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Journey in Nature

“All good things are wild, and free.” – Henry David Thoreau

I look up at the dirt path leading up the mountain. The ancient stones creating natural steps, leading the way. I look back to see the path drop away behind me. I have come this far, I can keep going. My lungs pant and my legs burn, but I push on. The moment I break through the trees and stare over the cliff’s edge I am encapsulated in bliss. I have accomplished what I set out to do and am rewarded with sights of beauty all around me.

On top of the mountain, I can see for miles. The air seems fresher at that altitude. Life has a clarity in that moment. We are but a small creation amongst other small beings that form a larger existence. We are part of something bigger and magical with its divine light in everything.

In yoga, the term for blissful consciousness is Satchidananda. This occurs when the sakti (physical experiences) unites with the siva (our awareness of Self). When these two pieces unite, which had only been separated by our physical manifestation, then we reach enlightenment. It is incredibly difficult to accomplish Satchidananda because we must transcend the suffering of the physical body and our own thoughts and needs to merge with the divine in blissful awareness.

One of my favorite paintings is The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrick. I could stare at this painting for hours. It makes me feel so many things, exhilaration, wonder, hope, uncertainty, and peace. Friedrick’s painting aimed to illustrate the notion of the sublime, which cannot be described in words. The sublime are concepts that are so complex our mind cannot grasp. Studying Friedrick’s painting, I always envision myself in the shoes of the wanderer experiencing the vastness of the ocean before me, the droplets of water against my face as the surf crashes against the rocks.

I have an excellent imagination and, therefore, could visualize myself in that moment witnessing the power of Mother Nature and knowing I was part of a beautiful world. Now, every time I hike to the top of a mountain, I experience the same emotions. There is a moment where everything in my mind clears and it’s all but filled with the sound of the gentle hum of the wind. I might not reach Satchidananda in my lifetime, but I like to think those peaceful moments at the top of those mountaintops are close to bliss.

My journey to this point, like all others, as not been straight and unhindered.

After a severe injury in 2016, I lost motivation to exercise. I could no longer physically accomplish long walks or hike rocky terrain. It took about a year for my strength pre-injury to return. By that time I no longer had a consistent work-out routine and it became easy to come up with excuses not to exercise. One positive of living overseas, I was forced into physical activity due to only having my legs and bike as a form of transportation. The walking and the biking got me back into the habit of exercise.

When my husband and I moved to Maine we started a business where I was walking dogs almost everyday, sometimes three or four walks a day. It was on these walks, often in rural areas, that I felt my heart open and my spirit settle. Therefore, when the pandemic offered time and opportunity to explore trail systems I knew I needed to commune with nature.

I started small at first, 1 mile loop trails, then I was hiking for at least two hours sometimes three times a week. By the end of the summer I craved longer distances and would go for 4 hour hikes.

Breathing the fresh air, listening to the birds, feeling mist or sun on my skin became my way of meditating. Meditation is more than still inward focus, if you can clear your mind with the goal of finding yourself, then you can meditate while doing anything.

Often when I am sitting for meditation, I visualize myself on that mountaintop with no where to go, no meetings to get to, it is just me and the rock I sit on.

I experience the same peace when sitting at the top of a ski slope, my snowboard strapped to my feet, leaning back on my forearms and looking up at the crystal blue sky or a cloudy snowfall. There is complete stillness in that moment before I stand up to glide down the glittering white blanket of snow. The cold does not pierce my skin. The elevation has filtered away the sounds of civilization. That moment fills me with utter contentment.

There have been times throughout my journey where I find this peace. When I was younger perhaps it was sitting on the swing that hung from a tree in front of my house or laying on the trampoline on warm summer nights. As I got older I found those moments while jogging with my dog beside me. Because I associate those times with happiness, I still experience joy sitting on a swing, bouncing on a trampoline, or having my puppy with me while I walk. All of these things have nature in common. I am most happiest when I can enjoy Mother Nature.

There is so much to See in nature. I always marvel at the resilience of trees. Invasive species aim to harm them, yet they continue to grow and reproduce. Humans cut them down, but they sprout new trees in the space. They reach toward the sun as if they want to span the distance between the ground and Heaven. High winds bend and shake them, they weather the storm. The deeper their roots, the stronger they are.

Yogic philosophy explains humans to be capable of being like a tree. Through the root chakra, muladhara, we can grow our roots into the earth to become stable, while our consciousness in the Sahasrara chakra is open and reaching toward the sky. On my journeys to the mountaintops, amongst the strong trees, I seek to find that groundedness.

Many of my jobs on my journey have revolved around computer work while inside. I would often come home exhausted and irritable from staring at a screen all day. Once I got into the habit of get outside for longer walks and hikes I came to realize how unhappy I was working inside, closed off from nature. So I reprioritized my life. My health and happiness became more important than my career.

Hiking helped me rediscover myself and know who I am and what I want to do. My goals became clearer and I have renewed energy to achieve those goals when I can breathe in the fresh air. I never feel alone hiking in the woods. Instead I feel like I am coming home.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” – Henry David Thoreau

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