Living just below the Arctic Circle in 2021 during the coronavirus pandemic Freya Orban, from southern Sweden, was missing sunshine and isolated due to social distancing restrictions.
Unable to do the things she loved — train with her cross-country skiing team, go trail running or to the gym to train — she became depressed. All the signs of stress and strain were showing, and then her dog died.
“That was the trigger for everything,” the 25 year Suunto athlete says. “Then I got shingles and couldn't get out of bed for a month.”
Piling on the pressure
At the worst low of her life, Freya started to question everything she was doing. Reflecting in this way allowed her to see what is important in her life, and what is superfluous. Like with so many competitive athletes, she used to pile too much pressure on herself. Going to races, managing her social media accounts, pleasing sponsors, pursuing academic excellence — she had become so busy and future-focused she had lost touch with the freedom and joy of running and being outdoors had always given her since she was a child. She had lost her presence. The simplicity of being in the here and now, senses open, taking in the beauty of the world.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Her journey into a dark place and into the light at the other end of the tunnel has led to massive change. She logged out of her social accounts, turned off her smartphone, stopped planning and instead focused on savoring simple presence in the outdoors and growing food in her garden. The sound of wolves howling in the distance (that’s Sweden!), the taste of wild blueberries, the feeling of wind on her face. Coming back to moment by moment experience, Freya healed herself and is now in the best place ever.
Leaving it all behind and running hut to hut
Watch the short film Presence below and follow Freya and her friend and photographer Lukas Dürnegger as they go on a fast packing hut to hut trip in the mountains of Jämtland in central Sweden. Over six days they ran 155 km with 5242 m of elevation gain. They left their smartphones at home and really tuned into the living world around them. Along the way they took time to stop a lot and ate handfuls of juicy blueberries and cloudberries.
Freya’s 3 tips to find presence
Rethink how you use social media
Freya’s approach to social media has changed. During some periods, she might sign in only once a month. And she posts only what she wants to look back on in a few years. It’s about keeping magical memories, not about sponsor-collaborations or gaining followers. Freya says being busy with screens and social media can make our senses dull and tuned out.
Pay attention to the little things
“A lot of people are caught in hamster wheels,” Freya says. “We go to work and tick off boxes on our to-do lists. But by the end of the day we can’t even remember what was happening. We rush through everything and miss things.”
To reverse this condition, Freya suggests going out into nature and opening up all the senses. “Try to use all your senses,” she says. “Not just your vision. Use your hearing, sense of smell, even taste, touch — the raindrops on your forehead. Everything you encounter out there, really try to feel it.”
Leave the tech at home
Once a week, leave all your technology at home and go out into nature for a run or a hike. Leave your earbuds, smartphone, GPS sports watch at home and be in the here and now. “Make it about being in nature and running for the joy of it,” Freya says.
All images by Lukas Dürnegger