Thursday, March 02, 2006

Wilderness...


Thank you for those who have asked to take a look at my first nationally published article - I almost feel like a proper writer - don't worry though I won't get carried away. It does though feel like a great ahievement for someone who got thrown out of English Literature in school and was told he was, and i quote, 'useless at writing'. When I finally get around finishing my book (2020!!!) I shall send a signed copy to the dear man who was so encouraging....

HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF
Roaming the solitary places of untamed nature is every bit as important to our spirituality as it was for Christ’s, says PAUL CHAMBERS. Just as long as we remember to come back again...

“The edge does not have to lead to nihilism. If we are careful, it is possible to recognise, accept, even grow from spirituality’s borderlands without being consumed by them…Historically, when the mainstream has been stunted, many look to the fringes for their spiritual life.”
Niles Elliot Goldstein, God at the Edge

THE Portuguese call it saudade: an inexplicable longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul. It’s as good a word as any for what took me out into the Adirondack Mountains of Northern Vermont in 1994. I needed some space to be still and to allow the Spirit to whisper to me through the beauty and solace of wilderness. And as I hiked homeward after two peaceful nights in my sleeping bag under the stars, I had an encounter which has stayed with me ever since.
Heading back towards “civilisation”, I realised that I had miscalculated both distance and time. I wasn’t going to make it back to the highway before the sun went down - unless I left the trail and cut through a larch forest. On the other hand, I didn’t much care for wandering the mountain without light, so I made an instinctive decision. Hurrying off into the unknown, I felt a mischievous, child-like elation at leaving the path. Until, that is, I lost my footing among the trees, tumbled disorientated down a bank, and landed face down in a clearing. Relieved to be intact, I slowly lifted my head to find myself looking into the yellow eyes of a wolf.
It was the most terrifyingly beautiful moment of my life. He was only a few feet away, and as I stared he shifted his head to one side and softly growled, revealing his sharp teeth. Time seemed to stand still – though in truth the moment could have only lasted a few seconds. I genuinely thought it was the end of the road for me. Yet as real as my fear was an accompanying awareness that something profoundly spiritual was taking place. As this stunning creature tilted his head I found myself instinctively imitating his actions. Observing me carefully, the wolf came even closer. He lowered his head like mine, and I experienced what I can only describe as mystical connection. Padding off towards a grove of trees, he stopped to look back once more with lowered head, before disappearing into the forest.
As I lay there, my heart pounding, I felt both shaken and elated. We humans are so temporary on this earth, and yet this wildness seemed so timeless. I realised that for the first time in my life, I felt part of something much bigger than myself.
FORESTS OF NIGHT
It was John Muir, that patron saint of the great outdoors, who stated that, ‘in wilderness lies the hope of the world.’ And if we understand that everything within God’s creation is connected to everything else, then this isn’t some romantic vision, but a prophetic word providing a legacy for a deep spirituality available to us all. The truth is that the great religions of the World have always been nourished in the Wilderness.
Soren Kierkegaard called God ‘the absolute frontier’, believing that it sometimes takes a journey to the wild to locate Him. It’s a strange paradox that in the loneliest landscapes, as spiritual refugees, we can find healing by encountering the brokenness within us all - with or without the help of a wolf. Jesus himself embodied this kind of wilderness pilgrimage – a man of no fixed abode, with nowhere to rest his head, who wrestled with questions and sweated blood.
In the years since my trip I have become a great believer of questions, especially the ones that take us deep into the troubled places of our soul where we come face to face with our inner demons and resident Pharisees. It’s in this particular landscape of questions that we find ourselves spiritually naked, vulnerable and without our masks. Questions usually bring us to our knees – answers tend to swell our egos.
Yet in church culture the dominating voices make Christian maturity easily available and accessible, appearing to anaesthetise difficulties and hypnotise us into not walking hard terrains. Loneliness, brokenness, and traversing the wastelands of this world have become signs of weakness in many churches. This is more than unfortunate; it is a lie that has caused great turmoil for many tired people. It actually borders on heresy. It was enlightenment, not Christianity, which demanded that we remove the mystery from life and replace it with hard, provable facts. And in any case, it failed.
Wilderness spirituality is not about finding some blue-print that leads to salvation through nature, neither is it about worshipping mountains or hugging trees. Rather it is for those who truly seek the light, but recognise that this can only be found once one is willing to first explore the darkness.

