Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thinking about life, on the MacRitchie Trail

"It's mental more than physical... you just have to push yourself", decried Siva, after the group rendezvoused for Prata at the end of this morning's brisk walk.

I thought that walking the nature trail was like how one approached life.

The group was negotiating an uneven part of the trail in the MacRitchie nature reserve. Flat ground gave way to gravel and sand turned into slushy mud. As my shoes hit the sand and decayed forest debris, my mind was quite clear. I wasn't thinking about where we were going, how far we were to the end point, or how many more steps to take.

My choices were limited in that sense.

Brisk Walk - 15 Apr 2007My eyes focused only on the one-metre zone directly down and ahead, my brain firing off a few million instructions to keep my body upright and moving and avoiding the holes that would give you a twisted ankle and bruised pride, and mindful of keeping up with the blistering pace by the group.

"...Left foot out step lightly on the loose rock watch the puddle press down move the right foot twist slightly left muddy spot in front turn the body to compensate Oops stepped into puddle of water never mind shoes are dirty anyway oh i can feel water seeping into my right shoe ah forget it focus on the next step watch that low hanging branch bend down keep moving..."

It would have been more tiring if I'd stopped to think of what I was doing.

After a few minutes, my mind overcame the uncertainty of the terrain. That's when I started to think of the trail ahead -- how much more to go? Would my legs give out before the end? But I stopped myself from thinking so much about the journey. I knew where I was. I decided to just enjoy the moment. My legs were aching. It was a good ache. The kind that let you know you're alive.

So I figured life was a lot like negotiating the nature trail. For most people, we know where we are headed. The specifics might be different, but we'd know in a larger sense.

When the going gets tough, sometimes the only way to cope is to contract our field of vision to what's immediately ahead. That's not to say we don't have an end in mind, or that we take the next step blindly. Just that we deal with the immediate problem first. No point making elaborate plans on how to celebrate at the summit at the end of the walk when you're down on your bum with a sprained ankle, having tripped on a loose rock.

When our senses are overwhelmed, we just have to focus on the present.

I should explain what Siva meant by "pushing himself". He clarified that the brisk walk wasn't a competition. It was just his way of motivating himself to complete the walk -- how he would strategise on when to catch up with the group, at what point he needed to maintain his pace and when to speed up. Which led him to say that mental strength was what determined if one completed the walk, rather than physical.

I've done part of the nature trail sometime ago but this was my first with the group. We walked at what I thought was a blistering pace. I was told we covered approximately 10 kilometres, in about 1.5 hours.

Like life, when we derive enjoyment in what we do -- where there's enough of a challenge within your physical limits; where you find warmth in the company of friendly strangers who put you at ease -- we'd want to do it again.

And like quite a few things in my life so far, I was glad to have made myself do something that I ordinarily wouldn't do. Like this walk.

When I woke at 5.30am, I was tempted to go back to sleep. But the thought of giving more ammunition to Siva for his verbal taunts (all in jest of course) was one of the deciding factor in getting my butt off the bed. :)


  1. Steady lah Ivan! I'll have to try this walk next time. Reminds me of army days where I got to see interesting parts of Singapore.

  2. This is way less stressful than forced marches during full-time NS, Kevin :) You're more than welcome to join the next walk. I've dropped a note to Siva to let him know. Details will be sent to you shortly.

  3. steady brother, see you this sunday!


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