News From Yosemite
Imagine living your entire life in a room filled with noisy machines. Every moment, waking or sleeping, your nervous system is accommodating this noise. Some of the noise is meaningful, in that it inspires or requires a response, and much of it is meaningless, just a static so constant and pervasive that it exists like water for fish. And now imagine that, over the course of several days, the machines cease their ceaseless yammering one by one. Imagine that one morning you awaken to an astonishing silence, an absence of noise that is simultaneously disorienting and revelatory, because you are able to hear, for the first time, in utter clarity, your own breathing. You’ve known about your breath your entire life, but you never imagined there was a sound associated with the process. Imagine the wonder with which you would behold this tiny and life-sustaining sound.
This is something like the wonderment I experience when, after several days in the backcountry, the myriad meaningless spinnings of my subconscious quiet themselves, and, in their absence, I am able to perceive within myself a simple peace and humility rooted in the essential nature of my humanity – a peace that has likely been present the entire time underneath the noise, but which is only and effortlessly revealed with a few nights on the ground under the stars. It is always astounding to me that this peace – this absence of anxiety, suffering, or artifice – which I strive so clumsily and (usually) unsuccessfully to produce in my worldly activities and endeavors, appears on its own if I simply walk into nature and stay there for a few days.
I hope that mother nature gets a good laugh out of this, because I certainly do.
The question, of course, is whether it is possible to move back into the world of traffic, taxes, and mirrors while keeping a finger solidly on this pulse… I have yet to succeed entirely, but neither am I completely discouraged. My working hypothesis is that with periodic immersion, maintenance doses of starlight and soil may be sufficient to remind me of who I really am. It is not easy to get the week or two each year, much less each season, but then, it is easier by far than living a life cut off from the basic nature of my being.