Breaking ice with our paddles and lurching our canoe through a moon less night, we anxiously search for somewhere to land. It is four degrees below zero and my motionless feet are numb inside the aluminum canoe. The shoreline is steep and unaccessable and a thick soupy fog settles onto the lake, obscuring our vision of what is ahead. We feel lost and slightly concerned. Our senses are keen, though, and the moment is ultra clear and surreal. Millions of stars glitter in the night sky, which is partly obscured by the silhouettes of tremendous mountains rising on all sides of Powell Lake and then suddenly a sign appears from the mist. Our spirits lift until we realize that it is not a sign but a mockery of our situation. Nailed to an old submerged snag are old toys and stuffed animals crucified and moldy. We are then paddling through a rotten forest of trees that drowned when the lake was damned. An eerie and surreal situation given the passing mist, the calmness of the water and our tired states. Finally we see the beach triangle and follow it to a small bay where we joyously land our canoes. We light a huge fire by which I thaw my frozen feet, and warm my stomach with the last of our scotch and the bare remains of our week's food supply. Our sleeps are immensely satisfying and peaceful. I fall asleep with a clear mind listening to the occasional creak of the frozen forest or the chant of a distant squirrel. No unnecessary thoughts badger my mind, no concerns nor stress interfere with my tranquil state.
One week of living simply in nature had afforded me the priceless reward of peacefulness. I believe that this is something not readily obtainable in our modern cities and lifestyles. It is certainly not traded on the stock market nor available for purchase no matter how hard one works to save money. Nonetheless, I assign it a high value and it is in fact a primary goal in my life to achieve and maintain. I encourage others to pursue such a state of mind as well. I do this not only for their own good, but because I believe much of the hard work we pour into life is in vain. All the things we buy, the energy we consume and the comforts we create are an endless cycle that merely sets the goal to be bigger and better yet yields little true reward and certainly not a deep sense of peacefulness or harmony. Throughout this path we endure high rates of stress on our own minds and spirits and all the while we create an enormous burden on the environment.
If you agree then I call upon yourself to act. There is no time like the present to make an adjustment in one's lifestyle and pursue an alternative and substantial source of satisfaction that is, for the most part, removed from money. I will suggest that a good course may be to go for a hike every week, and where ever you go, then stop and take some time to rest and relax. In this time, take some deep breathes, clear the mind by paying special attention to your senses, thus allowing yourself to be mindful of your surroundings. Make sure that your phone is off! Many of us participate in a communication paradigm that is unprecedented. Human's are undoubtedly social but I am certain that what we have become accustomed to is more than an optimal amount of communication to live a fulfilling life.
To really get away from your phone and the constant stimuli that is common in our lives, you may need to pursue a deeper interaction with nature and would benefit from several days in a wilderness setting. Repeatedly, I notice that four or five days of removal from my normal routines is required for me to restore a feeling of tranquility and clarity. Its easy for me to forget how much I relish that feeling but by now I fully acknowledge, and even anticipate it. I highly recommend pursuing this state.
Increasing your quality time spent in natural areas is the first step in the process of inviting nature into one's life as a source of contentment, while adapting to the elements and learning to become comfortable in the outdoors is equally important. Being wet, cold or feeling unsafe tends to make people fear nature as something to avoid. Being warm and feeling secure when the weather is foul is immensely rewarding in and of itself. My last suggestion may stem from my experience studying science but I think that understanding nature and its processes will further bring you towards a situation where a substantial portion of your spiritual fulfillment and intellectual inspiration comes free and in a constant stream from nature's limitless supply. Of course, traditional ecological knowledge, that is the knowledge view of indigenous peoples may be an ever more enriching way to build an understanding of the natural world.
My belief in the value of nature to the human spirit is widely shared by indigenous cultures all around the world who have acknowledged since time immemorial that all life on earth is interconnected. These cultures have traditionally had an intrinsic respect for other organisms sharing their environment and generally have lived in a much more equitable and sustainable lifestyle than our own society. Modern religions have deviated from this path and been very successful in urging humans to neglect our origins and relationship to nature but it is important to remember that on the geologic time scale or even on the scale of humans as a species, this has been a very recent occurrence. Even more recently, consumerism has replaced both traditional religions and many aboriginal beliefs to become a near universal religion. There is no doubt that consumption is increasingly and mistakenly relied upon as a source of happiness, identity and community. How awful!
As you may have already surmised, I believe that nature is the best and most dependable source of peacefulness and spiritual stability. I have gained this perspective over the last many years through spending large amounts of time in an array of different natural environments ranging from icy mountainscapes to windblown beaches in wild locales and from ragingly dry deserts, such as the Atacama, to the spectaculaly wet coastal rainforests of British Columbia. For the majority of these experiences I have been alone and on several such trips I have passed many days without encountering another human. (Plenty to read about in my other blogs)
The good news, though, is that you dont need to spend weeks in the alpine or the driest desert of the world to find this connection with nature. This is something we can all relate to and, in fact, this is where we have all come from, and just because we are going in a divergent direction does not mean that we are barred from returning. Nearly everybody derives some satisfaction from nature wether it is from skiing, mountain biking, surfing, driving down an empty road, admiring big storm clouds on the horizon or simply looking out the window while having a cup of coffee. But, most of us can benefit from pursuing and developing this enjoyment in a very simplified, may I say human, way. My final suggestion is to find a way to interact in nature that is relatively harmonious. Harmony, I will suggest, is the highest virtue and nothing in life can be more enriching and fulfilling. Im not there yet, but in moments when I do feel it, I am positively content.