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Wisdom in the Wilderness

About the Author

This article was written by Gwen Randall-Young. Gwen is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more articles and information on her books and CDs go to www.gwen.ca.

Wisdom in the Wilderness

The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness
-- John Muir

Recently I spent a week in the Pacific Northwest, alternating between hikes along the ocean, and through the rainforests. It was fall: summer vacationers had returned to the city, so it was quite secluded.

My accommodation was a rustic cabin with a woodstove-no television, no telephone (not even cell phone reception) and no internet access. The only sound was the gentle crashing of the waves upon the shore.

As there were often no people in sight, the experience, at times, felt surreal.

Walking along the beach in the morning mist, the vast sea on one side, and towering spruce trees on the other, I imagined what it must have been like for the earliest people who settled there.

It was not surprising, I mused, that the native Indians were so spiritual. This kind of land is infused with spirit. One cannot help but feel immense awe, regardless of which direction the eyes are cast. Breathing in the clear, moist air feels like breathing in the spirit of the earth.

Entering the rainforest was like entering a sacred realm. It was so quiet. The tall trees, hundreds of years old, reached up to the sky. The sunlight filtered through, illuminating the forest floor, which was a world unto itself. Green life sprouted everywhere, be it mosses, ferns, or new little trees, often growing out of nurse logs-huge trees that had fallen to the ground. These massive trunks, even in death, provided nurturance for new life. The forest continually renews itself.

It also renews those who venture there, for it is the original natural habitat of humans. I also believe it speaks to us, infusing us with deep wisdom. The following is some of what I learned from the forest.

There is tremendous power in silence. We can really only connect with ourselves, our own inner spirit, when it is silent. The forest is full of powerful, vibrant energy, yet it does not say a word. Perhaps humans sometimes should just connect with the energy of other humans rather than the usual talk-what is your name and what do you do?

The forest has no agenda, no schedule, and no goals. It just is. Each living organism simply lives. It does not worry about what other organisms are doing. All of them peacefully co-exist, even if moss, for example, decides to make its home right on top of another living thing. There are no territoriality issues here.

The streams in the forest flow peacefully. If there is an obstacle, it gently flows around it. The stream knows its direction, but is unattached to having to follow a certain path. It does not insist that rocks or trees change or rearrange themselves to facilitate the streams' life journey.

The forest is self-sufficient because of interdependence. The ferns on the forest floor keep it cool, and help it to retain moisture. Fallen logs provide nurturance for new life. The forest has no predators, save for humans.

The forest is tenacious. At the edge of the forest, where the earth is lashed by winter waves, trees, slanted by forces that would make them fall, and with roots exposed, cling ferociously to the rocks.

Most profoundly though, I realized that when we enter the forest, we become part of it. We are no stranger there. We are enveloped by the power and the mystery, and the place where the forest ends and we begin becomes blurred. We breathe it in, and it becomes part of our physical and spiritual essence. And when we leave, a part of the forest stays with us. We close our eyes, and we are back there. The sights, sounds, smells and textures are recorded at a cellular level.

Go to the forest. It awaits you. You will come out with much more than that which you went in.

September 2006

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