[Note: My short essay appeared as part of the Advent Devotional series at my church, Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. Theme for the season is “You Are a Gift.”]
I have been blessed over the past year or two with a growing awareness of nature, especially trees but actually all other plants, animals, and elements, as well.
Part of this is due to the influence of several authors I am following, including Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist, professor, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Robert MacFarlane, a fellow of Cambridge University. Kimmerer’s book is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, and MacFarlane’s is Underland: A Deep Time Journey.
I mention these works, because they are gifts to me, gifts that keep on giving. I do not remember how I learned of either of these books, and given how powerful each is and has been in my life, I believe books and authors are a gift from God to me, and of course to many others.
What they have helped me begin to realize is that there is so much morethat is central to this world than humans. I understand more and more that we humans are latecomers to the earth, that other living things, actually living beings, and even beings we don’t think of as living (mountains, rocks, bodies of water, e.g.) have been here far longer. And they have so much to teach us, if we can let go of our sense of human exceptionalism, as if we are the only ones with knowledge.
And I go further. I am beginning to experience all these beings as fellow citizens of the globe, each one by itself and all of them together. Now I see the world as populated by more than the estimated 7.8 billion humans. Now the population count is so many times that I cannot even calculate. Just think, scientific studies say there are 3.041 trillion trees,400 billion birds, at least 10 billion squirrels.
Talk about gifts!
This year, in Advent as we focus on the reality that each of us is a gift, that I am a gift, that you are a gift, I now see how many other trillions of gifts there are. They certainly will not fit under our Christmas tree!
But they do fit in my life, my heart, and I hope yours, too.
The gift God has given us—all creation—and keeps giving us, is the gift that keeps on giving. How blessed we are!
[Note: This post was prepared 6-8 months ago, but due to technology issues I have been unable to publish it. Please know that this blog is about far more than my, or your, being naked, but through it I am claiming and celebrating my naked soul and body.]
by Robin Hawley Gorsline
On two successive days —a Sunday and Monday—I spent time being naked with other naked people.
The first event was the inaugural meeting of a group in the D.C. area (what is locally called the DMV: District, Maryland, Virginia) called Christian Gay Nudists (CGN). We met in a private home in Langley Park for more than two hours, sharing stories of personal experiences and ideas about nudism and our religion. I had been invited by my friend Darryl Walker, founder of the group, to share some perspectives on the topic as a way to generate discussion. We had no shortage of conversation!
The second was a visit to a clothing optional club operated by the Maryland Health Society. The club is named MAHESO (as in MaHeSo) and is located in Davidsonville, MD, not far from Annapolis. It is a rustic facility with an outdoor pool, trails, picnic area, and spaces for camping, RVs and a few cabins—and on Monday, so peaceful.
It was a pleasure to be with the five other men at CGN and I felt especially happy the remainder of the day. I felt happy the next day too and I experienced serenity at a level far deeper than I have in a long, long time.
Sitting quietly at Maheso, chatting with my friend Michael Hartman (who is a member and drove us there) and floating in the pool, eating lunch outdoors and walking on some trails after lunch—all while completely, gloriously nude (okay, I had shoes and socks on for the trail walking)—I just grew more and more peaceful. I think I have a new understanding of the Hebrew word shalom, which means not only peace but also wholeness.
This wholeness is what nudism manifests in me, in my soul and body, united and unashamed. I have come to believe that when God sees me, as God does all the time, I am seen not with my clothes on, not with my defenses and masks in place, but instead as the naked, vulnerable child of God (and Robert and Jessie Gorsline) that I am.
God loves me just as I am, an out-of-shape, wrinkled, arthritic elder who is less than steady on my feet and more bent down than I would like. That’s who God sees and loves and is always trying to get me to pay attention not only to God but also to my own self, my inner self where God resides.
As I write this some weeks later, I still feel this shalom, and I realize it is why I so want to go out today to work nude in my garden. Working in the soil, with the plants (both weeds—the plants that are out of place in my realm but are still living beings—and the ones I do want to thrive), is a place, a cathedral if you will, of divinity for me, a place where I experience God very directly.
