“Why is it that one feels so well in nature? Because it has no opinion about us.”
Those words were shared by Friedrich Nietzsche in a letter to Paul Rée while he was staying at Rosenlaui, just above Meiringen, where I spent three years living by the mountains in Switzerland.
It was the place where everything changed for me. With glacier-topped mountains, soaring eagles, and clamoring waterfalls for company, I found the clarity, strength, and courage to exchange shyness and anxiety for the life I really wanted to lead.
There are many reasons to pack a bag and head to the mountains. Sometimes it’s escapism – leaving behind your day-to-day life, work, and responsibilities for clean air close to the clouds. But for me, it’s become a homecoming, even after growing up on flat farmland in Southeast England.
I’ve always been different. Growing up with autism spectrum disorder, I spent much of my childhood alone, creating things, and escaping into fictional universes. When I had to be around people, I struggled. Socializing exhausted me, especially as I was trying my hardest to look like a normal child, teenager, and then young adult.
Although I looked like a fairly average woman in my twenties, I never felt like one. I didn’t want a large circle of friends. I hated the idea of getting drunk and partying. I didn’t want to do what normal twentysomething women do every day.
I wanted peace and quiet and space to be myself. It was only when I started venturing further into nature alone that I truly found that.
Nature doesn’t judge us. While we climb peaks, surf waves, and cross jungles, it keeps going as it always does. It doesn’t care if we’re in the way when disaster strikes.
I’ve never fitted in, but in nature, that doesn’t matter. If you’re a living being, you’re just as welcome as any other cluster of cells.
The natural world offers an environment in which we can judge ourselves less, too. As I spent more time slowing down and looking inwards, I became more of myself than ever before.
But for my life to change, the existing foundations had to crumble first. While living in such a beautiful part of the world, my relationship fell to pieces, I left my full-time job with nothing to fall back on, and I found myself totally alone.
Even if I didn’t know it then, I needed everything to shatter to find my strength.
With summer days spent exploring the hiking routes around my home and learning to climb, hang from things, and pull up my bodyweight, I started to find physical strength I never had before. The stronger my body became, the stronger my mind became too. If I could climb mountains and hike the width of Switzerland, what couldn’t I do?
The anxieties and self-doubt I’d spent so many years wrangling with gradually became smaller than ever before. By the mountains, with the peace and quiet of the wild nature around me, there wasn’t a place for them. I could let go and explore the person I really was, with the same quiet acceptance I gifted the birds, mountains, waterfalls, and trees around me.
Submerging myself in freezing cold water during my weekly river swims throughout the winter, I learned just how resilient I was; that I can do difficult things and feel stronger after each challenge. During the years before when I felt weak and incapable of escaping my shell, that voice in my head was lying.
Toward the end of my time living in Switzerland, I found the courage to share my story in Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps. So much had to change for me to get to that moment.
Sometimes the biggest transformations are found in the quietest moments: the times when we slow down, tune in, and really listen to what’s whispering to our spirit.
You don’t need to move to the mountains to find that. Venture further into the wild and let nature teach you, hold you, and direct you back to yourself. See where it takes you and who you become – gently, gracefully, and wholeheartedly.