How nature taught me about the right amount
By Alice Bellini
“Put away your shoes and come back to real life. You won’t pay any rent by walking”. Not a day goes by without me hearing these words. Usually, they are not as literal. But when you put life on hold to work a job for the majority of your day, in order to make those money that society decided are the most important thing in life, so you can buy stuff you won’t even remember you have but that will define your worth – well, you don’t need to hear them in such literal way.
I like to question stuff. When I was very little, my mum would call me Miss But. Everything had a but. Everything had to go through my personal lens and had to have a logic for me to say: “oh, sure, I agree”. School didn’t help. University even less. I would sit in my class or work at my papers and wonder: “Could it really be it? Can life be relegated to Saturdays and Sundays, as far as you don’t have an important deadline to meet or some fundamental social event to attend?”
Is this what we call real life? Is this the life that is worth our stress and our illnesses and our time and dreams?
They say there can be lots of definitions for the word “success”, or “glory”, or “happiness”. Well, there’s only one for the world “real” and it’s not the life we’re living.
And every single mountain proves me right.
Monte Terminillo is not the highest mountain of Italy, nor of the Apennine. It’s not even the highest of the Lazio Region for that matters. About 60 miles aways from Rome, it reaches the sky at 7270 feet. It’s not extreme, nor dangerous. There’s nothing particularly epic in this mountain and no adventure story is probably set here – except for this one, which is not an adventure story anyways. On the other hand, it’s not a little brow and it still requires your time and effort to be hiked and topped. It’s something in between – “no meet nor fish”, as we would say in Italian.
Yet, it’s so real. And as usual, the most meaningful things are the simplest ones.
My friend Veronica and I decided to explore this mountain on a quiet Friday morning of late spring. The weather forecasts were not the greatest, and maybe we knew it, but we were craving a hike and little did we care.
Wind was blowing strong under a limpid sky. The air smelled of melted snow and the grass on the slopes was waving like a green ocean, disclosing all sorts of shades.
Maybe because of the wind, maybe because it was Friday, maybe because of the low-extremeness-yet-good-effort requirement, on that day we were the only ones on the trail that leads first to the summit, then to Vetta Sassetelli (Sassetelli Peak), looping around this Monte. Starting from Rifugio Sebastiani, the itinerary is 5 miles long for an actual gain in height of 1300 ft.
While we walk in the wind to reach the first summit dressed like fluo ninjas, the usual and net feeling of leaving something behind at each step hits me – like every time I find myself in nature.
“What should I do with my life? Where am I going to find and extra job? Can I consider my career as a successful one? What should I say to that person? Am I ever going to reach social and economical stability? Am I good enough to live a worthy life? When am I going to have enough adult items that will define me as an adult and responsible woman? What’s going to happen tomorrow? What if something goes wrong? What do I want? Why am I not successful enough?”
Every step I take, one of these questions (and many others) fall behind. As if the fresh air is acting like a filter and I’m entering another dimension, the superfluous part of my life is not allowed to proceed on the trail, nor the one dictated by social conventions and illusions. If I want to reach the top and truly be there, I have to choose my load carefully and bring only the bare necessities with me. Only what is real.
Real like these rocks on the ground and this grass waving on the slopes. Real like this air entering and exiting my body, real like the clouds in the sky. Real like the horizon that I see before me. Real like the sun that shines high in the sky.
There’s no real life other than this.
As much as structured and rooted in our history from millenniums, there’s nothing real in a life made of things, adjectives and systems that make people feel inadequate, that throw shame on them because they are not *something* enough all the time. Work, beauty, family, spirituality, self, food, health, relations: everything falls into categories that must label and classify human beings to the very bit in order to recognize them and supply them with a dose of dignity – if they’re lucky.
And no matter how hard we try, there’s always something preventing us from living fully, from being truly in contact with ourselves and feel, ultimately, at peace.
Every step leading me to the summit leads me one step closer to nature and to a feeling of peacefulness that is not provided by a newly reached status quo, a successful exam or a rise of salary, but by an environment that is finally real and, most importantly, fair.
There is no “too much” or “too few”, no perfect-hence-impossible standard to meet in order to feel right and worthy. There is no illusion. No border, no social structures invented by men to control men, no cruelty and no fighting for predominance.
There is nature and collaboration and, finally, belonging. There is the right amount of everything, in all its beautiful balance.
Reaching the summit, I look around and I feel like I finally belong to this world. This is the feeling of summits: I’m in a place where there’s only man and nature and nothing to stand in the way.
No one is there yelling at me what I should be, what I should do, how I should look, how I should behave and what I should think. No one is there judging and labeling. No one is evaluating my skills in order to check if I’m *something* enough to climb one more step on the corporate ladder.