The same is true when I go walking in the woods—again, I want to be naked, like the trees are naked, vulnerable, yet standing and proclaiming their natural beauty. And it is true when I leave my home to walk or drive to the grocery store and go to meetings and certainly to church—engaging the communities I cherish, places I also find and share God.
Sadly, I must satisfy myself to be nude as I write this and generally in my home, except when it gets too cold. We try to keep our thermostat down in winter to save energy and money, something I want to change, at least in my study where I spend much of my day. However, even if I am not nude “out there,” I know God knows who I am and how I really look.
Still, I have decided to be a nude-vangelist wherever and whenever I can, believing that I have been given good news to share with the world. I wish I had the courage to truly be a street nude-vangelist by standing on the corner or at the Metro station unclothed with flyers about the joys of nudism, but I do not. For one thing, I am not ready to spend my days in jail, nor to create trouble for my husband and my larger family.
But please know this: when you meet me, I am nude in my soul, and I really want to be bodily nude with you and you with me—because I want to be whole, I want you to be whole, and I want us to be whole together. Of course, I will do nothing that violates your bodily and spiritual integrity.
Note: I have many interests–anti-racism, Palestinian liberation, queer theology, sex and gender justice, fate of the planet among them–and I am returning to this space to write about many of them, but, fair warning, you can be sure that I will be nude-vangelizing at times here and elsewhere. I hope you will subscribe to this blog or at least check in from time to time. We can create a new world, we might call it Eden, together with the God (or Higher Power, or Universe, whatever your term or concept is) of your and my understandings.
My focus in this series, Whose Land Is It, Anyway, is Israel and Palestine. However, I do not come to this concern as a blank slate. I have history, we all have history, some of which does not directly involve this holy and sacred land in the Middle East.
For me, there is other holy land, too–as a citizen of the United States, there is the land comprising the 50 states. For people in other nations, they may well consider the land of their nation holy.
In fact, all land is holy, part of the divine Creation of which each of us is a part. Without the land of the earth to stand on we would not be.
The native people European explorers and settlers encountered in the Americas knew this truth in a deep and powerful way; it was a core belief on which they all lived. In fact, they rejected the idea than anyone could own land to the exclusion of others. The land belongs to all.
“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” -Massasoit (leader of the Wampanoag in what is now Rhode Island; despite this quotation, he did sell land to the settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony to keep the peace)
Against this vision of common wealth, resources shared for the good of all, immigrants from other places arrived, many of them wanting to create a new life very different from their former ones, including the real possibility that they could finally own land on which to live and even work. No longer would only a few rich, often titled, persons own land, but everyone, or at least many, could own land, too.
There were inevitable clashes, the newcomers wanting what the natives already had, namely land, and the natives sensing a threat to their ability to continue to live in traditional ways. And as the numbers of immigrants swelled, so did the demand for the land.
What began on the east seaboard became inevitably a push all the way to the west coast, from Atlantic to Pacific. In between were many battles, even real wars, between the increasingly dominant power of the U.S. Government and a land-voracious society on the one side and increasingly desperate native tribes and leaders on the other.
Manifest Destiny, the belief that not only could the United States conquer the entirety of land between the coasts but also was called to do so by divine Providence, became the rallying cry. This nation was understood to be ordained to take possession of all it could see between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Land became the commodity and the native people who sat on it became the victims of an overwhelming power, forced to retreat on to reservations where they were told they could keep their native customs (of course, it is not easy to be a hunting and gathering people without large expanses of land). Most of the time, the promises made to the natives were not kept, certainly when those promises got in the way of settlers claiming the land they wanted.
Today, Native Americans struggle to retain their identity, some still living on reservations and others integrating more into the wider society.
And the land? It is still here, more polluted in many cases, and much of it far more densely populated (as well as much still open space) and all of it is “owned” by someone–according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Report in 2007, about 60 percent of the land in the United States is privately owned. The Federal Government owns 29 percent of the land base, mostly in the West. State and local governments own nearly 9 percent, and Indian trust land accounts for about 2 percent.
