Spirits in the Woods

Having just returned from three days and nights in the Belleplain State Forest, the return to civilization always seems to find me rejuvenated in spirit, but also oddly melancholy. The trip was a welcome break from the relentless daily routines that sustain me as I write, and the moments of blissful silence communing with only my thoughts in contemplation, my books, and the background murmur of the natural world, filled me with a sense of being exactly where I needed to be.

A long and leisurely evening by the campfire last night was a welcome development in the grand scheme of my life these days. Struggling as I am with my place in the world generally, and attempting to express the deeper truth within me particularly, conversing about the nature of humanity and of what I feel strongly is a spiritual (non-physical) foundation for consciousness was most encouraging.

The subject of the very foundation of consciousness and its first inklings in our ancient ancestors is so compelling for me that I can barely contain myself when it comes up in conversation. It is unfortunately rare in my experience to find anyone willing to entertain such a conversation, but a recent conversation in the woods gave me some cause to think that I might be making progress in delineating my arguments and defining my theory.

My heart is still troubled by a fair number of emotional challenges, which usually accompany my writing work on consciousness. Somehow I must arrive at my destination without totally sacrificing my sense of well-being, and yet collect the essence of whatever it is that draws me so powerfully to spirits who embody that same essence within me. I am coming to understand that these kindred souls are being held up to me like a mirror, and that what I am seeing is a reflection of what lies within me.

The awesome power of the spirit touches me so profoundly at times, that social conventions seem far less important at times than getting to the bottom of what it is that makes these other living souls so compelling to me. Even as I observe the various living creatures who inhabit the forest environment–even then–I find myself powerfully connected to the life that animates them. Reading in John Horgan’s “Rational Mysticism,” he paraphrases Ken Wilbur’s notions of the overall view of the awareness that results from our access to consciousness:

“We begin life as merely physical beings, no more aware than bacteria. Even as children, we are still self-absorbed creatures. As we develop emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, we become aware of an even wider sphere of existence. Our awareness matures into an empathy for and identification with all of humanity, all of nature, and ultimately all of existence, including the eternal void from which all things come.”

At the final moments of sitting by the fire, I found myself staring deeply into the white hot bed of embers supporting the other timbers, ablaze in a nearly empty forest surrounding our campsite. Walking even a short distance away from the fire, I was struck by the total absence of light available to my all-too-human eyes. It made me reflect on how it must have been for our ancient ancestors, who not only struggled with fear of predatory animals, but also other equally frightened competing human beings who might also be lurking in the darkness. The loss of the light and warmth of the fire for me most certainly would pale in comparison to the consequences for those conscious creatures.

I sit in the deep forest by choice and build my fire for pleasure, tending to it with joy, and without even a small fraction of the fear my ancestors must have experienced. The evolution of modern consciousness, supported by the gradual rise of experience and accumulated knowledge has eliminated all but the most primal of fears for me, although I still hesitate to venture too far away from the security the fire provides. The uncertainty of what lies beyond the light of my small fire keeps me in my chair, close to the campsite, even though I have a lantern that could burn well into the night if necessary.

The moon finally rose in the early morning darkness, and I had occasion to step out of my tent during these wee hours. The moonlight filtered down through the trees, much like the sun in daylight hours, and as I walked to my destination, I was reminded of a quote from Emerson, which suggests that the light reflecting toward the earth from the moon is “mere tinsel”, except when it shines on a “necessary journey.”

As always, I am reluctant to relinquish my time in the woods, as I feel closer to my truest self when I am there.

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2 comments

  1. Anne

    Powerful stuff John, especially how the accumulation over the years of our collected human experience has erased all but the most primal of our fears, and to know that so many before us walked these paths and saw these sights etc. I feel that way when I see the pictures my daughter Laura sends from Italy. It is an ancient country and she is walking in the same cities where Michaelangelo walked or whoever.
    Glad you had some time away from the maddening crowd. We all need it, to rejuvenate and remind.

  2. jjhiii24

    Thanks for your comment, Anne, and I’m glad you see a parallel in your own experience to what has been revealed in mine. In spite of whatever differences there might be in our individual experiences of the world and the values and beliefs that we have acquired through that experience, as human beings, we share a rich heritage with humans from those ancient times as well as with those throughout the history of humanity.

    Our connection to all of nature as well as to every other human being, past and present, is not so difficult to discern if we spend some time deliberately turning our attention to the idea, but when we find any idea difficult to grasp, focusing our attention on the task by contemplating how it might be revealed can often be sufficient to at least open our hearts and minds to a beginning–a place where understanding begins.

    The crowd can be maddening at times, I will grant you that, but I think my experience in the deep forest by the fire in the midst of such natural beauty and stillness gives me a greater appreciation of my fellow human beings that makes the crowd seem not quite so maddening after all.

    Warm regards…..John H.

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