One of my friends asked me on my return from my recent sojourn in the woods how my “seance” went. He was joking, but a bit on the level and quite perceptive. He gets something of what the woods and mountains mean to me (and I think to himself as well, and any person who will let them into their soul). Emerson said “The greatest delight which the woods and fields minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.” He wasn’t using “occult” in its 21st century sense of scary and sinister, but in its original sense of “hidden” or “unseen”. We are connected to all things, and all things to us. What grander theological or existential implications this truth may hold I’ll leave for future Emersons–I wish only to note that it exists and that the noting benefits the soul.
A solo foray into the mountains gives one precisely that–an opportunity to note the connection. Our connected nature can be noted in many environments–even during a normal day–but my own experience is that often the world of making a living in an industrialized society blinds us to the essence of living. We get so caught up in doing that simply being gets lost. When being gets lost, many other things tend to get lost as well. We can lose sight not just of our connection to the greater world in which we live but even our immediate world of friends and family. We become disjointed, fragmented. We can live in a city of millions yet be haunted by constant indwelling loneliness. Irony indeed then that sometimes to see past the loneliness we need to be alone.
Now, just walking in the woods or standing on a mountain doesn’t necessarily speak to that fragmentation nor help us see past it. If we carry the mindset of town into the woods they will say nothing to us. If we are mentally somewhere other than where we are the place and the moment we are actually in will always be diluted. Its unseen joy and beauty will remain unseen.
So we must teach ourselves to slow down and put away the distractions. We must take a few breaths and savor them. Doesn’t that air feel delicious? We must mentally engage our surroundings. We must notice things. See the way the moss has begun to envelope that fallen branch and dissolve it back into the soil that nourishes the tree from which the branch fell. Think about how the tree is breathing–inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. Now take a breath and realize you are inhaling what the tree exhales and by this very act most basic to living are connected to the tree, the fallen branch, the moss, and the soil.
The true beauty of seeing such connection is that it doesn’t have to stay in the woods or whatever other place one tends to find it. If we find it there but leave it then it will have done us little good. Instead, use it to see again how connected you are to your daily world. Not in the usual sense of the way the world is plugged in (yet terribly disconnected), but in the sense of the natural connections that sustain you.
Think about your food and the farmer who grew it or the person that prepared it–or how it grew in the soil of your own garden nourished by the soil you walk on every day. Embrace your loved ones and really feel them physically and spiritually. Notice the smell of your wife’s hair or strength in your growing son’s shoulders. Taste the satisfaction a task well done–even something so mundane as a memo at work or sweeping the floor at home. See again the beauty of a print on the wall. Feel connected because you are connected. Embrace that connection because it sustains you. You could not be without it. You are not alone, but a unique stroke in the fiercely beautiful canvas of life and being. Savor that.