The natives never claimed to own it, but they did claim to live on it and from it. Many no longer live on reservations and are part of the majority society (even as many of them retain identities as native peoples). But the part on which they can live in community more as their ancient teachings guide them is very small.
Whose land is it, then?
The answer seems simple: those who control access to the land own the land.
And yet rarely, if ever, was a full and fair price paid to the natives. They may not have wanted to sell, but perhaps we could claim some moral high ground if we finally paid what we said it was worth.
I leave this very simple version of the story at this point, inviting the reader to reflect on the value of land and people, and how we are called to live in peace with all.
How can we find peace standing on holy, yet so often bloodied, ground?
It was a mostly wet couple of days with the trees, rhododendrons, and creatures of St. Mary’s Wilderness in the George Washington National Forest in western Virginia. But of course God, or Great Spirit as our native teachers in this land might say, is present no matter the weather. So I learned some important lessons–and I am grateful I went, despite, or perhaps because of, some real challenges. Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the challenges and lessons, or medicine, as Native people might say, I received. Here is the first installment.
I drove from Maryland into Virginia on Tuesday, September 29–after talking to the good folks at REI (Recreation Equipment Inc.), my gurus about outdoor life, about how to put up my tent in a downpour–only to discover when I arrived that torrential rains, almost blinding sheets of moisture at times, made it impossible to hike in and get a camp set up that day. So I spent an uneventful first night at a motel in Waynesboro.
Lesson: Sometimes with nature it is best to lie low, recognizing that the forces of the universe are greater than me.
Wednesday dawned dryer–meaning not raining–so I headed off to the wilderness, and found my way to the Bald Mountain Overlook at Mile 22 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There I parked my car, loaded the pack on my back (did it really weigh sixty pounds?), and walked up Forest Service Road 162 for about a mile until locating the Bald Mountain Trail. Down that trail for most of a mile–pretty steep at times, hard on my right knee, but still a usable trail–across a creek twice until I came to a lovely small clearing in the woods very near the creek. Due to the rain, the creek was running strong and I knew I could use it as a water source (with filtering, of course).
Setting up camp took several hours. I had not done this entirely on my own before, so it took awhile. Several hours later, however, I had a tent erected, sleeping bag unfolded, a tarp in an adjacent area as a place to sit near the creek, and a bag of food hanging in a tree.
Lesson:in putting up the tarp and the food bag, I realized I needed to have asked more questions to the good folks at REI. Where to put the tarp would have been a good start! As to the food bag, I realized I had just nodded to the nice man at REI when he told me to toss a rope line over the limb of a tree where the bag could hang. I knew why to do it–keep the black bears and racoons from ravaging your food–but I was not sure how.
After a little thought, I realized I needed something heavy on the end of the line to toss over the limb. And I needed to find enough of an opening in the dense forest growth where I could toss the line without becoming all tangled in the wrong place. Finding a good spot (and it did work, ultimately, very well), I tied my Swiss Army Knife to the end of the line. That went over the limb just fine but given the force of my toss it just kept wrapping around the limb! I could not reach the end now. Ouch. And what about my knife? I was going to need that again!
I don’t know the physics of this (I don’t know the physics of anything really), but I was able, standing on the ground, to loosen the looped line on the limb enough to get it to unwind and come down. I untied the knife and put it in my pocket, and realized, somehow with my limited capacity for things mechanical, I needed something bigger and heavier than the knife for the end of the line. I tied a small, zipped bag of useful items (whistle, compass, lighter, etc.) to the line and did another toss. Perfect. Whew!
There is more about this line and the bag for a future post, but for now I will conclude by patting myself on the back for getting things set up. And I decided that since the rains had not yet returned (but they were coming, to be sure), it was time for a small hike sans pack. How good it would feel to explore without that weight!
Lesson: Take a break and enjoy the beauty around you (rhododendron everywhere). .
More to come, as this pilgrim’s progress continues . . . . (maybe even a poem).
It’s across the continent from Yosemite National Park, the vegetation and scenery are quite different, and the peaks are lower, but this 10,000 acres of eastern beauty in the George Washington National Forest is calling to me to repeat a little of the Vision Quest in that western gem I experienced one year ago.
