Saturday, January 7, 2012

Nature and Spirituality

Appalachian Trail approaching Roan Mountain, NC/TN border

(A version of this post appears also at The Rambling Taoists)

Sorry for the slackness around here lately, just haven't been writing at all, not in a couple weeks, strange for me. I've either been working (or watching TV after work), or walking around in the woods, which I've been doing a lot more of lately. What little writing I have been doing has been limited to edits for a book I'm writing on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

I've long noticed that the only time I have no inclination to read (something I do, if I must be honest, as much for escape as for knowledge or general entertainment) is when I'm in a natural setting, the forest, the mountains, even by the sea, if I can get away from the crowds. Being away from books (and blogs/the internet) generally takes me away from the world of thought, the interplay and exchange of ideas. Not that I'm not thinking at all out there, but since that's not the point of my excursions, the thoughts are more of a passing thing than something I dwell upon. Thus, I have less tendency to write

One thing I've realized lately, as a result of all the woods-walking I've been doing, is that I'm beginning to feel like all the talk I do on here about Eastern religions, and spirituality in general, is a load of shit. Not the religions themselves, of course, but my take on them: it's like I'm trying to be someone I'm not. I'm not really into meditation, but I feel like I should be and so I occasionally do it, at times in consistent streaks, but usually not. I'm interested in the religions on an intellectual level, but I'm not the spiritual type and never have been. While I believe there is much about the world I don't know or understand, and am fully open to your more spiritual notions, when it comes right down to it, I don't experience life on that level. Like, the notions about the Tao, yin and yang, are fascinating, but rather than think about them, I tend to be impatient to embody them somehow. This is probably why I wrote once about how I realized, while in the middle of climbing a mountain, that I really was an atheist (of sorts).

I wouldn't say I'm a practical person, even though I'm currently working in the building trades. Little of what I do at work comes natural to me, though I'm not terrible at it-- it's just not intuitive for me, and I end up asking a lot of stupid questions. I wouldn't say I'm athletic either, as I've never taken part in organized sports; though I sometimes think I might have, had my heart been healthier and I had better endurance; probably not team sports, but maybe track or something. I think in some ways I was talked out of athleticism, talked myself out of it, even. Still, it hasn't stopped me in my adulthood from a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, an attempt at the Pacific Crest Trail, and in general physical work and the active outdoors life. The point is, in personality, I lean more towards the practical and physical than I do towards spirituality and the more intuitive side of things.

It's sort of like a masculine/feminine split. Well, we don't have to drag gender issues into it, because it's not clear cut like that in real life. Maybe it would be better to speak of left/right brain issues, though that is also an oversimplified view. Perhaps yin and yang is the best way to think about it. Point is, I tend towards masculine, left brain, yang, intellectual, rational, active, physical, rather than the feminine, right-brain, yin, intuitive, spiritual, emotional, artsy, touchy-feely. Which isn't to say I fall only one one side, few people would; but that's where my tendencies are. I have to work for the other side.

But as I've been walking around in the woods more and more lately (now that the dry season is here and they aren't flooded shin-deep anymore), I'm realizing that I've almost never had any kind of spiritual experience while meditating or pondering spiritual matters. I've been deeply impressed by the ideas presented... but the only time I feel truly peaceful, connected, present and awake is when I'm on nature walks. I don't discount the meditation, and I said I've almost never had a spiritual experience that way; there have been brief moments. But nothing sustained or reliable, not like while I'm wandering the woods and mountains.

And I don't so much mean while hiking-- which after a while does bring one in tune with nature, but overall is often more about making miles, grand vistas, camaraderie with fellow hikers, and the pleasure of physical exertion. No, I mean while out walking slowly or even standing still for long periods, meandering off-trail through the forest following deer or pig trails, attempting to observe wildlife, practicing tracking skills and being attentive and attuned through hearing and what I, following Tom Brown Jr, call splatter vision. That is, softening the gaze to incorporate peripheral vision, which helps you spot movement as well as to see the whole picture, instead of focusing on a tiny part. Doing the latter is why most people go into the woods and never see anything. I read once that according to Don Juan (via Carlos Castenada), this mode of seeing is the only path to inner peace; I assume that means applying the "splatter" mode not only to vision but one's entire being.

Nature helps me put aside the intellectualization like I never can while sitting cross legged on the floor. This is absolutely reliable. Within a very short period of being out there, I'm already calming down and tuning in. It's literally like going home, it's where I feel most comfortable and able to be myself, it's like switching into another mode of being. I don't know if this is because this "feminine" world of Nature quiets the "masculine" or yang side of me, or brings it to fruit; Nature being a place where it is practical to be quiet, inside and out. It's like a fork in the road, but in the sense of two roads meeting, not splitting. The right and left brain, yin and yang, come together in a harmony, and the inner merges with the outer.


  1. I'm not intending to put you neatly in a box or anything, but just wondering if you have any idea of what your Myers Briggs personality type might be?

    It may offer some further personal insight into the matter. I'm kind of curious myself.

    You can take the test for free here:

    I'll have more to say in response to this post later.

  2. I know I took that back in high school, maybe I'll take some time later and do it again. I completely foreget my score from back then.

  3. Well, it's actually quite revealing that you didn't take the test before responding. It's very quick, only takes like five minutes. Although, from what I've read of the system, there seems to be just a couple personality types that actually take an interest in it, are more likely to know their type, and more likely to want to know other peoples types. Obviously I am of that type. In any case, I'm surprised with your interest in psychology that you wouldn't already know. But that's all right. I am curious though. Guess you're not going to give it away though, huh?

  4. Nah, it's not revealing. I didn't visit the link yet, and assumed it was like the test I took in high school, which was about 10 pages. Didn't have time for that. At best it reveals that I was tired after work and didn't feel like doing it.

    It turns out I'm an ISTJ.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. But you weren't too tired to comment, could've waited. Anyway, didn't mean to cause you any trouble, was only fishing for info. So, thanks for sharing.

    I test right on the borderline of INFJ and INTJ, depending on which test I take I get one or the other result...but mostly INTJ.