Monday, June 2, 2014

California Wilderness: Feeling Connected

Sammy Lassoff writes about her experience of trying to hard and learning to let go in the Yolla Bolly Mountains:

Up until I had begun this program, I did not recognize how truly disconnected from nature I was. It is crazy to think of how detached I was from what my own two feet had been walking on for 18 years! I remember being very little and splashing through the shallow beach waters with my family, toddling through the foothills behind my house, scurrying in the grass chasing after squirrels, and playing hide-and-seek with my toes in the sand. However as I got older, my priorities required the attention that I was convinced could only be given behind walls and closed doors. I spent all my days in school struggling through hypotheticals and theories that I had no time to be "outside." I spent years being told that life is work, hard work. I was told that there is no time for play, to relax, to breathe, "You must go to college, get a job, make money, spend money, etc."  Everything that could not contribute to my efforts had no purpose. Life was tough work that, if better than another's work, will result in reward and gratification that should be instant. I had lost all energy to be patient and the know-how to be playful. I was mindlessly trudging up this dark, monotonous road that my capitalistic education had slashed, burned, and bought itself.

However, this style of education could not completely erase a human's intrinsic love of and connection to nature. Proof of this was my initial draw to this program. Something buried deep in my core made its way through the murky waters of my goal-oriented thoughts, making itself known again. It was strong and persistent enough to enroll me in this incredible experience, which is one of the best decisions I have ever made. In my mind's eye, I had made many goals for myself while out in "nature." I would rekindle my relationship to the land, find the healing I needed to take back to my family, and become "enlightened" from all of my problems. I was prepared to study and be taught specific instructions on how to do so. The process would be difficult, but all my goals would be reached. 

Obviously, I was more disconnected from nature (reality) then I had cared to admit. I was internally struggling so much throughout my time in Death Valley, the Domelands, and the Lost Coast. For the life of me, I could not understand why I felt so disconnected from the land. Why was my body so resistant to finding comfort within dirt? Why was I blaming the wind for my sour mood? Why weren’t the sun, the moon, the stars handing me the answers to all of my most pressing questions? I was working so hard! I was pushing myself to roll in the dirt, clenching my teeth as the wind tore through my skin, and going numb in my sleeping bag under the black sky. I so stubbornly insisted that I had found the one and only path to enlightenment and was "reassured" by how much effort it required. But then why was I not seeing quick results? My schooling had assured me that hard work would bring instant result!

As you can tell, I was incredibly frustrated. I was searching, yearning to be taught something. If I only stopped to breathe, just for a moment, I would have seen that the answers were right beside me. I needed to quiet my mind in order to open my eyes. No one was going to teach me or tell me how to find them, simply because they are not something to be found. I did not need to think so hard. I did not need to work through some cryptic puzzle. "You do not have to be good. Your do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting" (Mary Oliver, Wild Geese). I needed to stop thinking and start being and accepting. It is ok if I do not like the wind, Yell at him! It is ok to wash the dirt from my skin and apply deodorant. The nature police won't lock me up for not being "tough" enough”. I only have to let the soft animal of [my] body love what it loves" (Oliver). There is no right way to embrace the natural world. Life does not have to be hard. "Life is play" (Walker Abel, Sierra Institute director). This program has led me to understand that my relationship with nature is unique and beautiful. I finally feel connected. 

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