Last Saturday we went up to the Great Falls National Park near Washington DC and did some hiking as well as rock [[wiki:Scrambling]]. I was reading about the latter on the wiki page and noticed they categorize this activity into three parts. We were doing the the easy to moderate scramble, it seems to me, along with some rock hopping! And it was a lot of fun! I enjoyed looking for the best way forward and never lost an opportunity to use a small tree or branch for balance and security. You use your arms and feet together in a coordinated way, unlike hiking, and it reminded me a great deal of the high school wrestling we did many years ago. I’m not very good at sports but there is something about both these activities that resonates with me. There is the possibility of landing on your back, in both cases. And in neither do you require great balance, which is my problem. Just hold on and stay low! Look for the next advantage and go for it!
At one point during this adventure I was waiting for most of the group to catch up and started looking at the trees. They seemed so full of energy and life even though their leaves have all gone. Their branches reached for the sky as the sun made an appearance for a short time. And I thought, “I am out here, listening to the Potomac River, looking at the trees, and waiting for a group of people but I am essentially alone in this world. My children are grown. I’m retired. I could stay out here for days and it would hardly be noticed”. It’s a feeling I’ve had all of my life but now all the daily chores are gone. And thanks to the love of friends, family and my wife, it’s no longer a feeling of loneliness. It’s not painful! It’s a feeling of solitude.
Walking nearly every day for the past 18 months has probably intensified this feeling. It’s difficult to hold on to things when you walk. And letting go of bad habits is not the only thing. It’s also an opportunity to let go of anxiety about being alone. When you walk you are away from your life and the things you “need” to be doing. You are creating a space. A peaceful place. And, based on what I was feeling last weekend, my space must be getting larger! I feel like a space traveler who is here for a visit and will be hopping a ride on a spaceship shortly, leaving all behind.
My diet has changed too. Giving up sugar was not so difficult. Giving up manufactured bread was a little more challenging. There are so many things we eat that are not good for us! Or drink! So, probably, this has made a difference in my perceptions.
Creating a new lifestyle is not very difficult to do and there are surprises along the way. We have spiritual guardians who will help us but we must think and not be discouraged. Every day brings an opportunity to make an effort. Mine, today, was not great. I felt weak and only hiked 4 and a half miles in the rain. But why even think about that? Look at the big picture. I’ve “walked across the US” in the last 18 months if you add up the miles. And then look at the bigger picture. We are here a short while and then we go. We leave our possessions and our bodies behind! I watched my dear mother-in-law, Betsy’s mom, draw her last breath in December. And it made a deep impression on me. I can’t describe it here but one result is that I see the limitations of our earthly loves. Bema is still with us in spirit. She is in a better place, for sure. But she is gone as well. We tend to feel anxiety about this part of the equation. We tend to avoid thinking about it. We spend our hours and energy looking in the other direction with all the family or group activities we can imagine. We think about our “soul mate” who will, supposedly, resolve this feeling of separateness (not for long!).
It’s a little bit easier to deal with this issue as an introvert, perhaps. You have many more opportunities to practice!! But all the practice in the world will not help if you don’t deal with the challenge. Love your friends. Love your family. But take that love to a place where you are alone with nature in the woods. Or go to the library. Wherever. Be somewhere that includes voices you cannot hear and visions you have not shared. And then, listen.
I am never alone in my heart. But we are human beings made of earth, separate and alone, who struggle along the path as we discover our way home. Here are some photos from our hike on Saturday taken with a little Canon point and shoot.