Rhonda Muir won a Next Challenge Grant in 2020 with her proposal to walk all 300+ miles of Orkney’s trails. Together with her husband, she’s building a website dedicated to preserving Orkney’s folk tales and history, as well as showing both locals and visitors the best off-the-beaten-path places to explore. By embracing what she calls ‘island time’, Rhonda hoped to explore her home in a slow and intimate way, at the same time as creating a resource for others who would love to explore Orkney on foot.
The Covid pandemic intervened, pausing Rhonda’s explorations and causing her to reflect on her original proposal. In this article, she summarises what she has learned from the experience.
The Next Challenge Grant is a crowd-funded adventure grant which has supported over 70 adventures since it was founded in 2015. Applications for 2023 are now closed, but you can read about past winners and donate here.
Walking Orkney’s Trails (or not…)
by Rhonda Muir
I doubt that any of us could have dreamed what a challenge simply navigating everyday life would become in 2020. Along with the many changes and fears faced by all, I personally found my “Next Challenge” plan to walk all 300 miles of Orkney’s Core Paths impossible to accomplish for various reasons.
In the spirit of resiliency, however, I’d like to offer a few ideas that I’m trying to take forward into 2021 and beyond. These I learned long ago during a very dark time, but it’s surprising how quickly we can forget wisdom and slide into spiritual laziness. So I remind myself here of these life-giving virtues. I hope that they encourage you, too.
Flexibility – Having plans dashed to pieces again and again does tend to make us realize how little control we have in the end, even over daily minutiae. The skill to bend when we need to, to adjust as best we can without wasting energy fighting against the inevitable is one that will serve for a lifetime.
Acceptance – This is not the same thing as lying down and giving up when we should be fighting, working or carrying out some good in the world. True acceptance is liberating. It propels healthy action where it is possible. Sometimes there is literally nothing we can do to change our circumstances, but almost always there is something we can do to make it better.
Quietness – Learning how to better calm myself has been a big deal for me. I hadn’t realized until fairly recently that I’ve always suffered with an underlying current of anxiety. Recognizing this and giving it a name helps. When you have a name for a thing you understand something of its essence and can find the magic for it. Trying times offer many magics for conjuring a spirit of quietness if you pay attention. Supreme among these mystical antidotes is spending time surrounded by nature.
Wisdom – Being forced to take the time to consider rather than plunging unthinkingly into the frantic and unnatural cadence of modern life rhythms has led to valuable insights and new habits. Even my original idea of walking all 300 miles of Orkney trails over a summer (with accompanying social media blitz) now sounds excessive to me. Much better is this new rhythm I’m adopting: a gradual, loving progression at a pace that makes me happy. I hope this insight will lead to greater joy as I continue to seek a rhythm that fits in an ill-fitting world.
Trust – Encouraged by long experience, I trust in God and believe that I am loved and accepted. Sometimes I forget. Times like these remind me.
Contentment – Remembering to appreciate what we do have and refusing to focus on what cannot be at this moment leads to this gentle form of happiness. Contentment can be especially sweet when other kinds of happiness aren’t available.
Kindness – Everyone is suffering in some way, now and in more normal times. We can’t heal everyone, but we can be kind, take time to speak to them, listen for awhile. We can be neighbourly rather than rushing on to accomplish the next thing on The List. We can remember that we are all the same, really … just folk trying to find our way. It’s nice to have some good company as we go.
Ironically, the calming skill that I desire the most is the one I’m having to work the hardest to find: learning to let myself flow in a slower and more natural rhythm. I call it Island Time. This slower, more meaningful way of being in the world is surprisingly elusive for those of us who have grown accustomed to rushing through life caught in the rip tide of a low-grade panic. For some, this habit was developed by choice, for others by necessity. Either way, it keeps us captive until we fight our way out of that strong current and into a more restful stream.
I had hoped that when many of us were forced to slow down in 2020 this new rhythm I’ve long craved would magically fall upon me. It didn’t. I’m having to learn it like any other new skill, the hard way. Oh well … acceptance.
I forgot to mention one of the most important virtues. It’s to be paired with acceptance. This skill is persistence. Because there are things that are worth digging in for, using all your strength, cunning and patience to obtain. The wise thing is to discover which these are and go after them with all your heart.
Feel free to contact me here.
You can see some of my walks in the Stromness area and the few others that I’ve added since then, with Orkney walking tips here.
Good fortune to you, my friends, and God bless.