My hiking pants and even my rain jacket, saturated like the autumn leaves that blanket the forest floor cause my clothing to cling tightly to my arms and legs. As I feel the cool water droplets running down the back of my neck and beneath my shirt I feel a sense of peace in my heart and harmony with this wild space. My heart is filled with deep joy and thankfulness.
This is a description of my hike to Rocky Falls, but this is not how it began. No thanks to my wandering mind, this is how it happened.
Erin and I originally had plans to hike one of the high peaks. Part of the beauty of the high peaks for me is that its something I cannot experience back home in Pennsylvania. But a high peak was not in the cards because the weather forecast called for rain in the morning and thunder storms in the afternoon. This meant the high peaks might be unsafe.
Rather than risk the peaks, we chose to hike a level trail along the edge of Heart Lake. This trail followed a stream which led to a waterfall called Rocky Falls. As we hiked that level path next to the creek I got to thinking that this was certainly something I could have experienced back home.
Enter, my wandering mind.
There was no need to drive 6 hours to hike a level trail along a creek. Was this a waste of time?
It sure was feeling like it. Speaking of which, I wonder what's going on back home. What's the weather doing back in Wellsboro? How did the previous day's church service go? I wonder if it was well attended in my absence. When I get back I'll have to get right back to working on church leadership nominations.
When my wandering mind started thinking about church leadership nominations I had to stop myself.
Why had I so effectively closed my mind off to the beauty of this place!!?? Here I was in the heart of the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks thinking about work!
To quote Thoreau, "I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there is spirit." (Nature Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press; Boston, MA. 1991. Pg. 78)
Has your wandering mind ever done this?
The roar of the waterfall is what snapped me out of my funk, helping me to open my eyes, my mind, and my heart to the beauty and wonder of this place.
Sometimes we just need something to speak with greater volume than our own thoughts. Wild spaces are good for that.
Though, I'll say this about wild spaces; sometimes its the big and powerful things that bring me to a state of openness and receptivity. Other times its like it was for the prophet Elijah. Elijah is said to have heard the voice of God not in the roaring wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the sound of a gentle whisper. A still small voice. (1 Kings 19:12)
I could surely sense the Spirit of God speaking peace into my mind and heart once my wandering mind ceased wandering. Maybe it was the gentle sound made by raindrops colliding with new-fallen leaves on the forest floor. Maybe it came from somewhere deep within my own beating heart.
There are two things I want in my life and maybe you want them too. I go to wild spaces because I want to experience these things:
- Peace of mind and heart
- Harmony with wild spaces
If you're longing for peace and harmony; I urge you to go to wild spaces. It doesn't have to be a week-long vacation in the Adirondacks. Maybe its a day spent at a nearby State Park. Maybe its a fifteen minute walk through a town park.
But before you do there are three character types each of us needs to be aware of. One is to be avoided. One is to be preferred over the others. Two can be present simultaneously.
- The Wandering Mind
- The Explorer
- The Saunterer
The wandering mind has no place in wild spaces, but perhaps it is true that the one who struggles with a wandering mind often needs the solitude of wild spaces more than most. When I speak of a wandering mind I'm talking about the person whose experience on the trail is dominated by thoughts about the busyness of daily life.
The explorer seeks to penetrate wild spaces for his/her own purpose, intent, and pleasure. This can be a healthy way of experiencing wild spaces; but this is not the way to peace and harmony.
The third way is described by Henry David Thoreau in his book, Walking. Thoreau speaks of the etymology of the word "saunter" when he says that it is derived from the phrase "a la Sainte Terre," which, in the Middle Ages meant "to the holy land." (Nature Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press; Boston, MA. 1991. Pg. 71)
For Thoreau, every step in the outdoors was about going to the holy land of forest, field, and swamp.
My friend Amy shared a quote with me recently and it bears mentioning here. This is what English Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning has to say of the sacredness of wild spaces;
“Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” ― Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The explorer seeks to penetrate wild spaces for his/her own purpose, intent, and pleasure.
The saunterer, recognizing the sacredness of wild spaces seeks not to conquer but to understand; to allow the beauty, wonder, and wisdom of wild spaces to penetrate his/her receptive mind and open heart.
While traveling to the holy land of the bog and the mountaintop there are many sacred moments along the way; the deer leading her young of the year through the woods, the red squirrel extracting the seeds from a balsam cone, the song of the chickadee, the soft petals of a ready-to-bloom wildflower, and the mountaintop shrouded in a misty cloud.
The saunterer, allowing these experiences to penetrate his/her receptive mind and open heart seeks peace within and harmony without. The saunterer experiences community in wild spaces in a way that the explorer never could.
The one who goes to wild spaces with a receptive mind and an open heart should expect to return a changed person in some sense. Maybe we can't quite put a finger on the change that occurs as a result of any single outing, and that's okay.
The one who goes to wild spaces with a receptive mind and an open heart should expect to return a changed person in some sense.
The truth remains. To go to wild spaces with a receptive mind and an open heart is, in other words, to exhibit a childlike sense of wonder!
This receptive mind and open heart is the sense of childlike wonder that Jesus speaks of when he says, "anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15)
The Kingdom of God is not some far off place. The Kingdom of God is to be found by the saunterer, who receives via a receptive mind and an open heart those great gifts of peace within and harmony without.
I urge you; go to a wild space today. Your health, well-being, and your fullness of life depends on it!
Leave your wandering mind at home. Go exploring if you will, and sauntering you must, with receptive mind and open heart.
Go to wild spaces expecting to return a changed person in some sense.
May the Spirit of God work wonders in you through your experience in wild spaces today!