Through the Dark Woods

“The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might just put in an appearance.”

-Parker J. Palmer, “A Hidden Wholeness”

As a writer of a blog about spirituality, it’s my job to learn how to “fade into our surroundings” in order to catch a glimpse of something special.  Some days I manage to lie in the tall grass and I’m rewarded with catching a vison of Truth, with her children Story and Wisdom in tow. Others, I go running through the underbrush with all the subtlety of a manic toddler shrieking “Here kitty kitty!”

I’ve been writing spiritually minded blogs off and on since 2005. You’d think by this point I would have this down to a science.  Two times a week, I have to go traipsing about through the Dark Woods in order to fell an epiphany and bring back its chewy meat for you to ponder over. If you wrap yourself in its hide to weather the next storm, so much the better.

And yet… I’m impatient. Often. If I’m going into a post without a specific thought already, it’s not unusual for it to take hours of searching and hunting before I find something to bring back to you. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could just order a pizza from Papa God’s and be done with it.

Those woods are dark and scary. They’re unknown and uncontrolled. The series of boxes in which you live with their climate control and surround sound and constant stream of distractions are so comfortable. Your pillow whispers to you at night that it’ll never leave you; so don’t you leave it, okay?

It tells you that there are swamps in those woods, and poisonous snakes and bugs that could kill you with a single sting. And it’s not altogether untrue. There are some terrifying things in those woods. There are wild Paradigms that can shake you to your core if you look at them too closely. There are callings that echo from what seem like every direction, telling you where to go and what to do. People get lost in those woods! They never make it out! Do you want to be one of those people? One of the stories people whisper to scare their friends during sleepovers?

Everything about your life and the cubes you surround yourself with do their very best to keep you happy and content and to never even wonder the most fundamental question in all of human existence: What’s in those woods? 

What’s in those woods? There’s goodness in those woods. Truth, and Authenticity and Joy all make their homes there completely untouched by man. Those moments in which you spot one of them, you freeze; terrified that you’ll scare it away. If you’re still, if you slow your breathing and force yourself to maintain eye contact, they’ll draw near. Sometimes they’ll nuzzle you, others they might nip at you. They’re unpredictable like that, but so, so beautiful.

If you keep walking, you might make it to a grove of trees that have grown so tall and so thick that the sun can barely penetrate their foliage. It’s there, when you’re surrounded by your hopes and dreams that you begin to truly feel alive. You realize that your time spent indoors doing anything except what you were created for is time wasted. The wind blows, and you fill your lungs with the sweet scent of change. As you look around, the beauty threatens to make your heart explode.

You wish you knew the words to explain it. You wish you had the ability to somehow recreate this place and show others what they’re missing. You do your best. You have conversations, you try taking photographs, you even start, maintain, and write in a blog.

The truth you refuse to admit to yourself is that this place can’t be explained. Logic and Reason aren’t welcome here; only Truth and Beauty and Joy. And that’s why when all I want to do is be entertained, when I just want to do something fun or easy, I steel myself and go into the woods anyway. Because the fear of what I’ll find there is less scary than the fear of never experiencing it.

Don’t live an unexamined life. Don’t lose your days being blown from one distraction to the other without partaking in the beauty that exists just under your nose. Ask the hard questions. Fight for your beliefs. Claim an identity and make it a good one. Be the person you wish you were.

These woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
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