I guess I am just plain lucky.
I grew up loving the outdoors. I spent as much time as possible out there.
In my old age ‘back then’ was when . . .
there were no telephones or radios in our homes.
So what did we children do for entertainment?
We either listened to adults carry on endless chatter of “Do you remember when . . . ? Always about something I found endlessly remote.
And even more boring, they’d say, “No, I think it was Harry, not Ben.” And someone else replies, “It really was Ben. I remember how he . . . .”
That sort of discussion. If “discussion” is the right word for it.
OR . . . my most frequent plea was —
“May I go outside?”
Outside always had something better to offer. The trees, birds and flowers kept me quiet company.
I don’t know how to explain this.
Inside — with adults — was a world of things and individuals.
Outside was all interwoven.
Everything was “The Woods.” Or “The Field.” Or “The Backyard.” Or just “The Outside.”
In spite of diverse trees, birds, brush, leaves, grass, dirt — it was all an underlying, coherent manifestation of one single thing — The Outdoors.
From the smallest speck of dirt to the vast over-arching sky — it was just The Outdoors.
By the fact of it’s existence, it seemed that whatever was, was just there.
No discussion of “remember when?” Or disagreements about, “It wasn’t Ben. It was Harry.”
Not even, “It’s a sparrow. Not a Green-tailed Towhee.”
It may sound contradictory when I say I moved from a suburb to The Big Apple, went to school in The City and spent my entire career in offices on 48th Street right off Fifth Avenue, even publishing my first few issues of Backpacker magazine from there.
And still my romance with the outdoors.
BUT . . .
I chose to spend almost every weekend in the country — hiking the Catskill mountains, Adirondacks, occasionally the Presidential mountains of New Hampshire and even less often, Maine’s Baxter State Park where the Appalachian Trail ends atop Mount Katahdin.
Truly this “get-away-from-the-city” regimen saved my sanity.
When I started publishing Backpacker magazine, I was under a huge stress.
I vowed I’d camp out on a trail at least a hundred nights a year to keep my peace.
I did that, even though some of those nights I camped just an hour outside the city.
Then too, I moved out of the city to a home on eight acres of woods.
I also moved my magazine offices out of the city for the last few years that I owned Backpacker.
So I managed to get a great dose of the outdoors.
The Salve of the Woodlands
As a youngster, I was the proverbial “ninety-pound weakling.” Not an athletic guy. Not at all.
I took to hiking partly because it was non-competative and there was no one out there to criticize me.
In mid-life I took up running for a few years.
I did win first place in the only race I ever ran.
It was a 10-K run and I won because I was the only one in my 50-plus men’s age group!
Now at 89, I am enormously healthy, despite a long list of “conditions.” And I still have my wits about me.
I swear, that moderate hiking contributed greatly to my Geezer well-being.
Why Hiking Resonates
I was hiking the other day with Larry, a seventy-year-old friend.
After we’d hiked about seven miles, he said, “Hiking this far makes me feel such an intimate part of the terrain.”
I whole-heartedly agreed.
Not that either of us was looking for the feeling.
I believe this is the reason that most people choose the outdoors for some sort of activity — they get the peace from the world of trees, birds and bushes.
Hiking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, skiing or snowshoeing seem to give us such a different and more healthful benefit than we’d ever get from working out in a spa or from a motorized activity.
The peace, quiet and stillness of the trail or water seems to soothe our psyches.
I treasure that feeling.
Granted, it was much harder to get this when I worked in the city.
While in the city I used all kinds of practices to get this peace — frequent pauses during the work day, prayer, meditation.
They helped get me through to my weekends in the country.
I still carry on with some of those practices between hikes.
Now that I am retired of course it’s a lot easier.
On the other hand, I know many retirees out here who don’t feel the need for such a regimen.
They probably don’t need it.
It’s just that I know I do.
Stillness nurtures peace in my soul.
The world of “name and form” exists only as a condition of perception. At the sub-atomic level separate phenomena dissolve into a flux of energy.
The world of the senses is real, of course.
But it must be known for what it is: unity appearing as multiplicity.
A “Perennial Philosophy” for all
Now that i’ve written this, let me take a further leap into the metaphysical.
It really is profound to get past all the whirling noise in the head and back to my essence — what we usually call our soul.
This is sacred territory.
We are all out at the edge of the endless, infinite, changeless reality that is beneath the changing world of separate things around us.
How can we know this?
I think it’s our feeling a part of what’s called Perennial Philosophy.
Simply put, there are three undeniable aspects of the universe:
- It has an infinite, changeless reality beneath the world of change.
- This same reality is at the core of every human being.
- The purpose of life is to discover this reality experientially. That is, to realize God while here on earth.
How to discover this?
Simply by getting past all ideas of what we think we are.
Not by knowledge and what we know.
But by coming back to our very being.
To whom we are beyond our physical body and mind.
This is what we can find — out here in nature — beyond our ordinary mind, which is full of ideas and feelings.
Aldous Huxley compiled a book, Perennial Philosophy.
It is filled with quotes from mystics of every age and civilization to aid him in describing this experience.
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