This time, I will not have the onsite guiding hand of Tomas Pinkson, blessed shaman extraordinaire, but I remember much that he taught. And most of all, I remember his wisdom, and that of Gerald May and many others, about the power of wilderness to heal, empower, renew, and (re-)orient us. There is, as Tomas and the native peoples say, medicine here that Great Power has for me.
On Tuesday, September 29, I will get in my car and drive into western Virginia, park my car in a designated parking area and hike a mile or two, I hope, or maybe more, seeing the sights, and finding a place to pitch my tent. I will be looking for a water source, too, although like any good wilderness hiker/camper, I will filter all water before using.
I am not on this adventure to hike as much as I am to find a spot in the wilderness for solitude, to sit and meditate, talk and listen to the trees and admire whatever may yet be blooming (probably not much) or beginning to show fall colors.
I go to reconnect with my siblings of the forest, wildlife yes (hopefully friendly) but mostly trees and other vegetation. I draw great strength and solace from the faithfulness of trees and shrubs and other plants who live without human aid.
Indeed, one of the complications about this is the need to be sure those of us who venture into these sacred grounds do not unduly disturb their living. The goal in the wilderness always is to leave no trace of our presence.
This brings to mind one essential spiritual practice, namely to listen and absorb without pressing our own agenda. When we walk and sit in the wild without having to make it ours we can learn that we are not the center of the universe. It is then we begin to receive the gifts that are there for us.
I discovered last year at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite that if I look with truly open eyes and listen with truly open ears I can learn much–about myself, yes, as well as about the world, and certainly about those whose space I was sharing. There is a richness, a depth to this learning that can only be grasped in the midst of wilderness; no book, nor even picture, can convey its integrity and power the way actual presence does.
It may seem strange to write about this seeking of solitude on a blog focused on building community. But for me, solitude is a re-charging of my batteries and a re-orientation to my soul, so that I have energy and clarity in community building work. It also is a reminder that community is more than human.
That reminds me of my “brother tree,” from Yosemite (pictured left), who said to me, “You do not need to see me, but you do need to remember me, to learn from me.” So I go into the national forest here to keep alive that memory and to learn from his siblings in the East (you can read about my brother here). I realize that this will most likely become an annual pilgrimage, not to Yosemite probably most years (expense and currently much fire damage) but to some part of wonderful wilderness to reconnect with my spiritual roots in God’s earth.
In the lush forest growth of St. Mary’s Wilderness I do not expect to see many specimens like my brother. He grew, like his neighbors, out of the hard mountain granite; some grew stronger and taller but many were stunted and twisted like him. That any survive let alone thrive still amazes me. The tenacity of spirit is a badge of honor and an example of courage for all of us.
At the same time, not even this place of beauty is immune from the hardness, even harshness, of nature. Hurricane Isabel did much damage in St. Mary’s Wilderness in 2003, leaving reminders of how fragile the wholeness of nature is. And much of the area was the scene of heavy mining for iron ore and manganese into the 1960s. Fortunately, designation as a national wilderness area in 1984 is helping reverse, in nature’s own good time, these impacts. I hope my presence is healing, too, not just for me but for all who call this home.
I check my list of things to do before I leave and things to take with me, and try to fit everything neatly for a balanced pack. I remember that I am a pilgrim on journey on land where others move and have their being, and pray I will be open to all the gifts, all the wisdom, all the medicine that will bless me.
[This continues the meditations from December 9, December 10, and December 12, 2014, and January 9 and January 21, 2015. reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park. If you want to receive the full gift of this one, I suggest you read the earlier ones. Clicking on the date will take you there. But you can, I think and hope, enjoy this post without reading the others.]
It was one year ago today–September 11, 2014–when I took the plunge. Literally. I waded a short way into Lower Cathedral Lake, naked, and as I felt the bottom drop down, I dove in.
Shock! The coldest water I have ever felt. I lived in Maine for several years, and went swimming in very cold small spring-fed lakes and in the Atlantic Ocean, but this water was cold, C-O-L-D! Actually, beyond mere cold.