ENLIGHTENED DARKNESS
In his extraordinary book on Wilderness Spirituality, Rodney Romney suggests that the image of the wilderness as a metaphor for life has a long tradition, from as early as Moses and the people of Israel to the temptation of Jesus. More than anything else though he challenges the idea of the wilderness always as a place to overcome, seeing it rather as somewhere we both live and learn. “A wilderness is an unexplored place,” he writes. “To the average person that means it is unmapped, unsettled and unfriendly. But every wilderness has its own distinctive markers and its own set of inhabitants. It is neither hostile nor friendly. It is what it is – an unexplored place that challenges and lures us away from the human institutions of civilisation and tradition.”
Part of the problem is that we are conditioned by much of traditional (Enlightenment) religion that these landscapes – the ‘Forests of the Night’ – are places where good, civilised religious people should never be found. Yet a God who was as as civilised as most Christians like to imagine would be useless to Christianity. For God is wild by nature (wonderfully tender also) but he/she is the embodiment of all that is full and untamed from this gift we call life. While God is everywhere by his Spirit, to encounter the full passion of God comprehensively we have to visit the wilderness edge, whether that be the desert, mountains, or deep forests.
Why, for instance, was Moses called to scale the 9,000-foot peak of Mount Sinai on foot before he could experience the abundance of God? It wasn’t just to discuss the weather. The climbing was a profession of faith. Mountains, forests, and even labyrinths function as metaphoric and symbolic holy space of encounter. In their geographic remoteness from the inhabited earth, these places provide a space in which our minds may not be so prone to wandering. Where we empty ourselves of everyday clutter, and are still in the presence of that which longs to draw near. When we drift along the margins we become part of their story – we come face to face with God, closer maybe than a lover – and so consequently we find we can temper our inherent obsession with destination.
In 1845, Henry David Thoreau left ‘normality’ and moved to the wilderness to live a simple life, free from materialistic complications, and to contemplate the wonders of nature. Walden is the classic account of a man who chose to live on the edges of society, the borderlands - a transcendentalist’s yearning for freedom and spiritual truth. Thoreau once said: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Leo Tolstoy echoes this sentiment: “I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.”
Both Tolstoy and Thoreau remain convinced of one thing: that courageous pilgrimage is a must for a deep authentic spiritual journey. The way of the pilgrim is a constant perpetual moving on, a venturing out into unknown territory, where we find the comfort and companionship of God through fellow travellers we meet on the way.
NECESSARY HUMBLING
Where do you feel God’s presence most: in a church, synagogue or mosque, or on a mountain, dwelling within nature, and embracing creation? I have been to moving services in many different buildings, built to allow spiritual expression and connection, but my deepest and richest encounters with the presence of God (apart from the birth of my son, Samuel) have come while spending time exploring the frontiers of creation.
For me wilderness matters first and foremost because it humbles us – we realise how very small we are and, more significantly, how incredible and vast are the love, heart, and creativity of God. It also provides the purest of environments to experience a direct connection with God. But maybe even more importantly it provides us with something the Jewish tradition calls Yirah, which translates roughly as awe and wonder. Another meaning is fear. Wonder, mystery, attraction, fear and danger are all vital signposts to the gateway of an awe-filled encounter with God.
It’s tempting nowadays to see fear as a negative force rather than a positive one. But the Bible tells us that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10) It’s a healthy part of life, which we should embrace, because its gift to us is the knowledge of our own insufficiency, and so consequently this sets us on a path of humility (filled with questions) rather than arrogance (where we are full of answers).
What wilderness does so richly is force us to embrace the present where we become aware of the responsibility to our soul. Not dwelling in our past prisons, and not worrying about a future that doesn’t yet exist calls us to the present, is both psychologically, and spiritually liberating. This practice literally makes room for God from within the cluttered mess of our lives. It was for this reason that I walked into the hills of Vermont all those years ago.
DOWN THE MOUNTAIN
Then as now, wilderness was not the end of the journey. Hitching back into town after my encounter with the wolf, I shared a whisky with a Native American elder who helped me understand what had happened. He listened intently as I retold my story, watching me with the kindest eyes I had ever looked into. ‘I suppose you think I’m crazy?’ I said, after telling him about my moment of connection. ‘Not at all’, he answered softly, ‘not at all.’ In fact, as a hunter of the Huron tribe, he had an understanding and respect for animal life often sadly lacking in Western spirituality. The wolf, he informed me, was known among Native Americans as a seeker of new ways – a pathfinder to new beginnings. He concluded that I had been graced by the presence of the greatest of teachers.
I was 24 years old at the time and whilst I remember being transfixed by his wise, almost prophetic insight, I had no real clue as to what that meant for me. But what I have discovered in the years since my encounter with the wolf is that a stay in the wilderness should inevitably direct one’s attention outward as much as inward. It is impossible to dwell in the margins without our mystical encounters calling us to the position of engagement – engagement with community. It was Bruce Springsteen, as he searched the mystery of love, who said that ‘in the end nobody wins unless everybody wins’. The call of the wild is always with certain people, but it only becomes useful when we learn the spirituality of the wolf: where having gone into the wild, the knowledge and experience acquired is then shared and incorporated into the lives of the rest of the pack.
It is a Protestant myth that salvation is only worked out individually. We need to get back to inclusiveness, friendships, belonging and community - these are the catalysts for effective spirituality from within our post-modern, post-Christian culture. And of course for those of us with children to feed and responsibilities at home, a literal trip to the wilderness may not often be possible. Perhaps we may to find sacred space closer to home to hear the Spirit’s whisper. Either way, spirituality has to reach into those dark places we would rather not visit. Not just the geographic borderlands, but also the wilderness of our soul. The wilderness is as discomforting as it is seductive, but philosophies in isolation are no good to anyone. It is from within these wastelands that we start our journey to spiritual maturity, so allowing a spirituality that will be earthed in the often mundane and broken lives of each other.

