January 2, 2009

On the path, but left of the murder

The process of awakening is like walking on a footpath. When we find such a path after hours of struggling through the undergrowth, we know at last that we are heading somewhere. Moreover, we suddenly find that we can move freely without obstruction. We settle into a rhythmic and easy pace. At the same time we are reconnected to others: men, women, and animals who have walked here before us. The path is maintained as a path only because of the tread of feet. Just as others have created this path for us, so by walking on it we maintain it for those who will come after us.
(Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs)


As always, I read those words through the prism of my own experiences and mind-set, and used them as a springboard for self-analysis.

Paths are a common feature in my life, from the Buddhist path I've been attempting to follow to the literal paths I tromp through the woods. Along each of these sorts of paths, the greatest source of conflict for me has been that connection to others to which Batchelor refers. I've written before (ad naauuuuseaum) of how I go through periods of connection, when I find a handful or so of people with whom I can relate and try to develop friendships, and, at other times, through periods of solitude. Invariably, at some point, the periods of connection contain moments of inconvenience, annoyance, frustration, and/or anguish. It's often hard for me to balance all of that against the moments of fun, sharing, learning, and/or growth that are also part of connection. And the periods of solitude can be full of richness and contentment, yet at the same time feed my egoistic misanthropy.

In the woods, on those literal footpaths, I'm also frequently annoyed by the presence of others, and not just the noisy, oblivious folks who are so busy making sure they say "Hi!" that they scare away the deer I've been watching for five minutes... First, an example of that type: I recently headed up to a state park that allows hunting in season, hoping that would deter most other hikers. The trail I planned to hike is aptly named Old Misery. It's short, but ascends 500 feet or so within the first half-mile, through a series of switchbacks so rocky it's sometimes hard to follow where the trail's headed.



Beyond this, though, it levels out along the top of the ridge and passes through a dense fern sea.

Picture all of that orangey-red growth as lush green ferns in the summer-time...


It then skirts the edge of the ridge and at one point runs next to a talus slope that overlooks the spine of the mountains heading north.



That's where I was, relaxing in the crook of a low-growing tree limb and taking in the vista. From behind, I suddenly heard "Hey! Hey there!" I turned and traded the beautiful view for the sight of a yuppie doofus in what appeared to be ski tights, big-ass shin-high climbing boots, and a backpack. He stood in the middle of the trail and called down the hill to ask me what was ahead. We went back and forth for a while as I tried to orient him to the area in order to explain what his options were. Three times I asked which way he had come to get to the trail (i.e. along what road), and three times I was told that he had come from the Old Misery trailhead down by the lake. No duh, dude, that's only way you could have come on the trail considering the direction you were headed. The equally big-booted teen-aged boy with the guy (who at least wore his big-ass boots with plain old jeans) finally spoke up and I was able to describe to him what other trails they would meet and where those led. But I spent the rest of my hike wondering what someone like that guy was doing out in the woods. What could he get out of it? Laughably over-equipped, he didn't know where he had come from and was clueless where he was going. Being so incredibly oblivious, what sort of connection could he possibly have with his surroundings, what intimacy with nature, if any? That boggles my mind.

Even when physically absent, the implied presence of other people on the trail irks me. As the population in the mid-Atlantic has grown, attendance in local parks has increased along with it. The result is trails that were once the width of my two feet are now side-walk wide. And trail stewards in the parks suddenly feel obliged to mark these trails with painted blazes every hundred feet or so. I assume this helps limit their liability, as there's less chance of oblivious types wandering off and getting lost if they can always see at least five blazes away into the distance and follow them like beacons. But for those of us who are more comfortable in the woods, such thoroughly defined trails spoil much of the fun. The tread of others may maintain the trail, but also diminishes the sense of discovery. Early on, I picked up a habit of bush-whacking-- wandering off the established trail to follow animal paths, or just picking a break in the trees and plunging in. The occasional struggle through the undergrowth was a challenge that could exhilarate at the same time that it frustrated. And, more often than not, these solitary, off-the-beaten-path wanderings have led to fantastic discoveries-- a gorgeous overlook, a small cave, a bleached turtle shell or deer antler.

So, just what sort of metaphor is this for the figurative path I've been stumbling along? What does it mean that I prefer the unbeaten path, the road less taken, or even no trail at all? Can I find just as many treasures on my own as I would through personal connections? Or can I awaken only by following the paths trod by others? I'd like to think that there's a middle ground to the Middle Way, that I can spend time on both sorts of paths, that I can be both "out of the line and indivisible", and yet still find my way to some semblance of enlightenment.

A Crow Left of the Murder

Unlearn me.
Ditch what I read
Behind what I heard.

Look. Find. Free.
Yet! Do you get it yet?
Do you get it?!

From here on it's instinctual,
Even straight roads meander.
Every piece contains a map of it all!
It all!

Evidence
In the march of the ants,
Pulse of the sea.

Look. Find. Free.
Yet! Do you get it yet?
Do you get it?!

From here on it's instinctual,
Even straight roads meander.
Every piece contains a map of it all!
It all!

Out of the line and indivisible,
A crow left of the murder.
Every piece contains a map of it all!
It all!

Everything I wanted,
Wanted to know...
Everything I wanted,
Wanted to see.

Unlearn me...
Do you get it yet?
Look, find, free.
Do you get it yet?

4 comments:

human being said...

walk with me but on a different path;
fly with me but to a different land;
sing with me but a different song;
judge me but don't get me wrong;
thus we we grow together;
thus we love each other...forever...
.
.
.
know what excites me the most?
i'm walking alone on an untrodden path... rejoicing in my new and personal discoveries when all of a sudden i find a small sign indicating someone else has once been there... neither of us following... both of us discovering...

just like now... when i was reading this post... the quote disappointed me first but your account excited me... the same way i might have found that sign...

and that song! wow... it much relates to my latest post (Crack the Shell)... i just can't wait to listen to it (think i need an antifilter: this blank rectangle i see at the bottom of your post should be a video of this song)
:)
i love such coincidences... THIS kind of connections...

beautiful post... beautiful pics... coming from a beautiful mind...

KaliDurga said...

"walk with me but on a different path"

I like that very much. It implies a closeness, yet also the opportunity for each to make different discoveries that can then be shared and enjoyed together. Which is a very nice way to be in connection to others.

And I've also enjoyed those small signs on the trail. The feeling of sharing a special place with one or two unknown others can be a pleasure, unlike the knowledge that that place is being trampled by the masses.

Such a wonderful comment, thank you!

Itchy Bits said...

You gave me pause as you seem to think a lot like me and grapple with the same social vs. solitary issues although I cannot articulate those thoughts as well as you. You do worry me though with your solo hikes so deep in the woods.

KaliDurga said...

Aw, thanks for the concern. It's funny to me how people worry about that, though. I'm actually not so far out there, usually no more than two miles from the nearest road or habitation. And, honestly, I feel safer and more comfortable farther out than I do in parks that are closer to the city.

And while we're worrying, you watch out on those frost-bitten rides you've been doing lately. You've not only got the traffic danger, but now hypothermia on top of it!