I went for a walk today. I left behind my cell phone and computer and backpack and all my stuff. My baggage. As I walked, I sang. The Prayer of Saint Francis. The Prayer of Saint Patrick. I came to the edge of the woods and realized I needed to walk in them. I went into the woods until I couldn’t see the school and took off my shoes. I’ve never walked barefoot in the woods before. It’s surprisingly soft. You can go very quietly if you watch where you are going and listen. I think the reason God always tells people to take off their shoes on holy ground is that shoes separate us from creation. Going barefoot, you feel everything. I felt my feet pulling me somewhere. It felt like God wanted to show me something. A burning bush. A deer. A sacred grove even. Everywhere was beautiful, but nowhere felt quite right.
Finally I found a place. Crow feathers were strewn on the ground. It was halfway up a small hill. Not really a clearing, but a place where the pines have been long enough that there isn’t much undergrowth. It still didn’t feel quite right, but I realized I couldn’t safely go much farther, and this place had a big fallen tree to sit upon and feel things. Not think. It’s finals week. I’ve had enough of thinking. I realized I came here to feel. I crumbled pieces of rotten wood in my hands. Ants scurried. I wished I could help them feed their babies, maybe by putting sugar or a dead bird on their nest. A giant in the sky, reaching down to help the little creatures that work so hard. Why do they work so hard? What’s so special about this fallen tree, that these little ladies would spend their whole lives calling it their home: deconstructing it bit by bit. Scurrying through a million tiny unseen passageways. But this was thinking: I came here to feel something. It had slowly begun to dawn on me that this was as good a place to be my holy ground as any. If God is as omnipresent as they say, I might as well meet him here. There was no burning bush, but he was in this woods.
I didn’t know how to touch or feel or hold what I was seeking. I tried listening. I tried talking. I tried singing. None of it seemed right for this place. I listened again. A crow cawed. Another answered. I was a predator in their territory. They were warning each other. Perhaps to convince them that I was not a human, that I was not a crashing, lumbering beast capable of genocide and rape and murder and hatred and darkness and making crow soup, I whistled a birdsong. This seemed right. I whistled another song. The Oath to Order. This was majestic, but not right. There was whimsy in this place. Magic, even. I stood.
I danced on moss and pine needles, whistling the Song of Storms. I spun and tripped and lept and looked a proper fool, I’m sure. If a white man dances in the forest and no one is there to watch, is he still awful? Yes. But now I was feeling something. release. I returned to my log, but didn’t feel like sitting.
I realized that this was all quite mystical, and if I were from another religious background, now would be a good time to do yoga. There wasn’t really room here to do crane or downward dog, so I just stood in the tree pose. A tree among trees. And then the feelings began. I planted both feet on the ground, coming out of the pose. I reached for the sky as far as I could. I’m no tree. Trees are twice my girth and twenty times my height. But here I stood like they were, reaching heavenward.
I looked into the sky and saw the trees around me and the clouds above them and a nothingness above them that extends infinitely. I’m very small. In fact, I really have no control over anything. And the world is beautiful and peaceful and connected anyway. The ants in that log tear the tree down so that there will be soil for new trees. The songbirds I was mimicking eat the ants and other creatures eat the birds and so it goes up the food chain. The animals eat each other. Their decomposing corpses feed the plants that feed them. This little forest, this ecosystem, interacts not only with itself, but with all the ecosystems around it. and those ones interact with their surrounding ecosystems. Food chains. Nutrient cycles. Rivers and rainfall. All of it going on all over the world completely without my help. Worry is ridiculous. The very things that do the most to keep me alive are the ones over which I have absolutely no control whatsoever. So why worry about anything else? Compared to the universe, the galaxy, the sun, the earth, the ocean, the land, the woods, What are my problems? Compared even to a handful of trees. What am I?
I pulled on my shoes. immediately, I was a human again, Separated from the real world. I ran from that place, thundering. Breaking branches. I couldn’t stay there. But I took that place with me. It floats inside of me now. I came across two people on the road back to school, and I greeted them at peace. I saw the campus and prayed that everyone could find a moment like this. A moment of letting go. A moment alone with everything.