The last article I published here was Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps. I am still practicing the Sacred 8 daily. Still having hugely gratifying results. Still feeling a level of peace and happiness that I have not been accustomed to feeling. This algorithm will be with me for the rest of my journey here.
That said, something interesting started to happen with #8. Something worthy of spiritual investigation. Number eight was the edict to spend time in nature. Aliso Canyon, in the northern tip of the San Fernando Valley that straddles Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, is the beautiful park that has become my sacred space, my sanctuary. If you didn’t read my last post, then let me describe it to you. Part mountain crest with sky for miles, part enchanted forest with trees creating a canopy overhead. Sometimes there are horses on the trail, jack rabbits. There is a symphony of frogs that are never seen but are clearly surrounding you. And, except for the concert of critters, it is quiet and peaceful and beautiful. If there is ever any rainfall, then there are brooks. But those have been dry of late.
The something that happened is actually several somethings, so I’ll just give you a few of the examples.
Every day that I can physically make it happen, I am on the hiking trail. I have come to love this ritual so much that the first time I saw graffiti on a tree I bristled horribly, wondering who would do such a thing. Could it hurt the tree? I worried. Or would the offended bark just slough off over time? I started to envision what the perpetrator looked like. Probably a teenager, my biased self concluded. I continued to walk but remained disgusted, shaking my head visibly, just in case I had an audience with any of the other hikers who might like to join me in a moment of righteous indignation solidarity. “We can’t have anything nice, can we?” was the unspoken but felt question.
On another occasion, the wonderful swing, which was really just a plank suspended by sturdy ropes hanging from one of the masterful trees, like something out of a Steinbeck novel, and which I had discovered my first week on the trail, was suddenly not there anymore. The first time I discovered it, it had been such a serendipitous moment for me that I grabbed hold, climbed on, took a swing around for a few minutes, and then leapt off and kept going, grinning like the Cheshire cat for this unplanned moment of letting loose my inner child. It was one of those moments that only adds another sprinkling of fairy dust to a perfect sacred space experience. So when I saw it broken, just a lone rope hanging with no plank anywhere to be seen, I once again bristled, once again envisioned the culprit, probably some unruly kids without parental supervision.
And then there was the time a brush fire threatened my beautiful canyon. I was actually on the trail when the smell of forest fire and the increasing brown sky ran everyone out of the park. I went back home, turned on the TV, and watched the fire burn not far, fearing that it would hit Aliso, and panicking at the notion of my sacred space being charred and ruined. I wondered where I would go instead if that happened, or if I would just throw hands up and be done with my nature ritual forever, defeated.
And lastly, and perhaps most ashamedly, there was the moment that a friend, of the very special few whom I’ve now taken with me on the hike because I’ve been excited to show this miracle to the people I love, actually dared to fall in love with it as gustily as I had, and started going regularly himself. My gut reaction to that discovery was a clenched sphincter. “But this is MY sacred space,” my irrational self pouted privately.
I suppose what I feared was that this friend would always want to do the walk with me, and I was primarily in this for the meditation and the solitude. OR . . . that we might run into each other on the trail, and then end up socializing and lose the groove altogether. This trail had become church for me, so I wasn’t all that keen to have a certain plugged-in ritual altered in any way.
What had begun to happen, as exemplified by each of these examples, was that I was trying to possess the trail. Trying to make it mine, all mine. The tenets of non-attachment that I have been taught in my Buddhist studies, of letting go of expectations, and of ownership, were not being practiced. I was hoarding the experience rather than experiencing the experience.
With regards to vandals, what can I do about how anyone else treats the natural wonders of the trail? Absolutely nothing. And getting myself worked up over it doesn’t change any outcome except perhaps the state of my blood pressure.
Once I really got that, had that ah hah moment, and recognized the futility (in fact, the defeated purpose!) of huffing and puffing over having to share sacred space with others, I was able to walk past the marked up tree, offer my own apologies to it, “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and knowing that I was really speaking more to myself than to a tree that needs no pep talk about the nature of people.
And the reality regarding my friend is that this remarkable thing that’s happening to him as a result of his embrace of the trail has been palpable. It’s clearly changing his life as it’s changed mine. And that is gold. To know that this friend who has had some recent health challenges seems lifted by this new ritual has been something I am frankly honored to witness.
Yes, we have, once thus far, run into each other on the trail. I was on my way out and he was on his way in. We chatted for a moment, and then agreed to meet up at the nearby Starbucks after each of us was finished. The encounter was not even remotely interruptive. On the contrary, I was happy to see him, happy to know that he was getting something wonderful out of this, and tickled to think that I had some hand in that.
The trail belongs to everyone. It was never mine to hoard. It belongs to my friend. It belongs to the man walking his dogs, to the pair of lovers who are taking a romantic stroll, to the jogger who wants to get fit, even to graffiti taggers who have a history I know nothing of. The trail can take it. The trail is hearty. Hearty enough, in fact, to take on brush fires. Because the things of nature always bounce back and thrive.
There are lessons to be learned on the trail, for sure. And if I am blessed and humbled, I’ll continue to learn them, and be grateful to be such a willing and imperfect student.
After all, maybe there’s a kid on the trail with a spray paint can in his hand and some mischief in his heart looking at the walking lady with her greedy “mine, mine, mine!” face on, and judging her for all the stuff she has yet to learn about letting go.
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.