In my life, I have hiked thousands of miles and spent hundreds of nights sleeping in a tent or even outside. I will admit that, sometimes, when I'm preparing for another venture into the wilderness, I wonder if perhaps I'm a little crazy for leaving the comforts of home: soft bed, warm shower, a roof to keep me dry if it rains.
I never wonder this when I'm in the wilderness.
So what compels me to spend so many days outdoors, in nature? This is a question that has come to me every so often, and the answer wasn't always clear. But I think I'm starting to figure it out.
Being in the wilderness allows me to be "present" in a way that is difficult under normal circumstances.
At home, the calendar shows events for months to come. I'm always anxious about money. Usually the anxiety is not about meeting today's needs, but tomorrow's. My mind is often fixated on things that are days, weeks, months, or even years away.
As a pastor, I've been thinking about Christmas for many weeks now. Indeed, I've moved beyond Christmas, and am already anticipating programs and ministries for 2011.
Planning ahead is necessary and important, of course. However, too often it takes place at the expense of being present. Hours go by, and we're not even aware of their passing, because our thoughts are elsewhere. What did you have for breakfast this morning? What did you do last evening? Sometimes it's hard to remember such simple details, because while we were eating breakfast, our mind was somewhere else; while we played a board game or had a conversation last evening, our mind wasn't really present.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I went camping with Troop 29 (my church's boy scout troop, which my son is in) to Joshua Tree National Park. While there, I found myself watching the clouds, and watching the rocky cliffs change color as the clouds passed in front of the sun. Climbing (well, "bouldering," actually) one of those rocky peaks, my thoughts were fully present as I contemplated how to safely navigate to the top, where to put my hands and feet, feeling the rough texture of the rocks on my hands, feeling the cool breeze and warm sun on my face, and keeping alert lest I surprise a rattlesnake as I climbed.
With thoughts like these, there is no room in one's mind for worrying about the future. One cannot always live in the present, of course, but most of us hardly ever live in the present. We need to find some balance.
Some call it mindfulness. It is, I think, an overlooked spiritual practice, at least in the West. I've been told that meditation involves shutting out sights, sounds, and distractions, and emptying one's mind. I'm not so sure. For me, meditation is more about opening the mind to the world around me, and recognizing the sacredness of it all.
|The view from the top of my climb.|