At the top of Monte Terminillo, like every other mountain, there’s life as it is in the moment we come to this Planet: human and real.
This hike is a peculiar one: the summit is the first thing you reach after just an hour of steep uphill walk. Then the rest of the trail unfolds.
Descending the long, incredibly panoramic crest to Vetta Sassetelli and then Sella dei Sassetelli, I don’t really want to end this hike and go back to the city. I picture myself planting a tent in a sheltered corner and living here like this.
I would feel safe and free, not because I don’t have to follow any rule, or because I’m far away from my responsibilities, but exactly because I would be following the only true rule of life and I would be fulfilling my only real duty of living a real life, a “life worth living”, like advertisements and magazines would sell it.
From Sella dei Sassetelli, the trail enters a whole new scenery: past the 360° views and crests, the majestic walls of Monte Terminillo oversee the trail, disclosing the power of this mountain. The typical blue-silver limestone of the area shines in the sun, a few tongues of snow still cover the ground and an expanse of beautiful furry flowers paints everything in light blue and purple. Silence permeates everything.
There is me, Veronica and the mountain. The trail, the flowers, the snow, the rock. The sun and the wind. The fresh air and our breaths. And I’m just not ready to leave this place and this moment. I can’t find the strength to go back to life as I don’t see it.
I stop. I look around. And spontaneously I sit down, in the middle of the track. A few meters ahead of me, Veronica turns and sees me. She probably isn’t ready either, ‘cause she sits down too, in the middle of the trail, without having to ask anything. When the reason is so natural, there’s no explanation needed.
In this moment, I don’t have to reach any special place, both physically or mentally, to be at peace. Actually, I don’t have to reach anything at all. I only have to be here, in nature, breathe in no particular way. And everything finds its right place, me included.
In nature, I can finally find my place in a Planet where human beings are not better or stronger or smarter, but part of the ecosystem, and happy to be so.
We spend our lives looking for a leader, a way, a method or a discipline that can show us the path to a better and happier existence. What if this leader is not a person, a guru, a saint or a discipline. What if this leader is a whole reality and what if that reality was there this whole time. What if that leader is nature?
Everything that surrounds me while I’m sitting here can teach me something incredibly simple, yet incredibly hard to find: respect and coexistence. Everything in this nature is in the present moment and embraces change in a way that no human being, saint, guru or discipline ever managed to.
We all come from nature, after all. And nature doesn’t need improvement.
What I see when I look at Earth is an infinite amount of coherent teachings. Nothing ever clashes. Everything has a space and leaves space. All those practices and inspirational people we turn to are great, but they all miss something. They are all practiced inside cities, and houses and artificial places, shutting all the rest of the Planet out. They are all practiced into a fictional world, with fictional rules and fictional purposes. The reason they help is that they allow us to connect with the most natural part of ourselves, however they are just part of the “big cheat” if still completely immersed in what makes us so scared and shieldy.
As part of this ecosystem, we can live a real life only if we live in close contact with nature. We could never feel inadequate, or ashamed of ourselves, or needy to numb our emotions if we are in the place where we belong. In nature, limits, imperfection and diversity become precious: we learn to embrace them and we eventually experience life fully. We’ll find we have everything we need.
There’s nothing true about conventions. There’s nothing reasonable in calling real a life made of things invented by mankind to become unbreakable and immortal. There’s nothing real about restrictions, purchases, money and glory. There’s nothing real about a life lived according to standards invented to keep people busy and distracted while a small amount of them gets powerful and rich beyond conception, making our Planet collapse. There’s nothing real about perfection, excellence, Wonder Women and Supermen.
We think mankind belongs there. We think we belong to cities and full-time jobs and money, TV programs and gossips. But really, all those things are just a superstructure, a wall – that keep us all in and well stuck.
We need to find our right amount too. We need to aspire and dream, that’s for sure, but we also need to appreciate and be. We need to explore, but also to protect and collaborate. We must push limits, but also find the peacefulness they bring and feel at ease within them. Admire the great landscape, as well as focus on the smallest detail, because that’s where we’ll truly understand the big picture.
To reintroduce nature in our lives is vital, but to reintroduce our lives into nature is even more fundamental.
We all need to go back home. And as far as we mistake it for something else, we’ll always feel lost. Indeed, “nature is not a place to visit. Nature is home”.
Veronica and I stand up and keep walking. As every other extremism, hermitage is not an answer for us. The preciousness of this place will come back to Rome with us.
That evening, we won’t stop praising the beauty of what we saw and we will feel a bit frustrated and sad when people will answer that it doesn’t fascinate them because it’s not adventurous enough.
That evening, I will look out the window of my kitchen and I will see Mount Terminillo in the very distance. It’s true, I won’t pay any rent by walking, but I do go back to real life every time I do.