I decided to go for a solitary hike on Saturday. I’ve been a hiker for most of my adult life, but I’ve never quite felt safe going alone. I’ve always admired women who could do this, and enjoy it, but when I was alone, I felt hyper-vigilant and that wasn’t very relaxing. So on Saturday, I was surprised to find myself unafraid. When I arrived at the trail head, I realized that I hadn’t even thought to bring my pepper spray along (something I’d always done in the past) but I still wasn’t concerned. I wondered if this internal calm had anything to do with what was happening in the world. Was it like a balancing reaction to the fear surrounding me when I was not in the woods? Or was something else happening?
I began to make my way up the trail. It was moderately steep, so my heart was beating faster and my breathing quickened. Pulling the cool, fresh, air into my lungs felt oddly healing as though I was experiencing some sort of internal massage. There were very few people hiking that day, but something about my encounters with them was different. Everyone stepped off the trail, as we gave each other distance, but we also stopped and had short, and for lack of a better word, loving, interchanges. I’ve always found hikers to be nice people in general, but there was a sweetness to our chance meetings that I’ve never experienced before. It was as if I was seeing people with a new, slower, and more interested eye. We were together. We were comrades. Compadres. Friends who cared. It didn’t matter that none of us had ever seen each other before, and probably never would again. We were in this together, even though we weren’t hiking together. We were connected and we felt it. It was the best hike of my life.
After I returned home, I was telling this to a friend and he said, “That’s in pretty stark contract to going to the grocery store!” And I realized that yes it was. I used to enjoy grocery shopping, but not during this pandemic. The only store that I still like going to is Trader Joe’s. Their employees are deliberate about making eye contact, smiling, and on a practical level, only letting 30 people at a time in the store (but while you wait outside, they bring you a freshly sanitized cart, along with light, friendly, conversation). What a difference it makes. While shopping at the “regular” stores, I’ve tried to make eye contact and smile at others who pass me, but a very small percentage even look around. The atmosphere is one of, “I am going to get in, get what I need, and get out”. It is fairly grim. I always feel like I can’t take a deep breath until I am back safely in my car. I admit that I feel this fear too, so I’m not pointing the finger in a critical way, as much as looking at how easy it is for me to get caught up in that kind of response to life when I’m afraid.
Fear is a dense energy. It is draining. If, in an attempt to protect ourselves, we choose to close off our loving hearts, we suffer mentally, physically, and spiritually. Yes, we must physically distance ourselves from others, but we can be even more open emotionally and spiritually. We can choose to open our minds, our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to others. I saw and felt this on the trail. I know that it is possible.
In his magnificent book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, observes,
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (pg. 86)
So “How am I choosing to think today?”may just be the most important question that I can ask myself, because even when I’m not seeing friends or family, I can close my eyes and imagine them as healthy and happy. I can see them smiling. I can imagine us hugging and laughing. When I see people on the street or in the store, I can smile. I can see hello. I can attempt to expand my loving thoughts and not succumb to the temptation to contract and “get what I need and get out”. There is so much that we can do, without leaving our homes, to connect meaningfully and powerfully with others…and just maybe this will bring us closer to our own centers/hearts/homes. Be well, dear ones, and we’ll be connecting soon.❤️
“The place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you” Hafiz