The 5 Lessons I Learned After 21 Days in the Woods

Walk into the unknown and feel the magic of the natural world

The River Trail

1. We Are Never Alone

Occasionally, I came across another hiker, someone walking their dog or trail-running. Sometimes I saw deer and almost always squirrels or chipmunks. What surprised me, though, was how alive the river was, how vibrant the trees felt, how vital the ground was beneath my footing. The organic energy in the forest filled me up, forever altering my understanding of authentic connection.

2. Fear Lives in Me

There were several times over the course of the twenty-one days when I was afraid. I was nervous when the wind picked up, the leaves bustled, the tree cover darkened, and the shadows moved like a bear or a coyote. One day, when I was deep into the middle of the woods, a little lost and worried about time, I saw a man approaching. With a walking stick in his hand and an eerie smile, he greeted me and stopped.

3. Observation Is a Skill

Like anything, it takes practice, especially as an adult. Instinctively, my children see everything. When they came with me into the woods, they stopped so many times the hikes took double the time, and I loved it. On one of our favorite paths, at one defining turn, there’s a tree with a deep hollow and a bulging burl.

4. Direction Is Circuitous

Many meditation teachers refer to the “monkey mind” — those thought boomerangs that sometimes come when we sit with ourselves, attempting to be still. As a novice meditator, I know the monkey mind well. In the woods, when I found myself lost, unsure which direction would bring me home, that monkey mind raced. In those moments, I reached for the same grace that I extend to myself during a frazzled meditation. Direction can be circuitous. It’s okay to feel lost. Roundabout routes can still get us home.

5. Shared Experience Matters

Wandering into the woods, whether we are alone or with company, captures part of the duality within the human experience — a journey that is both solitary and communal. On the twenty-first day of my habit experiment, in the forests that surround my home, I brought a friend with me to trek through the trees.

The largest oak leaf I’ve ever seen



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Laura Milligan

Laura Milligan is a teacher and writer. On medium, she often shares personal essays.