I’m glad Fall is here. The air is crisp and fresh. Trees are turning. Things seem to be… quieting down. Life itself is tugging at me, beckoning me outside, reminding me to take longer looks around, to slow down, to drop out of the swirling, colorful, anxious catastrophe that is the mind and body in hurried motion – there might be nothing so arresting for that chaos as the shocking stillness of an autumn night, crisp air swallowing the sound of my breath, brown leaves strewn round, crisp and delicately poised on the ground. The leaves remind me of my heart’s yearnings, remind me that life is fragile, remind me that I too am insignificant, will be carried with the force of time, will ripen in color and then fall at some point, hollowing into something crisp, glasslike, ready to be shattered, to decompose and be made slowly into something new. Maybe it will also be beautiful, like the sound of one of these crisp leaves underfoot as I walk. Life goes on; it always does.
I take deep breaths, long and slow; the autumn air is like mountain spring water for my lungs. I feel closer to the source, the longer I feel into this moment.The line between the physical and the spiritual is blurring, here, for those who look. We can breathe it in.
Why can’t we talk about spirit? I feel it everywhere. Two weeks ago I was in the Sierra mountains, camping with my family, and I visited the Pacific Crest Trail for the first time since I thru-hiked it two years ago. When we were within a hundred yards of the trail my heart skipped a beat and started singing. I felt a rush of energy through my body… the spirit of the trail welcoming me back! I can’t tell you the joy I felt, being back there. I almost cried. I got on my hands and knees and kissed the trail. Something inside of me burst open; as if a flower was blooming from inside my heart and spilling over. “I believe the land remembers us,” my mom said, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
It got me thinking about the way we live… pretending to believe only in the material world, only the reality that we see with our eyes… we can literally feel our deeper connection to each other and to all of life if we let ourselves! It’s hard to live that way, though. It’s hard to live life with feeling, because it opens you up to pain and sadness. While I was hiking the Sierra Buttes on the PCT, alongside the bliss I felt at being there, I found myself thinking about the way we treat the land collectively, and felt a deep well of sadness. For the land, too, alongside the humans I love, can be killed. We don’t think of land as being alive. We don’t think of the trees and plants, or even animals, as being alive the way we are. If we did, we couldn’t abuse them the way we do. We couldn’t be so careless with the resources we use.
And what does this way of living give us? While we dive so deeply into the illusion of our material wealth, we wall ourselves off from each other. We literally live our lives inside of man-made boxes, keeping nature and other people away from us. And unsurprisingly, we are lonelier than ever, more depressed than ever, more anxious than ever. We are medicated, numbing ourselves to the lives we’ve built for ourselves. Pretending everything is okay. That life like this is enough.
I yearn for so much more intimacy with my fellow living beings. Lately I’ve been feeling a void of touch. I wish I could just touch people more. I’ve been spending more time with my roommates’ house cats the past couple weeks; they are so open and unashamed about their desire for physical touch. And when I pet them, I feel the communication in it. There’s love. I think we humans are like that too; we need to touch each other – touch with feeling. When you touch someone and pay real attention to them, there’s spiritual recognition in it. It lights a spark in your heart. You can feel a kind of intimacy that’s affirming, joyful, and innocent. It’s probably one of the reasons spending time with animals can be so therapeutic for people. Touch and intimacy with people can be more scary, though. Even non-physical contact with people – eye contact, or striking up a conversation, with a stranger, for example – is scary to us (or at least to me). We don’t have the upper hand when we expose our soft heart to each other. It feels easier to just keep our distance than to be bravely vulnerable… but it comes at a cost, the burden of a heavy, lonely heart, or of the numbness that’s necessary to live through carrying the heavy heart. We’ve certainly found plenty of ways to numb. But at least we’re comfortable? With our beautiful homes and nice things to sit on, our nice clothes and cars, our machines that do our labor for us? At least we’re entertained, with a whole world of stimulation that lives in a machine in our pocket, that we can turn to instead of each other when we don’t know what to do with our feelings, our awkwardness, our insecurities…
We’re learning, though. Forward progress can feel like one step forward, two steps back sometimes. It’s hard to trust the flow of life when we can see things we don’t like in it. But it’s not a reason to despair, friends… The path forward is one step at a time, and it’s each of our jobs to just do the best we can with this step. And the next one, after that. One at a time. Be honest. Be present. Dig deeper. Life is layered and beautiful. So I’m aching for touch? It’s my job to be honest about that. Hug more people. Give touch in respectful, loving, affirming ways. I bet it gets easier! Spiritual communication is happening all the time; put out good energy, to the best of your ability. Respect everyone! Be grateful. Count your blessings. Hug and kiss your loved ones! Live in the moment! All the usual advice. And those things we ache for, from our hearts, usually end up being gifts when they find ways to express themselves. Trust life.
Those are some thoughts I’m having right now. I hope there’s something in it for someone, and if that person is you I’m glad you found yourself here… but at the least it feels good to me just to write, and that’s enough. I am gearing up for a writing challenge in November. I plan to publish a piece of writing every day of the month, even if it’s short and unpolished and “bad” in my eyes. We’re here to try things, do work, express ourselves. I’m tired of just thinking about wanting to write more, and I’m ready to loosen out of the grip of my inner perfectionist and just give it a try. Without perfection. Just me, being my human self, working on my stuff.