65 Quai d'Orsay, 75007 Paris, France

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