I think I lost consciousness for a moment or two. I felt myself sink. I am not a good, or strong, swimmer. I panicked. But I had enough sense to turn around and begin to paddle furiously. After what seemed like eternity but probably was well less than a minute, I felt the bottom. Relief.
I stood up. There was applause on shore. “You made it,” shouted a friendly voice. “You discovered just how cold it is!” I nodded and waved, not able to find my voice as I clambered through the water to shore (later I thanked God those day hikers stayed long enough to be sure I got out).
I remembered that I came to the water to swim naked, to stand up naked going in and going out, in response to awareness of body shame. In this moment, I was so cold, I only knew I wanted to expose myself fully to the sun (I had not thought to pack a towel for the Quest, so air drying was it). Forget shame. Get warm, be “skyclad” as the Wiccans say, and feel the sun.
Today, I still fight the shame. Parts of my body are not the way I want them. I wish I could say the plunge into Lower Cathedral Lake cured me. It did not.
But it set me on a journey that continues today. I am making friends with my body. [Note, it is a peculiarity of English, I think, that we can write about our own body as if it is somehow an entity apart from ourselves.] I am exercising much more, and I am letting myself be visibly naked in the locker room at the gym sometimes. I can even admire myself sometimes.
And the plunge into the icy water? Today, I understand it as being about more than overcoming shame.
It is a metaphor, perhaps more than a metaphor, for living.
It is good to dive in sometimes. Perhaps often. Don’t hang back. Dive in. Splash around. Make waves–even if sometimes they are due to panic.
It may not be good to get in over your head regularly, but on occasion it can be very instructive (like embarking on a Vision, or Soul, Quest when you have never gone wilderness backpacking or camping). How else will you have the satisfaction of righting yourself, or learning something new, or receive the gift of being rescued?
As to bodies, we are each one. Together, we make a larger body and/or bodies. Every body is different. And beautiful, each in their own way.
On this anniversary, I honor mine. I hope you honor yours.
[This continues the meditations from December 9, 10, and 12, 2014, and January 9. 2015. reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.]
As Thursday’s sun continued to warm me and the rocks on which I sat, I knew the moment was coming for me to walk naked into the frigid mountain lake waters (see December 10, 2014).
But before this exposure–pushing aside my shame by showing my body to whomever was at the shore, and daring the icy waters my fellow Quester told me about two days before–I felt the need to meditate and write more. I wear only my Radical Faerie/RFD pansy t-shirt for inspiration (left).
I find a spot where I can sit away from the public path (only a few day trippers come through, but still after a time of being alone each one feels like an intrusion, even though of course they have as much right to be here as I do) but where I also can see the lake and the pines and the great bowl of rock around me . . . and as soon as I am settled, I say to myself, sort of out loud but mostly inside myself, “I am afraid.”
It is not being alone here–some of my fellow Questers are, I think, within shouting distance, at least if I really yelled–or even my hunger which is beginning to nudge me around the edges, but as soon as I say it, I know it is because something is rising up in me, something what will create big change in my life.
It is what I came for, I suppose, to connect with this “something” that has been getting under my skin for a couple of years, and longer, maybe for most of my adult life, something about my life that needs to change. I write down that fear, and also some of the good things I am learning–how to reconnect with trees (December 12, 2014) and how to observe creatures in nature (January 9, 2015). In some ways, I realize what I am learning is how to pay attention to the wild, the natural, as a source of wisdom (something our culture actively discourages) . . . .
. . . and I say, again, I am afraid there is more . . . and then it happens. The more comes.
In that moment, out of my control, I say out loud–and I write exactly at the same moment in my journal. . . “and the writing keeps crying out.”
The writing keeps crying out.
I did not say this and then write it down, or write it and then say it out loud. This was a simultaneous action of speaking and writing, as if my voice was moving my pen, or perhaps my pen was moving my voice. Either way, my voice hung in the air for just a moment or two, and I burst into sobs, I wail, I cry out big loud cries of agony and joy all mixed together. I try to stifle the noise, and then I know I must be even louder, this is decades of denial that needs to come out. I breathe, it feels as if I am taking in big gulps of truth which then send me into tears. I exhale. I drink. I breathe. I cry. I sit.
