Many of my past summers have included backpacking trips in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains with my dad and four younger siblings. We spend a week or two preparing — we make instant oatmeal and granola, buy some quick-cook suppers, and calculate how few changes of clothes will do. After comparing pack weights, we snuggle down in our old soft mattresses for one last night. Soon the one-legged rooster stirs and we fire up the ancient Chevy, rumbling out toward the heart of the west.
Passed in both directions by fancy campers and trucks pulling trailers full of ATVs, I sometimes wonder what we’re all seeking. Probably a lot of the same things. But for myself, I find the machines and gadgets often distracting.
After a few of these trips I’ve learned to pack just the bare essentials for a few days of backpacking. We sleep on pillowcases stuffed with our extra clothes. For downtime, we take only a miniature Book of Mormon and a deck of cards. It’s lighter on the shoulders this way. But perhaps more importantly, it’s lighter on the mind.
With no vibrating phones to check every five minutes, we have time and attention to focus on each other. Evenings, we explore. When darkness comes, we stare into the fire and think profound thoughts. Occasionally, we even solve a few of the world’s problems while entranced by the flames. There is plenty of time to be quiet, to listen, to think.
Dixe Wills, author of Tiny Campsites, emphasized the value of enjoying simplicity in his article “Camping? It should be about the simple life.” He encouraged spontaneity instead of scheduling. He also endorsed having downtime and enjoying the world in all its humility.
“Feel free to slow down,” he wrote. “Humans have a terrible propensity to do, rather than be. The natural world, you’ll notice, is a lot keener on just hanging about and taking it all in.”
The benefits of simplicity in camping can apply to other aspects of life as well. Too often our daily routines become exhausting and nonstop. Do we control our gadgets, or do they control us? Think about it.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, in the October 2011 General Conference, spoke about refocusing on the basics and what matters most.
“There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions,” he said.
Ironically it may be initially difficult to move toward living a simpler life. Our bodies and minds are trained to be busy, and it’s unnerving to be without constant sound or artificial stimulation. Still, we should each make an effort to unplug, move slower and observe.
Next time the weight of the world feels unbearable or your blood pressure is through the roof (or hopefully before), take a walk on the wild side, where distractions fade away.
Don’t second guess it, simply go. Escape the rush and go somewhere you cannot hear the traffic or feel the spinning. Don’t bring a phone or an iPod, let yourself be your company and enjoy it. Consider where you may have lost sight of what matters most. Return to the fundamentals. Listen to the beautiful, quiet sounds and listen to yourself.
Don’t be afraid of being alone with your thoughts; you may find answers to some of the world’s problems during those moments of meditation. If nothing else, you’ll return clarified and refreshed.
Kayla Franson is a campus editor for The Daily Universe. This viewpoint represents his opinion and not necessarily that of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.