“Church” today was incredible. As my loyal readers and dear friends know, I “get to God” differently than the term ‘Church’ would imply. I think of God differently than the term God would imply too, but it makes sense to people so I use it anyway. I won’t get in to what I think or believe about God here… if you really want to know, read the book 🙂
What I do want to tell you about, though, is what was – for me – a spiritual experience. A deeply moving, state-altering, life-impacting kind of moment. One that I hope might move or touch someone else out there.
For the vast majority of my adult life I’ve found healing in nature. I’ve run to the mountains or the woods or the Badlands the way others might turn to a preacher or a pew. And I’ve had some powerful moments out there. Profound realizations – or reminders, that changed my life – or at least the way I approached it. Today was just one such occasion.
I won’t get into the emotional state that got me there, but some mornings a girl wakes up and just knows she’s not quite ‘right’ and she’s got to get out. I’d made breakfast, and planned a hike with my pup, Rumi, … later, after a lazy Saturday morning. As I loaded the dishwasher, though, my mind wandered to the long list of outdoor adventure options in the beautiful little corner of the world I’ve made my home; the Black Hills of South Dakota. “Where should we go?” I asked her and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I wanted to go to the southern Hills. Maybe even all the way to Custer. Without thinking about it – without really even realizing it – instead of relaxing with my book by the fire, I filled my pack with water, dug out my warmest boots, and covered my dirty hair with a thick hat. I didn’t even put on a bra. Just a warm jacket.
Much of the 45 minute drive I spent wondering where exactly I’d go, but as curve after curve revealed more and more of the granite spires and towers that make up the Needles, I knew that was the place. I struggled to remember which of my favorite hikes were accessible from which roads and trail heads until, just as I was about to pass the turnoff for Mount Rushmore, I yanked the wheel to the left on a whim and 10 minutes later Rumi and I were embarking on a hike I hadn’t done in at least 5 years.
She was ecstatic, but as I slipped and slid up the first 100 yards of the snow covered trail, I found myself already thinking about turning around. No. I thought. No, I’ve got to go for at least an hour. Ru needs a good hike. Hell, so do I.
She was romping around in the trees of course, bouncing through the thigh-deep snow on the side of the trail and leaving full-body imprints of her 60lb self with each heave and drop. And she was ecstatic. I grinned, I decided to bear it, and I trudged on. Fifteen minutes later I had the same conversation with myself. And again 10 minutes after that.
The trail continued to get steeper, and while it was only ankle deep in most spots, it was becoming ever more slippery in the warming morning sun. And, every 50 feet or so there was a ‘deep’ section – calf deep. Thigh deep. But I pressed on. She was so happy, and – despite the sweat streaming down my spine – so was I. Almost, anyway.
The morning was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and we were alone in the forest. Occasionally an overburdened bough would release its captive snow to the crusty surface beneath with a soft thud. Every time, Ru would start, yank her head from whatever scent trail she was following and throw her nose to the wind. When she detected nothing she would wag her tail vigorously, give me an excited glance and heave herself into another bank of snow. I could hear the echo of my laughter down the canyon behind me and felt the mood of the morning melt away.
We’d been hiking for almost an hour before we came to a flat spot on top of a granite outcropping and when I cast my eyes over the view before me, I felt lighter. I felt more calm. I felt the brink of joy. Directly across from me was Black Elk Peak (previously Harney Peak) – the highest point in South Dakota. Had it been dry, we’d have pushed on to the lookout tower that has marked that spot since the 1930s. As it was, however, the snow only deepened the further up the draw we traveled, and we were both already quite tired. So we stayed where we were; Ru sniffed and fwamped around… and I stared out to the edge of the horizon, past the tower, where you can almost see the curve of the earth, and wondered what it was that was holding me back. What it was that was keeping me from cresting that wall between me and the utter joy this kind of experience usually brings. I didn’t have to think long. Somewhere in the back of my mind my thoughts were still churning; my angst about the world I’m living in, my uncertainty about my own role in it, all the troubles and struggles of my personal life… I hadn’t let them go. I tried a few deep breaths, I tried to consciously acknowledge and then release each of these concerns in turn, I tried to focus on the beautiful life I have the privilege of living. All of it helped, but nothing really cleansed me of the dark, murky waters just below the surface of my mind – until one word came forward. Loud and bright and joyful. Front and center of my mind, a word I hear and say over and over and over in any given day… Love. Just love. Love the life I live, the gifts I have been given, the incredible people with whom I share my time and affection. Love the work I do, love the home I have, love the moment I’m in. I don’t need to worry about the future, I don’t need to worry about the world, I don’t need to wonder about my life. I just need to love – and love living.
A grin split my face as I turned to descend the mountain, my pup trotting along in the tracks we’d made, her tongue lolling out the side of her mouth. I love. I love my body. I love that I am here. I love that I can do this. I love my dog. I love these trees, this blue sky, this fresh air. I love the sun. I love the future. I love MY future – whatever it may bring. I love.
By the time we returned to the car I was a sweaty mess, my hair tangled and stuck to my head under my hat, my jacket long ago strapped to my backpack and sweat running down both my sides. But I was happy. Not just happy – joyful. Peaceful. Content. I didn’t even care that the snowshoer-s on the opposite trail could quite likely see the boob sweat that was seeping through my sweatshirt. If they couldn’t see the sweat, they could surely smell it. But it didn’t matter. I was happy. I’d had my moment, my spirit was soaring, and I had taken something profound off that mountain with me. Yes, I will always care. I will have strong opinions – and I will stand up for them. I will participate in my world and I will plan for an optimistic future. But mostly, I will love. I will spend my thoughts and energy sending love out into the world. I will remind myself over and over how much I have to love, to be grateful for, and I will let worry melt away like beads of sweat – because all I have to do is love. Let God or Spirit or Universe or whatever judge and worry and change people and circumstances … I will love.