This week has been difficult for me. I have had many friends die lately and others hospitalized with serious and life threatening conditions. I have been asked in many of these situations to give comfort, advice, and prayer support for the patients and their loved ones. My own illness has been front and center as I had to have an echo-cardiogram to see whether or not the chemotherapy agent that is keeping me alive is also killing my heart. And, to top it all off, I also had to have chemo. Chemo’s a lot better now than that death cocktail I had to take 11 years ago when I was first diagnosed, but it still involves a few days of not feeling like myself. And if that wasn’t enough, I am starting to feel dizzy which may be a sign that my cancer has returned to my brain. Weeks like this are just hard on the spirit and the deaths of my friends have overwhelmed me in waves, each one not only causing me to think about how much I miss them and to empathize with the sufferings of their families and friends, but it has brought up the specter of my own death and a bit of survivor guilt.
I know that while grief is appropriate right now, there is no point in my worrying; it is a waste of energy, accomplishing nothing, and the stress hormones feed the cancer anyway. So my self-diagnosis is that I am, at heart, a bit off-kilter. For me to recenter myself I need to be out in nature, but between the dizziness and the weakness, not to mention our lovely Montana Spring winds that can blow you off your feet, a walk in the woods just ain’t happenin’.
Tonight when I was thrashing around trying to get comfortable enough to sleep, and my mind was racing around and around about nothing important, I saw this beautiful film by Goh Iromoto. Presented by Outside Magazine, the film follows Ray Mears as he canoes through the Wabakimi Provincial Park of Ontario, Canada. The Wabakimi Park is located in an area that is part of the boreal forest that is the Canadian Shield. The photography is lovely and evokes a strong feeling of place. The pacing is serene.
It was a good place to start, to touch the spirit of wilderness and begin to let go of pain and worry. Ray Mears is at home in wilderness. In the film he shares lessons he has learned about ¨bush craft¨, the need to get to know nature, and the secret to not only surviving in wilderness but in relishing the experience. But most of all he is talking about attuning one’s spirit, about our role in the world at large, and the important lessons that wilderness can teach us.
The image of nature as a source of care and assistance has recently been born out by research done by Suzanne Simard at the University of British Columbia. Simard and her colleagues have discovered that in forests all of the trees communicate and share resources through an underground fungal network. At the center of the tree network there are Mother trees, large older trees connected by the fungal pathways and that may manage the resources for the entire forest. In forests where the mother trees are cut down, the remaining trees live a much shorter time than if the mother tree was allowed to stay in place. What a fabulous example for us to see that the universe is connected. Just as the trees look like they are many, they are actually part of one organism.
Ray Mears talks in the film about the self reliance and hard work of tasks completed in wilderness and points out that in these the wilderness ¨makes something of you¨ in an ¨honest¨ way. I find that honesty is one of the refreshing things of spending time there. In the existence we mistakenly call ¨real,¨ I have found that honesty is in short supply, as are people that are authentic and open. He also talks about the balance between old and new and encourages us to learn to turn off the conscious mind so that we can accept inspiration when it comes. There are many stories of people lost in the wilderness who did not turn off their conscious minds and it led to more trouble while others relied on intuition and it saved them.
When we no longer try to control the wilderness but, instead, bend ourselves to fit with it, that is when we experience a strong blessed feeling of harmony between us and all that is. Mears quotes Grey Owl: “we must remember that at the end, nature does not belong to us, we belong to it.¨ I am glad to have found my place. I am a creature who belongs to a vast, complex, interconnected world that provides for us and hungers to inspire us. I am not in charge but I am not alone. I just am. The pain of loving someone who dies and the reality of life and death are a natural part of the package – nothing to worry about.