I cry more, and I write. And cry. Some long neglected part of me has come home, I think, or more accurately, I have come home to it.
I reflect on how out of balance my life has become. I have lost my earth connection, I say. I don’t dig in the soil, I don’t run the soil through my fingers like natural rosary beads, seeking its truth. And I admit I am afraid to write from my soul, afraid I will be found out as a fraud by others.
It felt good to write a poem back in Richmond to bring to give to my fellow Quest pilgrims. I then wonder what it would be like to spend an entire day writing, and then another day, and another, a rhythm of writing, digging, reading, playing, walking, resting, writing. Is that my vision, I ask.
I ponder, and write a poem (still needs work!) about the Cathedral Peak behind me, and reflect about the smoke that blows from fires not that far away (what are we doing to the earth?).
And I write of how the question of whether to stop my pastoring and organizing and turn to writing, perhaps in conjunction with some teaching, is not exactly a new one for me. I wonder if I made the wrong choice when I left pastoring MCC Richmond and took up leading People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV). Did I hear God wrong?
I pause. I seek some peace. I breathe.
I realize all I know right now is that “the writing keeps crying out.”
[This continues the meditations from December 9, 10, and 12, 2014, reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.]
What can I learn from ducks?
It is now Thursday, on this several day sojourn in the wilderness, what I now call my Soul Quest. It will become a momentous day for me, but here I am going to focus on just one piece of the gift of paying attention.
The sun rises, I pray to the four directions as Tomas, our shaman, has taught us, and I seek a spot to sit. It is not easy; the rocks are hard and still cold in the early morning. I feel a little wobbly, having had no food since Tuesday evening.
But the day is bright and my tree friends are looking grand. As does the lake. Oh, right, the lake. I am committed to going in to its frigid waters later in the day, naked as a newborn babe (and with probably as much sense, I say to myself).
But for now, I sit and look around. I seek to clear my mind and just experience the stillness that underlies the wind and the sun and the birds flying and squirrels busily moving about. After a while, I walk to the lake, not yet ready to take the plunge but wanting a preparatory look, and to dip my hand in and filter some water for drinking.
As I approach the lake, I see ducks, five of them, swimming slowly and sometimes just sitting in the water. I find a perch and watch them for what feels a long time. I am enthralled by the pattern of their group dynamics. Four of the ducks congregate, one stays apart. At first, I think that the separate one is being shunned by the group. But then I note something else; they are connected, and he is the leader. He moves a little and they move a little. I mean a little, it is subtle but clear. In my mind, I begin to call him LD (Lead Duck).
Then one of the four moves out, a little away from the group and LD. After that ones stays put a little while, LD begins to move ahead in the same direction the other one was moving, and they all follow LD. It is an interesting dance of leader and follower, what I interpret as their being two leaders, one who is clearly part of the group–like a lieutenant or Vice-Lead Duck–and whose consent is required for Lead Duck to move out, followed by the others. This causes me to want to reflect on this in terms of being a leader.
The day is warming fast. I remove some clothing, and find a rock on which to sit and make notes in my journal.
What I notice in this movement of the ducks is that they cannot be led unless they are willing to follow. It is a lesson I still need to learn. I am always moving to somewhere or something, but not always very concerned about whether anyone is actually following. I just expect people to follow. I certainly have not been very conscious of gathering people before attempting to lead them.
As I write in my journal, I note that not a lot of people are following my lead in People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. We are not building a substantial network. I wonder if perhaps it is because I don’t know how to gather them together and help us move together. I think of my ten-year pastorate, and realize that may have been true there as well.
Watching these ducks reminds me that leadership, like much of life in communities and families, is a dance. It takes partners, because it is not a solo.
I conclude that LD is a very wise duck indeed. Whether I can learn what he and the others teach is another question. But they have shown me wisdom today. As I have been told, wilderness can teach us much. I am grateful to be here.
The mid-September days at 10,000 feet at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite were warm–although as the sun slid away in the late afternoon the temperature soon dipped way down.