3 comments:

LoserBaby said...

i've said it before. and i'll say it again... amazing...

beautiful... inspiring... etc etc etc.

bravo.

LB, x.

Rainbow dreams said...

Just shows what little teachers know!

Thanks for sharing that - perhaps I should have looked here first today before I pondered out loud!
Thankyou

vkk1_hypno said...

I am sure you have heard the song "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club but have you ever given much thought to its meaning? While on Earth, you are living in a world of reincarnation which is governed by the law of karma. Karma begins to propel you as Soul on a personal journey through the universe. Karma ends when you have reached enlightenment and fully realise that this physical reality and the Universe itself is just an illusion. When you reach a state of knowingness that there is but One all pervading essence and that essence or consciousness is You!
So what is Karma and how does it work? While in the illusion you have a soul. This soul lives past, present, and future lives. To grow in love, joy, and awareness, you reincarnate into a series of physical bodies to experience different existences. This road leads to the experiences of being both sexes, all races, religions, and ethnic types throughout many lifetimes.
Karma in its simplicist terms can be described by the biblical statement "as you sow, so also shall you reap". Karma is the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, total cosmic justice and personal responsibility. It brings 'good' experiences as well as 'bad' - a debt must be repaid and a blessing rewarded.

A more indepth esoteric look at karma gives us the following distinctions: Sanchita Karma: the accumulated result of all your actions from all your past lifetimes. This is your total cosmic debt. Every moment of every day either you are adding to it or you are reducing this cosmic debt. Prarabdha Karma: the portion of your "sanchita" karma being worked on in the present life. If you work down your agreed upon debt in this lifetime, then more past debts surface to be worked on. Agami Karma: the portion of actions in the present life that add to your "sanchita" karma. If you fail to work off your debt, then more debts are added to "sanchita" karma and are sent to future lives. Kriyamana Karma: daily, instant karma created in this life that is worked off immediately. These are debts that are created and worked off - ie. you do wrong, you get caught and you spend time in jail.
As a soul, you experience a constant cycle of births and deaths with a series of bodies for the purpose of experiencing this illusionary world gaining spiritual insights into your own true nature until the totality of all experiences show you Who you really are - the I AM! Until you have learned, you will find that pretending that the rules of karma do not exist or trying to escape the consequences of your actions is futile.
Although it may often "feel" like punishment, the purpose of karma is to teach not to punish. Often the way we learn is to endure the same type of suffering that we have inflicted on others and also rexperience circumstances until we learn to change our thinking and attitudes.

We are all here to learn lessons as spiritual beings in human form. These lessons are designed to help us grow into greater levels of love, joy, and awareness. They teach us our true nature of love. Where we do not choose love, show forgiveness, teach tolerance, or display compassion, karma intervenes to put us back on the path of these lessons. Quite simply, the only way to achieve a state of karmic balance is to be love.
Before you incarnated into your present personality, you agreed to put yourself in the path of all that is you need to learn. Once you got here, you agreed to forget this. Karma is impersonal and has the same effect for everyone. It is completely fair in its workings and it is predictable - "do onto others as you would have them do unto you" is a way to ensure peace and tranquillity in your own life as well as the lives of those you come into contact with. The law of karma is predictable - "as you sow, so shall you reap" what is done to you is the net result of what you have done to others!
Karma gives you the opportunity at every moment to become a better person than you are and to open up to the realization that you are the master of your own fate.

The goal of karma is to give you all the experiences that you need to evolve into greater levels of love, joy, awareness, and responsibility. Karma teaches that you are totally responsible for the circumstances of your life. They keep you on the straight and narrow until you have mastered your vehicle and can ride freely on your own. Once you understand that you are the master of your own circumstances and that everything you experience is a direct result of your past actions due to your thinking and emotional responses you can overcome its seeming negative effects by creating only 'good' karma.
Karma forces us to look beyond ourselves (oneness) so that we can see ourselves as we truly are Whole, Complete, at One with everything. Once we truly understand ourselves, we can see our divinity and our unity with all life.
Karma drives us to service. Love means service. Once you accept total responsibility for your life, you see yourself as a soul in service to God. Once you do, you become a fully realized being, allowing God to experience the illusion through you.
Belief in karma and an understanding of its workings will lead you to a life of bliss. Only your own deeds can hinder you. Until the time comes when we release ourselves from our own self-imposed shackles of limitation and fully understand who and what we are we will live under the mantle of karma. So until that day why not create some wonderful experiences for ourselves by "doing onto others, as we would have them do unto us". personal development