Nature Notes - January 2021
- Story by James Inabinet
“One has to be alone, under the sky, before everything falls into place and one finds his or her own place in the midst of it all.” [Thomas Merton]
I walked into the woods on New Year’s Day with the minimal gear I needed to sit and fast for three days. It was a warmish afternoon for January, blue sky partly occluded by puffy clouds, a light breeze from the north.
I had already spent hours post-Christmas reflecting on this past difficult year, one of profound personal and social turmoil. More than once I considered myself vanquished by it, and yet here I was at the threshold of a new year. Emotionally exhausted, I went into the woods because I felt that I had no place else to go.
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In the beginning, my inquiry and meditations were superficial, mundane. I still had a foot in the world of phones, TV, and motor cars – not so easy to shake off. I spent an inordinate amount of time musing over what I would have done differently or what I can and should do now to change what and how I do.
Important as these considerations are, they lead to resolutions – not to the deep change I desired and needed to keep me from my own self-imposed limitations. The forming of resolutions was not what had driven me out here.
In indigenous societies, some form of “vision quest” was enacted as a self-defining experience, a rite of passage that initiated and propelled a life-long journey to articulate and become the person one already is. In the midst of being lost or passing a threshold, a person might challenge herself to go into the wilderness to lament for a vision that may provide clues for becoming, simply –herself.
It was a lament too, as in a sorrowful plaint, like when an acolyte beats his breast in grief. In this case, the grief arose from having lost one’s way. Continuous prayers were sent out, in all directions.
Full blown movie-type visions were rare; answers usually arrived in the form of clarity and insight and were often initiated by the howls of an animal, a flashing meteorite, an irruption of birds flying over, that shook one out of a reverie. Two crows noisily flying over heading north might be taken as a sign to wake up!
The vision, or image, or insight – if effective – would provide intimations of a framework upon which to grow an organic path into an authentic future. What does it mean to be human... human in my peculiar way?
A squirrel, in being and doing squirrel, emanates a way of being that I call squirrelness. It’s the essence of her true being. It’s unmistakable; you know it when you see it. I wondered, how might I emanate humanness in my own unique way, as effortlessly, as authentically, and as obviously as that?
Day two wasn’t much different than the first, though the lack of food made me lethargic and I wasn’t drinking enough water. By the third day I was tired from lack of food and sleep, even dizzy. I hadn’t been sleeping well; I couldn’t get warm. It took effort to get up to feed the fire.
By early afternoon, insights about my true nature – the good, the bad, and the ugly – spontaneously cascaded in me, through me, and out of me. Parts of me that I had long thought to have conquered emerged to be faced yet again. One’s demons are never entirely vanquished, only kept somewhat at bay.
Facing my fear, I now knew, was where I needed the most work: fear of failure, fear that I was not good enough, smart enough, strong enough to forge my own authentic path. Fear inexplicably seems to help manifest that which one fearfully avoids.
“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” [Laird Hamilton]
Emerging from my sojourn the next day, exhausted but encouraged, I trudged home, eagerly anticipating pulling my hard-won insights into a strategy over the next week or so – and proceed. Not just any path would do either; for me it would have to be a path with heart:
“For me there is only the traveling on paths that have a heart, on any path that may have a heart. There I travel. And the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its whole length. There I travel ... looking ... looking ... breathlessly.” [Carlos Casteneda]