lately, preparing for my solo thruhike and discussing the decision with friends and family, I’ve been exploring a familiar paradox: how can my heart, which beats so wild with wanderlust, be so split between the longing to adventure freely and the desire to root and settle into some vision of home? the duality here (away/home) can also be echoed in the implicit duality of alone/together: what is it within me that wants to strike out on my own path, to hike my own hike– and yet be known, and yet be heard, and yet be with you?
I have been reflecting on last spring’s pilgrimage to sedona, az. I was there on official business– training with laurelle and michael of the infinite light healing studies center to receive my reiki master/teacher certification– but what I’ll remember forever were the many forays into wild solitude, because I spent almost every free waking moment (and most sleeping moments!) in the amazing backcountry of northern arizona.
I knew beforehand how liberating and fulfilling it is to journey alone– I’d moved to barcelona by myself after college, I’d taken roadtrips on my own before (including an awestruck jaunt through parts of alaska after high school), and as an introvert I’ve always known how precious and important these solo trips are for me– their power to heal and renew without equal.
but sedona was something else entirely. the moment I entered the red rock wilderness this past april, the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. butterflies batted their wings against the walls of my stomach. my face was streaming with inexplicable tears. I’m not going to attribute these physical phenomena to the vortices or the magnetic effects of the iron oxide-rich soil– no, it was much simpler than that.
beyond even the impossible beauty of everything around me– so hard for the senses to grasp such rich color, such delicious texture, such soft sweet air!– I was completely overwhelmed in mind, body and spirit by the experience of feeling completely at home, so far away from my apartment, my neighborhood, my friends and my life.
the next few days were an exploration of homecoming, and a returning to a deep belonging. all day I walked through the pinyon-juniper forest and climbed red rock spires and lay on mesas warm with the color of blood. I met bluebirds and blackberry brambles. after a stunning sunset on doe mountain, the moon rose full over the mountains to the east, where ponderosa pine and elk braved the cold as below, in the canyons, the red earth pulsed.
wandering this wilderness, almost every step in any direction took my breath away with some new marvel. my heart felt so full of joy I felt it might burst– as I walked, I often let poems flow through my mind, almost (but not really) sad I had nothing to write with– a joy that nonetheless carried this bittersweet fact:
the happiness that I was experiencing here, on this adventure, was and remains a happiness reserved purely for those adventuring alone.
of course there is a beautiful delight in traveling with a partner. I’ve had unbelievably fulfilling adventures with friends, family, and significant others. but there is a kind of pure, unbridled joy that erupts from my heart only when I am out exploring, perceiving, enjoying and learning on my own. I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone– which is why it might be difficult for some to understand why I’d want to set off on a six month hike without someone to keep me company or keep me safe.
I could list a thousand reasons for wanting to go it alone, but here’s a few. one: by moving my awareness away from my relationship with another human, I’ll be cultivating my relationship with the wild earth. two: being alone will encourage me to enter in a conversation with non-human beings, and to engage in a deeper listening a human companion might overwhelm with speech, language, familiar presence. three: by moving at the pace set by my own heart, my own breath, my own two feet, I’ll be meeting others from that place of absolute, self-contained me-ness, standing in my own tracks, fully present to each and every encounter of the other.
maybe the yearning to wander is the same as the yearning to be home, for it contains within it the desire to be home anywhere.
for some, home is a forest, a desert, a sea. in truth, home is holographic. it is carried at full power in even a single tree, a solitary cactus in a plant shop window, a pool of still water. it is also at full potency in a yellow leaf lying on the asphalt, a red clay pot waiting for a root bundle, a drop of water on the skin. when you focus with soul-eyes, you will see home in many, many places.
-clarissa pinkola estes
what I’ll always remember about my sedona adventure: sleeping ten feet from oak creek under orion & the dipper, tears of joy more times than I could count, the living breathing isness of the junipine forest, smiling big as the moon, hearing the warm red wind, the red moon, the altitude, the mystery, everything, all of it, here, home.
to be home anywhere is to realize that wherever you are, though alone, you are loved by the everything. there is some beneficence, some providence that confers on you whatever you need most– and shows you in moments of doubt or despair that there is a great community of living beings all around you at all times, a web of life to which you belong always and to which you add richness and diversity with your very own presence, the wild shine of your own heart illumining the red path of every wandering heart through the ages.
in short: even on a solo journey, you’re walking with everyone.
in short: when you are by yourself, you are never alone. you are all-one.