One of the skills that woodsmen have is tracking. It is a way of inhabiting the woodland and the wilds, of knowing and respecting your neighbors, of being and of being inspired. It is not surprising that tracking has become a form of spiritual discipline for some and workshops are available for those who are interested in learning it as a spiritual technique.
I have long been a tracker, not a good tracker because I do not get out in the wild as much as I should, but I love the closeness it brings to the wild landscape. I was out fishing one day with a friend who is quite skilled at tracking. He looked at a spot on the side of the river and began to tell me the story that he saw written in the landscape: a mother elk and calf had come to the river to drink; the baby had wanted to play at the waters edge, but eventually mom had gotten tired and took them off to someplace less delightful to youngsters so she could rest. The story he told was longer and I confess I don’t remember any more of it, but I was so amazed that he could read all of that from sign left behind.
When I was learning to track my instructor told us that what we needed to do was to go out into the woods and just sit for a couple of hours. A woman in our group asked, ¨sit and do what?¨ I suppose that is a reasonable question for someone who lives in a city and multitasks for a living but it also is a very silly question that shows how divorced we are from our wild selves. We go out into the wild and sit so that we can learn what the wild has to teach us. We wait expectantly, opening ourselves up and dropping all preconceptions.
Of course, when we do that, initially the first wildness that we experience is the wildness in ourselves. It is that hidden part of ourselves that we run so hard in our daily lives to avoid, the part that accuses us of our failures, that shows us who we are hiding beneath our masks of social acceptability. If we can stay the course and not look or run away it will eventually show us the little child inside that needs to be loved just for who that child is. As we hold that little child that is in us, we realize that we must love that child and that if we love and care for that child that is enough.
Now just as tracking animals in the wilderness, there is a skill to tracking spirit wherever we are. Those that don’t have spiritual muscle will claim that the spirit sign we see around us is mere coincidence but I have lived this life long enough to know that if they are coincidence there is something really hinky going on. When we watch for spiritual sign in the world we find that we are not alone but are surrounded by something that is connected to us and that reaches out to us. It is experienced through our interactions with other people, with the perfect book that we need to read falling into our hands at the precise moment, with everyday items freighted with symbolism that appear when we are most receptive.
This week has been a week where I have been surrounded by spiritual signs. I have ended the week having chemotherapy, as I do every three weeks, and this was also the week in which I got the results as to whether my cancer was behaving itself or was off on another rampage. After seven years of living with this schedule I am a bit used to it but there is still a twinge, especially getting scan results. We even have a name for it in the cancer community – scanxiety. So perhaps the spiritual signs were just to remind me that I wasn’t alone, and that even if the news was bad I wouldn’t be alone even til death.
The signs weren’t anything special, just little things. A new physician I am entrusting my life to bonded with me over Scotland and her dream of going to Iona on retreat. I was strong enough to have a dinner party for the first time in over three years and it was lovely feeling friendship and connection there. When I had my scan, the radiology tech and I learned that we had both grown up in a neighboring state in neighboring towns in the high mountains and that her parents had retired to my home town (and then she gave me a gift certificate for the hospital gift shop because she had caused me a lot of pain when she accessed my port). My oncologist and I had a good laugh over a verbal faux pas. They were all little things but they were woven together for me in a warm durable fabric.
I have had great big giant signs too that you couldn’t miss even blindfolded but those are the ones people expect to see. It is the little ones that get overlooked just like the bent twig in the forest that tells you which way the elk went. So I challenge you to go out into the world expectantly but without preconception. Keep your eyes open. Journal in the evenings about the signs you have seen. Learn to track the spirit. It is a useful skill that can totally open up your world.