Spirituality of Bushwalking – One Man’s Reflection
In a hurry to complete your hike in three days instead of five?
Have to tick off another peak, forgetting to enjoy the view?
In this guest post, Grant, our mate we met with Paul at Wild Dog Creek, in the Walls of Jerusalem, agreed to post about his “philosophy” of bushwalking.
Many thanks to Grant, our Wild Dog Minister, for taking the time to craft these words. We hope he got as much out of it as we did.
Bushwalking has, for at least as long as I’ve been in Tasmania, been part of my spiritual journey. The solitude of solo walking, the wilderness, the potential life-threatening situations, the memories and reflections that come to mind while walking, all combine to create, for me, a significant spiritual encounter. The wilderness has seeped into my unconscious with snakes becoming significant primal mythic figures, and mountains becoming symbols of my life’s destiny.
Tassie I love U – The Franklin by ximentapia
The somewhat artificial psychological impositions, like Peak Bagging points, or beating Chapman’s times, in my view, distract and detract from being present, engaging with grasses, water, trees, snakes, and rock. More and more I experience walking pace as too fast. Surrounded by rocks that rarely move, plants that grow in the one and only spot of soil for their entire existence, insects and creatures who live in a fairly local area, it is this stillness which is a great lure for me.
And while there are birds who travel quickly, wombats ambling, various ‘roo-named’ marsupials and recognizing my own bi-ped creatureliness, there is something profoundly renewing for me in being attentive to these ‘stilled’ places rather than rushing by, which walking pace at times feels like. I refer to this pausing, pondering and attentiveness as ‘pilgrim pace.’
The emergence of ‘pilgrim-pace’ in my thinking brought back an earlier question of why I go out there. What is motivating me? What need? What desire? What is in it for me? What is in it for the land? What is in it for others? Who else is out there with me?
The land has existed without me for eons, and will continue without me. These trees, rocks, etc are utterly disinterested in my life and whatever is on my mind as I walk. Perhaps these trees, rocks etc are ‘annoyed’ at my fleeting passing, maybe they’d prefer me to stop so they might take a good look at me similar to the way I stop and have a close look at various plants, trees, rocks, etc. And so I stop, I linger, I cultivate an opening of my Self. I look closely and I consciously see myself as being looked at just as closely by an Other. I ask, what does this plant ‘see?’ I know it has no eyes, but I project my own self reflection out onto the plant from what this plant evokes within me.
In the experience I see my own reflection, I identify what within me surfaces during this encounter, and I now have a different kind of regard for this plant and other plants, and for myself. Even without this ‘interaction’ the experience of slowing myself, of considering the life of plants and creatures, or the existence of rocks, all of this changes me. It changes my self understanding. It changes how I feel about this land, about myself and Life. It changes the way I pray and the foundational myths I live by.
Photo of “Gum Trees of Tassie” by vanlaar
Is the tree a being? Is sentient consciousness a prerequisite to being? The tree is, without consciousness. And yet, perhaps not. Within the Christian traditions there a some traditions that speak of humanity not as pre-eminent creature, not as dominating feral creature called to use and misuse creation for selective groups of humans’ comfort without regard to the extermination of millions of creatures and species nor the detriment of the planet.
Rather, some of these ‘eco-theology’ traditions spring from interpretations of Jesus Christ as the cosmic Christ, who is an embodiment of a universal ‘Wisdom-figure’ who is God. I prefer that part of the tradition that sees the Spirit as incarnate in creation, taking the form of various elements, such as fire, wind, and creatures, such as a dove, so that the creation is seen as an embodiment of the Spirit. So when I walk I am walking on and in the Spirit. When I pause at a plant and ‘open my Self’ I am seeing this encounter as Spirit communing with Spirit.
Naturally, this is just as true in the suburbs as the wilderness, but it seems more easily accessible, or recognizable, to my spirit in the wilderness than the suburbs where life is messier and walking pace is far too slow to do what I’m called to be and do there. So, for me, walking in the bush is spiritual retreat, prayer, awareness of creatureliness, Spirit communion and beginning to become acquainted with places.
And when I return home my family notice I am more relaxed, centered, purposeful about what is most important, letting the inanities remain peripheral, and, as best I can, live attentively and open to the Other.
Photo by NeilsPhotography