From late morning until later afternoon, it was warm enough to wear light clothing, and even go naked. Given what my body had told me on Tuesday (see December 10), I spent some of Wednesday afternoon sitting naked on various rocks. I knew I had to expose my whole self to the sun, to the earth and creatures and trees and rocks around me. I knew I needed to do that to be able to wade into the lake on Thursday.
So Wednesday is a day to become better acquainted with my surroundings, to sit and watch and listen. Perhaps I will connect more with my soul, even become more appreciative of myself.
As I sit, I begin to see the trees. I sit for awhile, not very conscious, just gazing mindlessly at various trees. I notice how multi-shaped they are, how misshapen many are. I notice what will become my soul tree (see December 9).
I begin to speak, calling the trees my siblings, thanking them for being here, for surviving long enough to bless me. I have an “aha moment,” when I realize that the trees are doing what trees do. They grow, even in granite and weather extremes.
Then I notice that all are growing, whether they are “properly” shaped or not. They don’t have to have perfect bodies to be trees, and to grow. I realize that I could learn from this truth. I don’t have to have a perfect body (as defined by someone else, or society, or me) to be me, to live and thrive.
As I take this in, I say “Thank you” to the trees, my teachers. I tell them I am glad to be with them.
Then, a voice, well, not exactly a voice in the human sense, but a voice nonetheless, says, “We have missed you.” It is so clear, and simple. We have missed you.
I cry a little, and then I sob, great big gulping sobs, so aware of how long it has been since I really paid attention to trees and how grateful I am to be here, now, with these beautiful trees. Every tree is simply stunningly beautiful. I want to touch each one, and bow and say thank you.
And I see that I am beautiful–maybe not stunning, not quite sure I can say that about myself, at least yet–but certainly beautiful, handsome.
So I cry some more, and stand up and walk around, just being glad to be revealed to these siblings. And I hug my soul tree. It is a careful embrace, given my bare skin and his (I have decided he is male) needles, but a brotherly, tender embrace nonetheless.
It is beginning to cool, and it is time to put some clothes on. But I know I am now ready to wade in the water tomorrow.
I am home with my pinusalbicaulis family, and all their neighbors and friends. I am safe. I have been missed, and I have missed them. We are together and I am loved, and I love, too.
Paying attention is not always easy, or pleasant. Sometimes, you see or hear or learn stuff you’re not sure you wanted to deal with. On the other hand, if we stay stuck in where we are we will never get to where we can be, or where God wants us to be.
That is one reason I went on the Vision Quest. I knew I needed to be more open to the nudges I kept feeling, and the sense that I was not fulfilling what some might call my “destiny.”
I have written about the amazing trees I encountered at Lower Cathedral Lake, and especially the one I call my Soul Tree. But there is more to share about our encounters. First, some background is needed.
I went up the mountain as one in a group of seven, led by an amazing shaman, Dr. Tom Pinkson. We spent all of Monday getting to Yosemite by car from Marin and up 10,000 feet, arriving at that height after dark so we had to stop for the night. Putting up your tent in the dark is not fun!
But I made it (with a lot of help from more experienced hikers), and the next day (Tuesday) we headed up another 1,000 feet and then back down 1,000 feet to get to our base camp site. We set up our tents, and we each picked out a site around the lake where we would camp alone, fasting, for two days, starting the following day (Wednesday). Then we relaxed.
I started writing in my journal, of course. So much to record, and there had been no time since we left Marin the morning before.
As I sat on a rock, writing, I heard a splash. I looked up to see one of our number wading into the lake. He was naked, which of course is the way to do this if you can’t afford to deal with wet clothes! Besides, some say your body stays warmer naked than covered (but I am not advocating this, or even claiming it is true).
He is a good looking man, and I noticed his backside appreciatively.
But what came over me so fast was body shame, my own. I was shocked, thinking I had dealt with this a lot in therapy over many years. But here it was. I knew it was one thing I would have to deal with on the Quest.
And I knew at least one thing I had to do: go into the lake, without clothes.
This is where my siblings the trees come in. I am so grateful to them and as I relate more of the story, I think you will understand better, if you don’t already, about what Gerald May calls the “wisdom of wilderness.”
But I am going to stop here to ruminate about this experience and prepare to share more another day.