How many promises have you made?
I suspect the number is large and elusive.
It is for me. I have made promises to individuals and groups, but none are as solemn as the ones I have sworn to myself. And even those can be left untended in a dusty corner.
That is why I must refresh them from time to time, dust them off, to recommit.
Come along with me on a hike, and let’s see what happens.
I drove to a local trailhead and parked my car. Before the first step of my hike, I took a moment to prepare myself for what I might encounter. After years of hiking the wilderness, one lesson rings truest, that the forest is a necessity for the health of my spirit.
In it, I expect magic to happen because it always does.
On this day, the sky was a mono-gray despite the wind whipping it. The floor of the forest was soggy from a week of rain. The scent of black soil and green sprouts under rotting leaves hung heavy in the air.
To start, I walked to the edge of a brown pond with lily pad stalks reaching from the muck, still well short of the surface. A mallard and his mate crouched on a fallen tree, bills under wings. Then the magic began. An image of a little girl floated into view. She extended her grubby little hand, in her palm, rested a piece of paper with a scribbled drawing of a spring robin. On her face, a smile beamed brighter than the sun hiding above the grey clouds. I mouthed the words, “Honey, it’s beautiful,” and recommitted to…always share in the joy of others.
I skipped a stone across the water, and when the last ripple smoothed I continued my hike.
The rocky trail crested a hill and descended sharply into a chaotic dell. I paused at the bottom. Fallen trees lay midst glacier-strewn boulders. Buds dressed the branches of waking honeysuckle bushes. A squirrel scampered up oak bark and a blackbird called from behind me. The image of a young man appeared. Confusion flooded his face and twisted his brow. A tear curled around a long lash. His hands trembled. I began to speak. I rattled off clichés and platitudes at the speed of spring. I went on and on and on until he disappeared. To my horror, my words of advice, intended to help, had chased him away. In that spot, I recommitted to…only give advice when it is wanted and to love when it isn’t.
I kicked a stone from the trail into the undergrowth, and when it came to rest I walked out of the dell.
Just outside of the thick wood, the trail emerged into a rolling meadow. The brittle scrub of the previous summer bent to sweet-talk spring shoots from the dirt. Brazen insects floated above it all, doing what they must to ensure they become a swarm. An image crystallized before my eyes. It was me. I lay under two quilts on a worn couch.
I was sick. I had cancer.
A friend entered the room and kneeled beside me. He placed a thick pile of cash in my hand, whispered some words, kissed my cheek and stood. My prideful mouth moved to protest but he was gone. Standing there in that meadow, I swallowed hard and recommitted to…receive all things graciously.
I knelt on the earth. Instantly, thawed ice melted through my jeans stinging my knees. I breathed a prayer I learned as a small boy, said Amen and stood. I wiped tan blades of grass from my pants and hiked the four miles of trail back to my car.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” ~ Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey nailed it. Our spirit needs a precious few things and wilderness is close to the top of the list. My spirit needs to breathe the air of the forest. I think I stand in pretty solid company. After all, Buddha went into the wilderness to find what was there. Jesus took to the same, as did Moses and Paul.
Please allow me to be so bold as to add another item to the human spirit must-have list. I am adding sacred promises. Those commitments made by our self, to our self. Promises come in many flavors and cover a multitude of topics. We make promises about saving money, getting fit, going green, or keeping up with the yard so the neighbors stop complaining.
But the sacred promise is different. It is a binding contract we make with ourselves, sealed with a gentle handshake between our heart and our mind. They reside in the foundation of who we are. They serve as guideposts for who we are and who we become. They are anchors in deep water.
My three sacred promises:
- Always share in the joy of others.
- Only give advice when it is wanted and to love when it isn’t.
- Receive all things graciously.
If you would like to discover yours, your wilderness is waiting to reveal them…or refresh them.
Either way, I am certain your efforts will be worth it.
Author: John Geers
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Stephanie White at Snapwire