I recently did an exercise to determine my most important values, those that define me. The exercise took me about a week to complete and I landed on seven core values. Yesterday, I returned from living a week absorbed in two of those values, nature and exploring. Being away from every day life can bring you more in touch with your soul and it was what I really needed, for these two values are difficult for me to find solace in during my daily routines.
Nature is my god. It has a way of living each day, creating beauty over time, and recognizing that everything has a purpose. I would rather be outdoors in nature any day of the week then to be indoors or exploring a city. In the exercise I struggled to decide if exploring or traveling was a value, or just something I enjoyed doing. After realizing my happiest memories are of exploring new places, I understood how much I cherish exploring. It is a way to become in touch with the world that surrounds me, while also teaching me to relax and enjoy nature. Which if nature is so important, and the way I can become one with nature is to explore, I decided it was one of my core values.
For the last six days I explored the natural beauty of Coastal Maine and am now reflecting on those experiences to better understand me, my future and my purpose here. I never explored Maine until this past week. Oh, I had been to Maine numerous times, visiting Polo and Nautica stores in Kittery and Freeport. But I have never explored the rocky coast and all its splendor. I have always felt I belonged in Maine. Coming home, I find that feeling is real and it lies deep. Why? I can only imagine it somehow reflects my inner feelings of natural beauty, changing landscapes and weather, and a place that both hard work and doing nothing are equally a part of life. Maine, in some ways, reminds me of Michigan. Cold, clear waters, with lighthouses dotting the shores. Blueberries and farm stands, with the more recently added wineries, along the countryside. But although I love Michigan, and Michigan definitely has the more beautiful beaches, there is something about Maine that inspires my soul and I feel a daunting urge to return.
Being late October, I wasn’t expecting many leaves on the trees; I thought for sure we would come and see barren trees dotted by the evergreens. But Mother Nature held out one last week so I could see the regale of gold and reds in contrast to the blues and greens of the Atlantic. Boarding one of the last cruises of the season to see Acadia from the water, we were delighted with magnificent panorama! We had similar vistas hiking Camden Hills the day before and hiking Cadillac Mountain in the strong ocean winds. Hiking trail after trail, my legs never failed. I was overcome in contentment of being able to fully absorb my revered values of nature and exploring.
On our last full day, the sun was shining bright upon us after two days of overcast skies. We were on our way for one last trip to Acadia and stopped in a small bakery for breakfast. I quickly became jealous of the owners who just recently opened the place and are finding local notoriety with their delicious breads. Reading their story, told on the front page of the Bangor Daily News, I realized I wanted the courage and belief to follow my dreams, my heart, just as they are. I have spent most of my life being responsible. Planning ahead. Only taking chances when the odds are in my favor. Never following my heart if there are too many risks beyond my control. I decided I wanted to change. Be more carefree. Go with the flow and not stick to a plan. At least for the day. So we drove to Acadia. Although we sort of had a plan of what to see and do, I stopped keeping track of time or checking off the points of interest in the order I wanted to see them. When we got hungry earlier than expected, we had lunch. When Wonderland sounded more interesting, we skipped Ship Harbor and went ahead to Wonderland. I would not be rigid with the day.
After miles of exploring the ragged coast and enjoying the sun on my shoulders, I fell back to ole responsible me. It was late afternoon, and we arrived at Sandy Beach ready to hike the cliffs. Our choices were to hug the shore, with my favorite scenes of ocean and rock, or retreat inland into the woods. My heart chose the shore and we started our climb. This climb was much more difficult than others earlier in the day. The anticipation of the view moved me forward. Upon reaching the summit, we could see what had been the sunny sands below, now darkened as the sun retreated behind the cliffs on the other side of the beach. Panic struck. How were we going to get down if the sun sets quickly? Going back the way we came was steep, but would it be better up ahead? I took a few breaths, calmly looked at the path forward and chose to continue. If the rest of the hike was level and the descent on the other side was not vertical, we would be fine, even at dusk. So we continued. Until we got to the next descent, about a quarter mile ahead. It was vertical. I pulled out my hiking guide and according to the map, we had more than a half mile of this terrain – possibly. True panic set it. I could only imagine darkness coming and me being stuck on the cliffs above Sandy Beach until morning light. My knee could not handle such a steep descent in darkness. And even though the sun was still in the sky behind the cliffs, I was completely irrational and overcome with fear. My only choice was the safe one – turn back before the sun set. You must admit, it was the responsible choice. If the trail was as difficult as I imagined, it would be near impossible to navigate it in the dark. So I chose to not follow my heart. To not see what lied ahead. In pure responsible, logical Kathi way, we turned back, hiked down the cliff to Sandy Beach and arrived at the car well before darkness.
So remember that values exercise I did? Well nature and exploring are only two of the seven that I chose that define me. Another is dependable. So that reliable, responsible me is an extension of my dependable value. I’ve been responsible because I have others that depend on me. I am responsible because I want to mentor others, another cherished value. It all comes full circle. But then, how do I become more carefree? How do I learn to follow my heart and take risks? If I want to throw caution to the wind, I may have to realign my values. But how does one realign their values, when their values define who they are? If I truly value being dependable, can I ever be a risk taker and explore life differently?
My travels to Maine may not have answered these burning questions, but it has brought me a sense of clarity. I truly desire to be one with nature and I get pure joy and contentment when I am surrounded by it. I also truly want to spend my days exploring the trail that lies ahead, difficult or easy, I want to always be looking for new places. But of course, I also realize, that my journey will be in a responsible or dependable way. For just as important as nature and exploring are, I value my responsible, dependable side just as much, and it is just as much a part of me.