For the first month of this pilgrimage I have been called to–this sacred journey through parts of our nation–I was mostly camping outside, only occasionally taking refuge from the cold and damp in the warmth and comfort of a motel room. But now, moving into my sixth week, I have been staying in the homes of hospitable friends. And although I am enjoying this time with ones dear to me, my spirit is beginning to notice something. When I am away from nature I get more out of balance.
When camping, after my day’s activities (or lack thereof) I am drawn to my tent, more than ready for sleep even before darkness arrives. Then, unless I am too cold, I sleep quite well, even on the hard earthen floor beneath my tent. I wake before the sun rises, quickly dress in the chill dawn hour, step outside and boil water in a pot on my camp stove for a cup of hot tea. I sit at my picnic table with my journal and watch the day gradually grow lighter until I see the bright rays of our sun piercing through the branches of sheltering trees. I stand to greet our yellow star and say or sing my prayers of gratitude to the life that is around me–the ever-giving Earth, the clean fresh air, the shining sun, the river and ocean and dew.
When I’m camping, my pace is slower and my schedule is lighter. Sometimes I go to visit certain places that sound beautiful or interesting or important. I will spend several hours with the redwoods or the ocean or the sand dunes or an ancient village of a native tribe. And then I am content to go back to my “home for now”–that place that holds my tent and sleeping bag and altar. But some days I don’t feel the need to go anywhere. There is no need to pack too much activity into the day. It is okay to just “be” for a while.
When I am camping, I notice that I generally eat quite modestly. I theorize it’s because I feel nourished by the beauty that is all around me. Often I find I am not that hungry and that I have gone many hours without eating. I have to remind myself to eat to nourish myself and keep my blood sugar levels stable.
Some days I need to drive to a new location. I try to find a place to land before late afternoon. Sometimes I set my tent up right away, but often I will just sit for a while. There is no rush. Over and over I remind myself, ‘There is no rush.’
What a difference from “normal” life in America!
In contrast to this existence which is primarily outside, when I stay inside for more than a few days, I rather alarmingly revert back to unhealthy habits. I inevitably find myself staying up late into the night, lured by the convenience of electric lights and the temptation and distraction of social media. Granted, because most of the time I have been quite alone, it is comforting to connect with friends via word games and Facebook. But if I linger too long on these pastimes, I begin to find myself embroiled in discussions that, to be quite honest, are not very fruitful. And I begin to find myself more and more agitated with the negativity splayed across the pages and posts. Where is my peace? Where is my peace? I have to remind myself to close down my laptop and do something less stressful. Or better yet, turn off the gadgets and then do nothing!
When I stay up later, of course I wake later. And then I miss the sunrise. And although I have a prayer practice I do wherever I am, I miss the songs I sing when I am outside. I miss the trees, the birds, the breeze. The inside world can be a lot more comfortable, but the artificiality becomes depressing after one has partaken of the joys and gifts of nature.
When inside, I find myself eating more compulsively. There is more food more easily available. I eat it while doing another task, even though a part of me knows how unhealthy this habit is. I observe myself making these poorer choices and I cringe. I need to get myself outside again! Quick, quick! Leave before you turn into an overweight depressed zombie! These man-made boxes are not good for my soul.
With the girlfriend I’ve been staying with for the last several days, we have ventured out every other day for a glorious excursion into the beauty that is Montana. We have traveled through Glacier National Park (which was more breathtaking than I ever imagined) and strolled in wonder amidst 500-year-old cedars. And then we hopped in our car and returned to the comforts of food cooked on electric stoves with produce stored in electric refrigerators and movies watched on televisions run by electricity. It is all very wonderful and cozy and easy and pleasant. And I miss having trees as my nearest neighbors. I miss going to bed before darkness falls. I miss hearing the river or the ocean or the waking birds or the tapping of branches in the breeze.
I have many other friends to visit over the course of the next month and a half. And even though the temperatures are getting very cold at night, I think I will need to intersperse those visits with more tent time. I need to feed my spirit by returning to the tamed wildernesses that still exist on our beautiful continent. I need to pull off the trafficked roads of life in the fast lane and slow way, way down to the pace of nature. It’s where I find my peace.
I wish this for all of us.