“This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”
Mary Oliver, Of Power and Time, from “Upstream, Selected Essays”
This summer I met the wizard of the Pacific Crest Trail trail-named Billy Goat. Long curly grey beard below probing eyes touched his bony, sunken, old man chest covered with a blue, lightweight breathable shirt. A large brimmed hat covered his probably balding head. No flowing robes, no purple mantle adorned with stars. A smallish man in shorts, with tanned, muscular legs reminiscent of a youthful stride. A stride that took him to walk, hike, seek adventure. Was it adventure that he was after? 76 yrs old, 30 yrs on the trails, on his 10th through-hike of the PCT, Billy Goat has become wizened. Not wizened to leave the outdoors, the steep ascends, the long hot or rainy days behind and find a cozy home to live out his days. When asked where home is he points to his pack. No, Billy Goat is wizened to wait out the rain in a motel before hitting the trail, wizened to take it slow and listen to his compromised heart, wizened to stop, talk to the hurried young ones and point to a tree, the sky, a river. “The trail”, he says, “is to be lived on, not to be conquered”.
This summer put me up against a part of me again that seeks the whole sky, that is “out of love with time” as Mary Oliver calls it. (www.brainpickings.org/?s=Mary+Oliver) A part of me that hungers for something bigger than the daily accomplishments of a prudently lived life, a clean fridge, a solvent bank account.
I want to talk about the part of me that “hungers for eternity”, that wants to be lifted up, feel the bigger workings of this thing we call life. The brief moments of a morning sunrise from my back deck or across the water in my sculling boat, are just that, brief taunts of something greater, something I need to go find, experience.
I set out for a day, several days, a month and let nature wrap itself around me with her haunting wind sounds, her quiet green leaf canopy, her splashing dancing water laughter. The outside world knocks on my sullen brain with her sensations, invites me to step on her rock-strewn path, shakes my comfort stiffened muscles awake in a measured rhythmic movement of breath and body. I strap on the pack, leave the comfort of home and hotel, and enter an outside world that will match an inner world bigger than the daily me. An outside world that stretches and massages my thoughts, that empties me of constricting habits while adopting a routine of survival and forward movement. The daily routine of walking creates room for the big inner world of being, a feeling of coming home to myself.
Billy Goat points at his pack when he talks about where home is. On the trail the pack has everything I need to survive and be protected in the big open world of nature. The pack serves as a symbol for the home of the creative self I carry inside me, a creative self that helps me feel alive, connects me with the bigger way of things, always. I walk many miles to loosen the grip of the world restricting that creativity. I walk many miles to solidify my confidence in making the plunge into the unknown of being. I walk many miles not knowing what is ahead, and meeting surprise after surprise, both good and bad.
When Billy Goat climbs a ridge for the 10th time, when he points at a moss covered tree, a turquoise river, he seeks the enlivening surprise of what comes next.
Step out of the ordinary, remember the creative curious self enlivened by the surprises of the unknown, wherever you are, whatever day it is.
Summer memories pop up when I look out my living room window at the mountains brown with wetness from the first rain and snow. The mountains that hold my footsteps on the trail. Hold my hard breath among the trees and bushes on its long inclines, my strained muscles on its descents, my soul soaring delight on its high passes. Moving between the 46th and 66th parallel for three months turned the endless light filled summer skies of the Northern hemisphere into laughter in my brain. How long will the effects of those light filled days last?
Every year I welcome the warmth of my home at the end of the summer season. By February I run out of light filled thoughts and turn to the darker side of living, the belly of the beast. In the past I have escaped the beast by traveling to warmer climes in winter, but it feels like cheating. It’s like eating out of season and having “fresh” corn all year long.
Life isn’t complete without the belly of the beast.
I have been listening to people’s recounts of their summer travels, the places they have been, the things they have done. I’m left with the question of how did these experiences affect them, how are they going forward with them? Some are already talking about next trips, planning adventures down the road. Others are re-living what they saw by talking about it to others, by sharing photos. I stare at my photos, digital gifts of places and moments far away in space and time, and I know that these photos, the “whats”, don’t fuel my life, it’s the how that matters.
How do I let my summer (nomad) life fuel my winter home life? I Write about my experiences, it helps me become aware of what it is I did in summer’s moments. Writing, like any creative endeavor, shortens the distance between experience and awareness, like meditating does, like hard walking in the mountains does. Creative writing is my winter hike, my winter travel, my long meditation. During my nomad wanderings of summer my body and soul were active, they were fed a healthy diet of experiences, that healed some accumulated ailments of the year before. I want to turn a winter of writing into a similar experience of healing for mind and body.
I prepared and trained for my past summer experiences. It will take preparation and training to be ready for a solid experience of winter writing. The big 4 of living are again what will prepare me for my winter life.
words, ideas, stories on the page. That isn’t a diet of coffee and sweets, although
chocolate is one of my food groups!
4. A daily schedule to accumulate the writing miles, to reach the arbitrary goal I will set.
Life goals are arbitrary, they are but a direction, a form for living. Do you remember what you felt as you organized, got ready, and eventually lived your summer (travel) goals? Do you recall the sweat, the anxiety, the elation or surprise you felt? Don’t let reaching your goal become an accumulation of photographs of pretty places, taking up space in your life. Use your summer experience to fuel your winter. As Japanese writer and organizer, Marie Kondo says, “if it doesn’t give you joy, throw it away!”.
There is a simple exercise you can do to get to joy and lightness of being. Maybe some of you are doing a check-in for your body on the hour, when you ask yourself, “how’s my body feeling, do I need to move, stand, stretch?” (I’m actually dancing to the music, while standing here at my writing desk). Now ask yourself, am I deriving joy from this activity I’m engaged in? If the answer is NO, stop, re-evaluate, change how you’re doing what you’re doing. You don’t need to travel to exotic places to collect joy. It’s the how you do the ‘whats’ that will get you to the joy of the experience.
I will run out of summer laughter in my brain, but I’m already acquiring new fuel as I dance through the miles of writing.
Please interact! Your comments are welcome.