Trading “What If” for “What Is”

Michael Ken
2 min readOct 5, 2023

Walking through the forest trails is my most relaxing, refreshing, and rejuvenating habit. When I need a break from the computer, or stress is building, I know it’s time to step outside and head into the woods.

The woods are a peculiar place to relax. When you feel overwhelmed or overstimulated, finding a quiet place seems like a natural thing to do. But a forest is not as quiet as people think. There are noises and movements all around.

It’s not silence that makes the forest an ideal place to recover and refocus. Rather, serenity in nature comes from its unique characteristic of lacking any type of virtual or conceptual reality. Stated simply, everything you encounter in the forest is real.

We seldom take time to differentiate experiences that are real from those we imagine, but often, the problems we encounter live more inside of our head than outside of our body. As a result, our imagination shapes our reality as we treat mere notions as something real.

For example, many of the stressors we face are based on future predictions based on our perception of past experiences. We get so busy trying to analyze the past in order to prevent future problems that we fill our heads with worrisome “what ifs” instead of looking clearly at “what is”. And when we focus on the past and future, what is real gets lost.

None of these false, empty notions exist in the forest. And because the woods are free from these types of external, virtual realities, time in the woods offers some major benefits. First, it provides a reprieve from all the conceptual mess inside our head by offering a place that makes staying in the present moment feel more natural. Second, it offers an opportunity to learn how to recognize what is actually real. The more time we spend interacting with what is real, then the better we become at spotting things that are not.

Taking breaks from our modern, virtual environment and spending time in nature can help us recognize and better understand the true nature of the problems we face. Nature reminds us that, despite our tendency to see negativity everywhere we look, happiness often lies within our reach.

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Michael Ken

My journal about life in the woods. Visit intothewoods.blog to see my complete journal, photographs, and articles.