I used to think I was meant to share this experience with you. I used to believe that was why I came back to the woods; why I went again in search of places where the forest has a feeling. I used to think I needed to document these incredible experiences I was having, so I could share that final, perfect moment with you.
I used to think that I could move you.
I could not.
Now I know that the experience and the place are not as intrinsically linked as I once thought. Seeing is not experiencing; experience is not knowing; looking is not seeing. I didn’t know then what I know now. I had not yet learned the lessons of the journey, the magic of preparation and anticipation.
To dream of a place, to study it, to rehearse the performances necessary to take you there, to fling your sweat down on the earth as your feet pound across its back, to relish in the small triumphs you feel along the way as you get stronger, turn inward, open outward, always beginning again. To do all those things with intense focus is to conjure a subtle magic that transforms you both in that moment, and also forever. You change.
It’s not the places you visit. It’s not the destination. It’s not the journey, either. It’s how you ride the horse; how you accept what’s real and take it all in. Can you walk full into the face of your own boredom, discomfort, loneliness and pain? Can you walk directly into your fears as they swirl around you in the darkness? Or do you retreat into your mind and run away from what’s right in front you? It is the work we come here to do.
The wolves and mountain lions and bears and masked men you imagine in the dark are manifestions of your own darkness. Those predators are not watching you. They are sleeping comfortably in their own beds just now. That ugly fear following you is your own shadow. Can you reach out to it?
As I am moving into the deepest part of the work, I know things will become difficult. I am never sure where I will cross that bridge, only that it’s coming. It can begin early in the trip, as you press yourself upward towards the summit. Sometimes it’s just those last three miles that feel like the dance of pain.
I remember, viscerally, each moment of suffering that I have been able to rise from. Not just plunking along as my body yearns for rest, but sitting taller in the pain, with dignity. Still smiling, still grateful, still seeking a simple passage.
Sometimes I sing. Sometimes I weep. Sometimes I laugh out loud at the comical levels of misery that ensue. Sometimes I talk to my guides. No one else is listening, but the forest. I can get loud and full.
Finally, in the end, lying in the dirt beside my car, back of my head resting on the tire… I’ll be watching the sun set into the hills beside me. I’ll be offering myself a chance to surrender. To let go of all the heartbreak I carry; my own, as well as all the pain I’ve been witness to. I’ll take this gracious moment of physical and mental exhaustion; having kicked rocks into the desert until the sun has slipped. I’ll be having it all out for you and all your sorrows, too, if our paths have ever crossed.
Fully emptied out, I’m now free to find what lies behind all that isn’t me.
I used to think I wanted to share this experience with you. But I can’t take you there. I can only share the lessons I’ve learned. You can go find your own portals now.