“Waves tumbled, rocked, and splashed along the shore. Standing at a distance, I could see their white shapes heaving just above the far rims of the salt marsh, where the gulls seemed to be flinging across the sand dunes, making low arcs in their leaping. The grasses tossed and swayed, and they carried a fire on their blades which they caught from the sunset. The sun’s western reaches were of a golden salmon color, or a metallic brilliance, making a deep, pure gash in the sky. Overland the running clouds were pink as flamingos, gray as a mole. The whole sky in its freezing beauty crossed all known boundaries, leaping like the gulls from one sea to another. This was light I was unable to catch or see, integral with a motion I could only conceive of, part of the incredible speed of planetary bodies, a beauty made of an infinity of variables. But it is of such a furious unity that we, a feather, or a leaf are made, no matter how far we stray.”
* * * * *
“I listen to the wind swishing through the pitch pines and seething or rustling in the oaks, while blue jays bounce cockily overhead, conversing in brassy, insinuating tones. I sense thousands of years between their voices, hanging millennias. Time opens out again...
Under the full moon, the ground is a network of intricate shadows, meticulously drawn. The trees seem to move across the fluidity of light, extending electric arms and fingers. Their trunks are braced against the wobbling, racing planet. They seem to lift me with them in a sailing of their own. We go between yesterday’s wind and rain, today’s jubilant, far-reaching light, the revivals of the weather. Another sunset comes to fill the sky with molten colors like tropical birds, crossed by golden, braided strands...”
-- John Hay, The Undiscovered Country (W.W. Norton, 1981).
* * * * *
Does your mind ever quiet down? If you’ve practiced any form of meditation, you’re probably especially aware of how hyperactive the human mind can be.
There’s a time and place for our minds to be “busy,” including when we’re doing creative thinking. But an endlessly agitated mind tends to signify major stress.
It’s difficult to enjoy the present moment when our minds are running rampant or our thoughts chaotic. And our physical health is at risk if we can’t let go of stress.
Many people take up a meditation practice for such reasons (others meditate primarily as a spiritual practice, while at the same time experiencing relaxation).
But there are many activities and hobbies that offer some of the same benefits when we get thoroughly immersed in them, including dancing, most participatory sports, and almost anything under the sun that requires complete concentration.
When the hours start to fly by, that’s a good indication that we’re utterly immersed in an activity. If it’s something we love to do, what could be more wonderful?!
Hiking is another activity that can furnish the effects of an extended meditation. The difference is that when we’re in the natural world, peace of mind comes easier.
Other forms of exercise like running and other sports can be enjoyable in a host of ways, and they’re great for our bodies, but they may still entail considerable stress.
Whereas with hiking and other nature-based recreation, we’re temporarily separating ourselves from the hectic everyday world and for a few hours or longer can experience, with few distractions, nature’s wonderfully therapeutic effects.
Just BEING in nature has the effect of reducing stress (there’s growing research that confirms this), and helps put our minds in a much more peaceful place.
Achieving peace of mind has probably rarely been more difficult than it is in our manic modern world. Getting a good taste of it is actually within the realm of possibility when we spend time hiking and communing with the natural world.
-- Charlie Cook